John Underwood, Norfolk

Dora Wentworth’s pattern book 1829


The Prime Minister, or “Doris” as I believe he is known as in some circles, made great show of talking about the future in his address to the virtual Conservative Party conference. He talked about a halcyon time when all the Coronovirus is in the past, all houses are powered by wind energy, we all drive electric cars, and all asylum seekers are shipped off to the Ascension Islands. Or perhaps that was the Pritti horrible Pritti Patel. Very little about the present, or any details, just a vague pattern for a mythical life in the future with a whitewashed past.


The most interesting area of our book selling business, is our involvement with manuscript material of all kinds. We have bought and sold recipe books from the seventeenth century through to the mid 1850’s, letters from known characters in history and  unknown nonentities. We have sold travel journals, from when travelling was on foot, by camel or on horseback. We have sold mole catchers bills and receipts and bought recidivist poachers letters to gamekeepers prosecuting them. We found postcards written from Jews in Berlin in 1939 to children who had been sent in Kindertransports to England, and harrowing letters from Gallipoli detailing the full horrors of life in the trenches. I have spent the last ten years of my life piggybacking the lives of men and women in the past. 


One of the most pleasing areas of interest have been several pattern books, including a young girl’s needlework from the 1930’s - nothing fancy, just darning, gussets, vests for infants, a collar design. All worked in miniature as part of her training to go into service. We have had large books of hand made and machine made lace samples, hundreds of them, fixed into large albums from Manchester and Nottingham lace making companies. We found a wonderful Parisian  couture album, with designs and miniature patterns for silk chemises and cami knickers. Oooh la la ! And we have had about four of five albums filled with intricate designs on tracing paper which we discovered were for “Whitework” – white embroidery on white linen.

We still have one, made by Dora a Wentworth in 1829. It contains no less than 160 pages  of manuscript  patterns, all carefully drawn in ink on fine paper. Her album was bound  in morocco leather with marbled paper covered boards, and she has signed her name on the front free endpaper, and tucked in a number of loose patterns from friends and relations. Dora was the daughter of  Godfrey Wentworth and his wife Amelia who amongst other interests were patrons of the writer and artist Edward Lear. Dora married Sir Samuel Hancock of the Yeomen of the Guard in 1831, whose residence is recorded as Brilwete House in Oxfordshire.


She was quite well-to-do was Dora, and probably rather limited by her class and sex in what was deemed an appropriate activity for a young lady. Some music possibly, embroidery , perhaps French and Geography from her tutors. The polite parts of the Classics. Her patterns were meticulous, well thought out and full of detail. They were  impeccably realised on the delicate paper. Which is what a pattern needs to be really. Rather unlike the back of a fag packet jollifications of the beleaguered Doris. If we are going to have a pattern for life post Covid, let’s have a carefully worked one, not a blithe wish list for the Twitterati.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

As my old, camp theatrical friend used to say “Well, my gast has never been so flabbered!” After testing positive for Coronavirus Mr Trump spent a few days in hospital. He made a dramatic James Bond-style return to the White House in a helicopter. Elevated on a balcony he symbolically removed his face mask and made out that he has already made a full recovery. It’s alright for him, he won’t ever have to spend forty eight hours on a trolley in a hospital corridor! He has access to all the steroids and oxygen he needs. His actions and attitude have been condemned by medical professionals. Apparently there are more cases of COVID-19 in The White House than in the whole of New Zealand! With his cheesy Wotsit coloured face and invisible concertina, he’s like some sort of grotesque specimen from a Victorian exhibition of curiosities. You find what you are looking at deeply disturbing, but you just can’t help yourself!

Over on our side of the pond I’m not sure what we can and can’t do anymore. I’m travelling to work on public transport, working all day serving customers, but not socialising with friends. Grace booked a guided meditation class at the Manchester Buddhist Centre last week. It reopened to actual people recently. We spent the day in the city, the weather was bright and sunny so we could sit outside at a coffee shop. The Buddhist Centre is a unique calming space, as soon as you enter the building your shoulders drop. The class was lovely, but we had to wear masks. After chatting to others in the class we all agreed that although the meditations are accessible on Zoom, it is not the same as being physically present in the building and sharing its special energy with others. Some attendees were on their first venture out in months and were extremely grateful to be in company. 

