John Underwood, Norfolk

How to be a Beau


I have made several “interesting” fashion choices in my time, most of them involving hair as part of the regalia. These days that is not much of an option as those who have met me will vouch for. If today I am wallowing in the gutter, at the nadir of my fashion sense (or is there worse to come, I ask glumly) my apogee would be in around 1972, when you would have seen me wandering about teacher training college with hair to my waist, wearing what were called “loons” (the fly tied with a leather thong where the zip had broken) Indian shirts, and an Afghan coat which in dry weather smelt strongly of goat, and when damp from rain smelt strongly of the scapegoat that had been ejected from the herd for lack of intimate hygiene. Pink dyed or silver sprayed monkey boots completed the ensemble. You have to imagine the goat mixed with wafts of patchouli oil, and probably tobacco, since I smoked a pipe at the time. And Ally loved me, which doesn’t say much for her fashion sense come to think of it, but her parents thought that I came from “good stock” (more like Woodstock I hear you cry) - so that was all right then. I used to patch my jeans myself, using my mother’s sewing machine when I came home, and favoured fabric sample books for that “uncut moquette” look. It was niche. We used to split the seams of our jeans to add wide inserts of fabric to make flares too, but I favoured a stall in Portobello Road which made jeans from several other pairs of worn out jeans. The equivalent today would be ripped and torn jeans that young people seem to wear.


And the reason for this diversion into schmutter? We have just received a rather fun thing that has been hiding in America for a while. A series of cards with a poem entitled “The Dandy’s Toilet or How To Be A Beau”. The first card shows “a youth just ceased to grow / Whose ambition it was to be a Beau”. Subsequent cards overlay the first, until at card no.8 the “Dandy is quite complete / Ready to lounge in Regent’s Street”. About 200 years old, and proving that human vicissitudes are unchanged, at least in the male vanity department.



The Little Gingermen

Wren Pearson, Pownal, Maine USA

January. I won't be missing it once the calendar is rolled over. This morning it was -11 (Fahrenheit) when we got up at 5am. The car struggled to start and the doors refused to close until the car's interior had warmed up, something to do with the power locks and frozen switches. The food I left out overnight for Yumi, the feral cat that has adopted our small barn, was left untouched. No late night raids by cheeky racoons and possums. Only Yumi's footprints crisscross the driveway on her rounds to the compost pile, the chicken coop, the front porch, the back porch, and back to the barn. We've made her a bed in the barn but feed her on the back porch so I can keep an eye on her health. She is skittish. We know nothing about her, if she even is a her. Each morning I wait for signs of her existence and do the same for Spring.


The hens are enduring their first winter with grace and wit in the old chicken coop that had been empty for a decade before they moved in. Beryl, Hattie, Queenie, Maggie and Helen. They are a merry band but the brutal cold makes me worry for their well being, so I spend time cooking for them and making treats that we hang from a cut tree limb or place in rubber bowls. Corn cobs, first slathered with peanut butter and then rolled in bird seed, are a big hit hanging from the sapling limb like tiny piñatas. I've started adding pine cones with similar toppings along with small bunches of pine boughs. Hattie loves pine needles. The hanging treats keeps the five of them busy a good long time. I recently posted about treat-making on Instagram and asked if veteran chicken folk had suggestions for appetizers. One kind soul wrote that she hangs a cabbage in the coop at a level that forces the hens to make a little jump to get a peck in thereby getting a treat and exercise at the same time. She just screws a sturdy metal eye right into the cabbage core. I'm eager to try it but will wait for more moderate temps so no one breaks a beak in the melee.


When I picked Mr. Pearson up from work today he handed me a precious gift in these Covid times: an N95 NIOSH mask. I used to wear a similar mask when I was sanding and oiling mahogany fly fishing tackle boxes a lifetime ago. There continues to be so much fighting over mask mandates and vaccinations here. The ill will, the fear, the ignorance, the bravado, the bile - it makes winter that much harder. The reality is that if either of us gets the virus and ends up in hospital for any length of time, or has long-term COVID, it will bankrupt us even though we pay for health insurance. We could spend the rest of our lives working to pay off hospital bills. I don't know why that isn't terrifying to those who won't wear a mask or get vaccinated. The fight over COVID has become our reconvened civil war.


Here's to more light as we climb out of the collective darkness.


Cheers!  Wren


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Just as we thought Sheila would be putting the finishing touches to the January Journal (a glass of something deliciously red to hand) we were to be taking our seats at our very first LIVE concert since all these shenanigans began… but this was not to be.  That morning we received notice that one member of the sublime Arod Quartet had tested positive and was unable to enter the UK… and so… exeunt January literally pursued by a bear (I can make no other comment to sum up my reaction to the appalling and exhaustingly cumulative January news… both domestic and international… with even David Attenborough’s Green Planet leaving me feeling anxious and rootless)…


But as always there is lightness of being in everyday encounters… a clump of aconites spreading beneath a flint wall; a freshly weeded and brushed gravel path; amazingly beautiful sunsets; a huge knot of my hair patiently untangled by a chatty hairdresser; the protective weight of my husband’s hands on my shoulders as I sit down to yet another nine spot domino tournament with the spritely Matriarch; reading Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journal followed by the boisterous larks and observations of Tristram Shandy; and a chance encounter via abebooks.com with this Journal’s own Pately Bridge bookseller, Linzy, with whom during an exchange about legitimate extra charges (English Gardens with photographs by Edwin Smith is gargantuan!) we established our digital relationship … which leads me to finish with E M Forster’s immortal words (frequently cited by Margaret) only connect!!! Keep joining the dots people!!!



Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



Advance, stranger,

and reveal yourself


with the requisite

digital configuration.


Facial recognition

is under development


but yet to be introduced

as up and running.


Your personal profile

has forgotten who you are


and anonymity

is not an option


so you will need 

a unique password


valid for answering

Who Goes There?


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

What have we done to deserve a leader like BJ? Surely the country has enough problems to cope with - Covid and soaring energy prices to name but two - without having to deal with 'Partygate' as well. Not a good start to 2022.


Nothing much to report from Wood Lane. Still wearing our masks when we go shopping. We have been out for supper at friends' houses a couple of times, including a Burns night celebration. Earlier in the month we had a trip to Doncaster, to see the new museum/gallery/library. All very smart, but sad (although not surprised) to find that the wonderful collection of Yorkshire ceramics that was displayed in the old gallery is no longer on show. It obviously doesn't fit into the 'modern museum' format.

On Tuesday we went to our most distant 'local' beach, at Kilnsea, near Spurn. The coastline changes almost weekly in that part of the world. The wind was still very strong, and on the first stretch of the deserted beach a covering of sand had completely covered the band of pebbles. Fortunately it was much better a little further along where the mud cliffs provided some shelter.


The wind turned out to be an advantage, as it had blown some tiny carnelians to the surface, as they are very light. The hunt for these treasures is compulsive! We treated ourselves to lunch at the Spurn Discovery Centre. Closer to home we have heard woodpeckers on Westwood common, and seen red kites on a country walk. The snowdrops are out in the garden.



Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Happy February!


The past month seems to have flown by. In East Anglia, it was the driest January since records began. A few sunny days but mostly dull, grey days. Not the best days for gardening even if the weather stays dry. I don’t have a lot of news to share although I could complain ad nauseam about the state of British politics, the government, the betrayal of the public by greedy individuals working with the support of the authorities, corruption in high office, moral decline, shameful television and misinformation etc. Actually, the list is endless. Moan, grumble, moan, grumble! These are, I guess, my Victor Meldrew years! 


Yesterday was certainly one of those “I don’t believe it!” days. Everything went wrong - and sadly, not in the farcical ways of TV sit-coms. It was just a succession of annoying mistakes and mishaps. The phone rang first thing in the morning - I quickly retrieved it from my pocket, fumbled to try to accept the call, pressed the green button, swiped, clicked, did everything frantically and yes… missed the call. A private number so I couldn’t ring back. I’m expecting a call from the hospital so I’m annoyed. Was it them? Hey ho, I tell myself, if it’s important - they’ll ring again.


I decide to busy myself. It is cold so I’ll work indoors I think. I’ll just gather some things from the shed and set them out on the counter. But as I’m unlocking the padlock on the shed door, the key breaks. Splits in two. “Typical” - I snarl to myself. Fortunately the pieces all come out - so theoretically the lock should still be useable. I go indoors to get the spare key from the drawer. Alas, in my eagerness, I pull so hard that the drawer and its contents fall to the floor. Excited dogs run to see what the commotion is and delight in running off with all kinds of valuables! Spend half an hour trying to restore order. Eventually calm descends. I go out to the shed with spare key. Would you believe it - I drop the key! Into shingle and undergrowth! Nowhere to be seen. It’s gone! Moan, grumble, moan, grumble. Curses! Frantic raking with my fingers through shingle and ivy and whatever and cut my hands. Tiny cuts. But will they stop bleeding? No! I’ll live but not without hours of unnecessary whining and complaining. Decide to go indoors for coffee… hear the phone ringing, rush to the phone - private number calling - pick it up and yes, you’ve guessed it… the line goes dead! 


Five minutes later… the phone rings again. I’m ready this time. Damn right I’m ready. Press the green button and the reassurance of a soft human voice… “Hello. Today is your lucky day. You have been selected to receive a free laptop or television set if you’ll answer just three easy questions….” Arrrrghhhh !


Stay safe and well x


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

The rain is tapping on the old tin roof ~ snow and sleet predicted after midnight so I am hunkered down with another cord of wood just delivered and stacked by the hardworking young man who helps me in the garden but is still in school ~ his mother came to help him get it all under the wood shed before the new storm. What a team they made! Hauling and stacking well into the early evening and how grateful I am feeling for their help.


Life is quiet here, as it always is… mundane when I try to think of what to report as my daily life follows quite an uninteresting pattern though to me it is full and satisfying.  


Hoping all are well and enjoying these wonderful wintery days ~ heathy and content.



Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

January has been a time of reassessment and reevaluation of risk. With the highly infectious variant of Covid always in the background, so much of what we did or didn’t do needed a “risk assessment.” We heard from so many people that they had caught it, that it was relatively mild, that it lasted only a few days. But….

Yes, the country itself “opened up” and mask mandates were removed. But for the vulnerable that can mean a “closing down” - there is more risk in a mask less environment and so horizons narrow.


Also in this last month I began to realise that I wasn’t sure how I felt about my own risk. If you live with someone more vulnerable you live with their risk - you don’t need to evaluate your own. You don’t need to justify your actions; you hide behind theirs.


Two events this month caused me to make different decisions. I decided I had to miss a meeting of fellow weavers in January. They are a highly professional group. Their work is inspirational and I always leave our meetings fizzing with new ideas. We usually meet about four times a year and share current projects - a very tactile “show and tell”. We haven’t met since Covid struck. But… all of us together in one room? Perhaps too risky. I was really sorry to miss it and really hope that I will feel able to attend the next one.


But I made quite a different decision this last week. Our dear friend, Jean, is in England - all that way from Melbourne - and would be in Bristol for four days. How could I not see her? I thought it would be terrific if I could see her on my own and not endanger Simon. So that is what we did. On Sunday Simon drove me to Bristol. On Monday he drove back to Devon. Jean and I met on Tuesday and walked and talked for six hours. I was not yet ready to risk going into a restaurant so she respected my fear and our lunch and several coffees were enjoyed outside. Jean’s daughter, Katherine, joined us for the last cup. It was a cold day but I didn’t even notice until we hugged and said goodbye.


We have met twice since, both outside. Drinks last night joined by my son, Tom, and brunch this morning just before Katherine and Jean travelled back by train to Cambridge. My life suddenly seems so full and so enriched. This must have been the right decision.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

Time flies by, a rainy January did not bring much news. The Covid strategy has not been changed so far and it probably won't until Easter, at least that is the prognosis. 


My students are very afflicted either by being ill or in quarantine, it is not easy to keep them going and to let them participate. Last week a lot of conferences took place, all online - we might continue to do that after the end of the pandemic, it works out well.


Two weeks ago we attended a lovely concert with music by Britten, Hindemith, Shostakovich and a female composer I had never heard of before (Rebecca Clarke). The programme informed us about the fact that she once participated in a competition under a male pseudonym and under her real name and got the first and the second award (the first one for the male name as a woman could assumingly not be good enough for it).

The concert was very good and we enjoyed being there despite the outer circumstances (mask, an audience of only 70% of seats to be taken, registering your name and proof of being vaccinated).


If the sun is out, I really enjoy my cycle to work and attach two photos of it.



Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia - in UK

The past 7 seven weeks have been a whirl of wonders - Cambridge, Manchester, Norfolk, London and Bristol. Still in Cambridge with 2 weeks to go before the return to Melbourne. So much walking, looking at buildings, people, everything! And family and friends, galleries, restaurants - even the theatre. And still so much I want to do and people I want to spend time with. The strange monochrome life I was living in lockdown suddenly burst into colour, though it is also true that it's taken most of those 7 seven weeks to get used to being 'out in the world' and to figure out how to navigate it once again. Thanks to all the wonderful people I've got to spend time with who helped with the re-entry! I got to weigh up the risks and make some choices, and I know I'm enormously lucky to have had this precious experience!



From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

There is a change that's happened in me. Up until the time of the last journal entry, the overriding issue on my mind has been the pandemic. Now, for the first time since it all began in 2020, it is not really so much in the forefront of my thoughts and feelings. There are other matters that dominate my thoughts far more; the parlous political shenanigans around our government, the machinations of Mr Putin, and the world seeming in some ways to be opening up again. I'm not a person who will say, either internally, or to others, that it's all over, because of course it isn't. However, I am in a slightly different place than perhaps I was as recently as a month ago.


On a personal level there have been some encouraging developments. Because of pain I was getting in my left leg area, which peaked in intensity in about June last year, I was a bit worried about my state of health. To cut a quite long story short. I have just received a letter from a hospital consultant, saying that there appears to be nothing major wrong, and that he doesn't want to see me again. It seems I have a little osteoarthritis in my left hip, and that's about it - nothing needing to be done. That, I suppose, is par for the course in an ancient person like me.

Best beloved remains at the very centre of my being. For me she is the almost perfect partner, and of course I adore her. Lately, there has not been much scope for us being out and about, walking the Wight, and so on. Instead we very much seem to be walking together in our minds and feelings about all that is going on in the world of British and European 'crazy' - to borrow Chris Dell's word again. At one level it's all so serious, and at another a lunatic soap opera. It can be a kind of entertainment.


I enjoyed a very pleasant birthday recently. Kind family and friends sent me greetings, and there were lovely presents of various kinds. My son Tim was probably the most experimental with his gift, which was a box of exotic edible fungi. Many years ago I had a phase of being a bit of an amateur mycologist, but this fine collection at first left me wondering