I was due to visit a friend in Scotland this week and am so disappointed that due to the new ‘no mixing of households’ rule there, the trip has to be postponed. Her son has just started university in Aberdeen. He was only there for a week before he had to isolate when two of his friends tested positive for you know what. Where will all this end? Will we just keep going round in circles? Always living with various social restrictions? Virtual living is not the same. I don’t want to live in a world where you need an app or a code to scan every time you want to do something! I don’t want to book online for every outing I wish to take! I think most people like welcoming faces with smiling eyes, friendly voices and cheeky banter. I feel for the hospitality trade, so many rules to enforce and now under threat of being fined if not adhered to! 

We had dinner in one of our favourite bars in the city. The Refuge is next door to the Palace theatre, and it was so sad to see it ‘dark’. The Phantom of the Opera should have been running for the summer. We enjoyed our meal, it almost felt normal, apart from having to don a mask to walk to the loo. After we sat in the garden room for a drink. We counted 21 people sat at various tables, which is more than is currently allowed at a wedding reception. NOTHING makes any sense.

Some exciting news this week - Dolly Parton has a new album coming out. ‘A Holly Dolly Christmas’ So I don’t care what anyone says, Christmas is definitely on!! I am going to make pumpkin soup this afternoon, I am adding ginger, chilli and turmeric, it will probably be the same colour as Trump’s face! Yum.

Keep well everyone xxxxxxxx


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

Trump is ill with Covid. Other than that, what else happened last week? 


In an effort not to let Covid “dominate my life,” I will try not to miss my only child whom I haven’t seen for 10 months, think of friends working on the front line who are totally worn out, feel sad at the inability to travel home to see my dearest friend due to strict quarantine restrictions. The rest of us, the hoi polloi, continue to deal with masks, social distancing, lockdown, handwashing, Covid related death, grief and depression.  


In an effort to distract myself from the dominating topic on every news cycle since March, I discovered an Italian pasticceria that apparently opened three months ago in town. I rarely venture into Kongens gata, our main street. The owner hails from Rome, and though I didn’t stop for a coffee and cornetto, I promised him that I would come back with my husband. Poor man. I can’t imagine what drove him to open in this economy. We are a tourist town without tourists and a local population that takes a matpakka (sandwich in a lunchbox) to work and rarely, if ever, eat out. His enticing looking pizza slices might save him though. Norwegians regard fredags taco (tacos on Friday night that a Mexican wouldn’t recognise) as being typically Norwegian grub. Hamburgers and pizzas, with Norwegians consuming close to 47 million frozen pizzas a year, are a close second. The town of Stranda in our county is almost as famous for its downhill ski runs as it is for its Grandiosa frozen pizza, first produced in the late 70’s.  

I have been glued to Monty Don’s Italian gardens. And now to Episode 28 of Gardeners World on Mary Fisher of Burlingham blog’s recommendation. So much good stuff! Thank you, Mary, for your very thoughtful suggestions. And Annabel who sends me inspirational IG posts and Margaret for your emails. Might have to host the journal party at my house instead of Norfolk.  

My husband very sweetly bought me a set of Modulex as a gift. They were made in 1963, for architects by the parent Danish Lego company. Other than Eero Saarinen, the Bank of England and General Motors which used them to construct model impressions, it didn’t take off with architects. I’ve been forcing K to watch a lovely programme called Arkitektens hjem with me. I think he was hoping to get me to play with my Lego alone, instead. The presenter visits the homes of Norwegian architects and discusses their lives, projects and what they engaged with and were inspired by as children. It’s riveting. Six seasons. So I’m savouring it slowly. I really enjoyed the discussion with Rainer Stange, a landscape architect trained in Versailles. The very simple apple orchard he planted in his mother’s back garden was beautiful; Jan Olav Jensen is another interesting architect who grew up in India and Nepal with his missionary parents until he was 15 years old. He built the Leper’s hospital in India and in addition to many other projects, designed the beautiful Juvet hotel in our county. I’ve only stayed there once, many years ago, and it was outstanding in its simplicity and connection to the landscape and nature. He also had the most interesting hand made library shelves from plywood which were craaammed with books, in his home office.  


The episode that resonated deeply with me was an interview with 74 year-old Professor Einar Dahle, a well-known author of many tomes on architecture. On opening the door to the presenter, Einar identified himself as a female, Aina Dahle. She has not had a sex change operation and continues her marriage to her loving wife of many years. A committed Christian, who has designed beautiful churches, she moved early in her career with ‘his’ wife and two children to Tanzania for three years in the early seventies. She came public with the fact she is a woman about 15 years ago and admitted that she has felt like a girl from the time she was five. I was touched by her authenticity and courage to live life on her terms. And is fortunate enough to have the continued loving support of her wife and children. Her son is a partner in the architectural practice. She is male - Einar - on Sunday’s for her wife’s sake. The wife likes to remember once a week who she originally married.  


Eddie van Halen died yesterday. Jump was released the year I graduated. An invitation to love. Good night, Eddie. Sleep tight.


View from the wrong side of the Pennines

Elle Warsop, Oldham, Greater Manchester

I am keeping it short this week.  
It is Thursday (8th October) morning and I am fairly certain tougher restrictions are on their way.  But… hang on a minute… Oh yes… We’ve had tougher restrictions since… actually it is so long I can’t even remember any more.  

So I am just going to leave you with something I pinched from an interview with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester.  It says all you need to know about living in Oldham at the minute - more or less a prisoner of my own household for (insert number of months here).  I leave you with the words of The Eagles:


Welcome to the Hotel California…


Last thing I remember

I was running for the door

I had to find the passage back

To the place I was before

"Relax", said the night man

"We are programmed to receive

You can check out any time you like

But you can never leave”


Thank you London.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Early this week I turn on the TV and see a long motorcade with thousands of people lining the streets, no social distancing, no hands space face rules apply here this was America.

Trump has got the virus Covid 19 and must go hospital. He has his cavalcade of followers  no expense spared. 

Now he is home. He announces that the virus is nothing for an obese 74 year old as he discards his mask. He is a hero to all his followers now. 


I ask myself, did he really have Covid 19?


Meanwhile our own prime minister is looking grim as he stoops to the podium to give his next Statement on Covid restrictions  

This illness is taking its tole on us all.

Sheffield University has joined the list of more students testing positive for covid. 

I expect Sheffield will be the next place for further restrictions.


The new trick and trace turned out to be just that. Track and trace catastrophe.


On a better note my decorator has finished painting my conservatory windows. It was not a good time to do the job as every time he finished, it rained. The weather forecast being unpredictable. 

He would start in sunshine and then the weather changed so its not such a good job.

On hindsight I should have had the job done earlier in the year.

When it rained I asked him to paint my dining room Parquet floor with yacht varnish and he was astounded at how good it looked, never having used it before. I am very pleased with that. 

My saying is that will see me out.


I am slowly getting used to my new life order of living alone.  

Monday was a beautiful warm sunny day so I took myself on a walk up the lane near me to see if the little owl is still sitting on the country wall in the field where it usually sits very camouflaged and I need binoculars to see it. Yes it was there and it made my day. The light was wonderful and I took pictures with my phone but the owl is not visible.


The good thing about this Plague 20 Journal is the friends I have made and the distraction it has given me instead of feeling sorry for myself. I am now in regular contact with Shirin Jacob in Norway. We share gardening tips and baking recipes and do it on face time, what a lovely thing that is to do. I am so fortunate to have this facility. I also got my second face time appointment with my Physiotherapist.

And its the only way I can see my daughter in Oldham.


This week Margaret arranged for me to contact Mary In Norfolk and I have just had a wonderful email from her. What a lovely surprise thank you Margaret and Mary. 


This week I have done my first food order from my local herbalist store. I needed cod liver oil and vitamin B to see me through the winter. Also dried fruit for my Xmas cake and puddings, nuts and crystallized ginger that should last me ages.


On social media I have just read the Great Barrinton Declaration and Petition a signed petition by a few doctors and scientists who are anti lock down re Covid. They think we should carry on as normal with herd immunity. I think it does sound feasible. If all we are going to be left with is poverty. 

What do others think?

This is where my Art Society used to meet

This is where the Little Owl usually sits


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk UK

Money, money, money...


The sums of money being mentioned by our politicians, the media and even the medical experts, to get us out of this awful situation is quite alarming. Where is the money going to come from? 


If I were in a position of power I may be in as much of a dither as those who hold the loftiest titles, but I really do think I would ensure that all political leaders (national and regional) were consulted before bringing in new drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus. I don’t understand why Andy Burnham and others are not being asked what they would like to do in their own regions to address what appears to be a surge in regional hospital cases. Surely local elected members are best placed to get their populations (the people who voted for them) on-board with negotiated measures to try and solve what is in everyone's interests.


Medical expert opinion seems to be somewhat divided about how to overcome this latest surge but I believe that regional measures would be best at tackling regional issues. The cost to our country in the long term could probably be mitigated through the efforts of the entrepreneurs who have built solid businesses in their regions, paid their taxes and employed enormous numbers of people who also pay their taxes to continue taking steps to safeguard their customers and the population in general. Those who flout the (negotiated) local rules should be shut down, not the vast majority of hard-working business owners in the hospitality sector who have bravely soldiered on and introduced measures that are working. I have seen numerous such business owners on TV pleading to be allowed to continue trading and offering social opportunities to our culture starved population.


Parliament is in fundamental disarray and the usual debate/voting system that has been the bedrock of our society for centuries seems to have been the latest victim of our PM's massive majority. He's not at his best right now, making decisions (apparently gravely and solemnly) but without the support of many of the MP's we elected to help run this country. We think we are a democratic country but democratic debate appears to have been broadly abandoned.


In our region the cases are rising slightly but not at the worrying rates elsewhere. Commentators keep reassuring us that the surge is nowhere near the situation that previously existed at the peak of the infection. But I heard one ‘medical expert’ this morning saying that it will get back to that peak in a short time if drastic measures aren't taken. There's no nuance there but perhaps there should be.


A suggestion has been made by some ‘medical experts’ that the younger population, without underlying medical conditions, should be permitted to conduct their lives as normally as possible, whilst the elderly (and that includes me apparently) should be asked to keep themselves safe in whatever way they can. Of course, people with any medical condition would want to keep themselves out of harm’s way by reducing contact with others. I am fortunate that I have a husband, so I am not isolated like many of my age, but surely efforts could be made to help keep the isolated, single, perhaps infirm population, in touch with others through regular interaction (with obvious safeguards) and amusements to compensate for the lack of wider socialising. I really don't think that would cost any more than shutting viable businesses. Without the resulting furlough, unemployment and tax loss costs those measures are incurring there could surely be a budget to help those who are isolated and alone to be integrated more fully in a safe and responsible way to everyday life. A kind of Social Service financial boost! 


Local networking initiatives could be brought into play to help people get the most out of their lives at this difficult time. Food banks could be financed by central government to extend their service to supply succour as well as food, and unemployed (and furloughed) individuals could be encouraged to assist. The unemployed could be paid an additional sum on their benefits to help, whilst furloughed individuals would enhance their CV's greatly through such benevolent and charitable work. 


I believe that we must get our country back to work as quickly as possible without endangering lives and without compromising our NHS. Creative solutions are needed to help us do that and interaction with others is fundamental to creativity. Creative approaches can surely be developed through consultation, it's what our country is built upon, and I'm certain there are numerous creative brains out there whose opinions could benefit the debate.

On a much lighter note, I've just been given a belated Birthday gift of a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Unedo) - certainly a new one on me.
It will look like this in the fullness of time if I get it right.
I've looked it up online - it's evergreen, apparently slow growing and can reach 8m x 8m, so it will take a while.
But how exciting - and hopeful.

Thank you Sarah and Mike x


View from the Top of the Hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

It's official. Donald Trump is a special blessing sent down by God to cure the world of the virus and thus get re-elected as leader of the world. Our lives are complete. If anyone here isn't secretly hoping for a relapse on the steps of the White House, you are well up the queue for a halo. The most interesting thing about Mike Pence in the Vice-Presidential debate (another late night!) was the fly on his head, which caused a storm on Twitter and speculation as to whether it would catch the virus. There is no suggestion that it's the same fly which landed on Hilary Clinton last time around, but if it was it would be the first fly to cross the aisle. There may be police incident tape all round the White House by the time you read this.


Meanwhile in dear old Blighty we are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and only seeing the lights of the proverbial oncoming train. Local lockdowns don't appear to be working and poor Boris is trying to come up with a plan to avoid another total lockdown. I heard this morning the the world beating app has only sent out one alert since it was launched, despite the infection rates in some areas rocketing to over 500 per 100,000.


A desperate restaurant owner wept on camera yesterday about having to lay off all his staff and said he may lose his house, even though there has not been a single case connected with their business. The statistics show only 4% of infections are traced to hospitality venues but thousands of them will go to the wall. People are piling out of the socially distanced pubs at 10pm and queuing outside supermarkets to buy booze for their parties. It's all madness.


It's now plain as the mask on your face that we old folks are going to be "asked" to shield all winter so the young and largely "safe" population can continue to go to work or university (despite thousands of students now testing positive, we never saw that coming). We had a feeling the elderly would end up under the bus, is this the same bus that advertised £350.000 a day for the NHS? Personally I am more than happy to keep out of the way for as long as it takes, but when will we be allowed to come out?


I must end off now as my sale on Abe Books has taken off and I have over 20 books to get ready for the post this afternoon. Lots of art and ornithology, good subjects to pursue in lockdown! Happy reading everyone and stay safe.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

My goodness it’s been a quiet week - at least for the Johnston household - in comparison to the last. Best beloved and I have kept apart on medical advice, following her developing a sore throat over the weekend. Phoning 111 for advice, I might say, was a really helpful experience for her, so all praise for that NHS service. So, our happy couplet has been talking over the phone and also emailing a lot. She is clearly mostly recovered and we plan a reunion this weekend.


So, what have I been up to? The answer is very little. The weather has been both good and bad, with plenty of wind and rain, but also some welcome sunshine. I have enjoyed reading The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn. I thoroughly recommend it. I have found it inspiring. Can’t wait for the sequel! Other than that, there has been walking, and house cleaning at times, when I can’t find better to do. Music has also figured highly.


Nothing to say on the world - it’s all ghastly! Love to my fellow journalistas, who wrote so much of interest, clearly heartfelt, last week...


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Depressing news about rising Covid numbers. Not even going to mention the T…mp word. Had a phone call from my aunt’s care home to say that visiting was suspended again as a member of staff had tested positive. The saga with Nationwide continues – they did eventually send the interest statements for her accounts, but no sign of the small compensation payment promised. It’s not a question of the money – it will go to a good cause – but a matter of principle. 


The clearance of the cottage opposite took place on Tuesday. It was postponed from last Friday as the van wouldn’t have been able to get down the street until the holes dug by Northern Power had been filled. Fortunately that had been done by Saturday, when two of my old neighbour’s grandsons drove up from London to collect a few pieces of furniture the family wanted to keep. They were meant to arrive soon after 1pm, and collect the key from me. Around that time I heard what sounded like a large vehicle, looked out of the window, and saw a white van right outside the cottage, blocking the very narrow street. We had arranged that they could park in front of our property, as we have a garage made from the old cart entrance. After a couple of minutes the van moved off and the driver tried a complicated manoeuvre to try and turn round, obviously not realizing at first that there was a place to turn at the end of the street. At this point I thought I’d better intervene. By the time I got outside the van had managed to turn and was coming back down the street. I gave a cheery wave and gesticulated towards the space in front of our garage doors. As it drew nearer I realized there was only one person in it, not two. Presumably it was just a delivery driver, who must have been very surprised at my frantic gestures. I shot inside, very embarrassed, and the van continued on its way. A few minutes later the grandsons arrived in their hire van! This was smaller than anticipated, as they had turned up at the hire firm as arranged, only to find that the van booked out to them had been written off by a client the previous day. The option was to wait at least 2 hours for a replacement from another branch, or take a smaller vehicle. As they had to drive from London to Beverley, then home via Suffolk to leave the furniture in their aunt’s barn, there wasn’t much choice. Unfortunately the items they were taking included a welsh dresser with a tall top, which had to go in at an angle making it impossible to fit in everything else. We now have a desk in our shed and a chest of drawers in our garden room waiting until someone else in the family can collect them! Yesterday the sale of the cottage was completed, and I handed over the spare key.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

This was a week of visual stimuli. On Saturday, Margaret and I enjoyed our second virtual block printing course with Louisa Loakes. I continued practicing on Sunday using Lino blocks I cut for myself and had a further few hours printing on zoom with Dianne on Monday. I am having mixed results; some prints are very smudgy, but some are sharp and vital. I am new to Lino cutting and there is a lot to learn about the actual printing - which fabrics? How much ink? How much pressure to apply?


There was more visual stimulus in Wednesday’s Art History lecture from the National Gallery. In the session the week before we looked at “technique” - fresco, egg tempora, etc, used in our period (1240 to 1400). Participants were encouraged to seek out local examples - visit churches in their area for instance. Many did and at the beginning of this week’s lecture we saw the photos they took on these visits. Several of the photos were of churches in mainland Europe which shows the reach of this virtual course. Most of the photos, however, were of British locations. Major sites were visited, such as the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre in Winchester Cathedral. But in some cases visitors had knocked on the doors of churchwardens asking them to open locked churches for this purpose. I quickly gathered pen and paper and made a list of locations, thinking that in the future when this plague has lifted and we feel safe to travel freely, Simon and I could choose one or two churches and make a visit to see them ourselves.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



Departing summer

settles on their branches,


sings to the leaves

its lullaby of bronze


then vanishes

one autumn morning


as if summoned



So they wake

in robes of russet,


a seasonal display

on winter’s terms


and soon to be stripped

until next spring


to the skeletal limbs

of their nakedness.

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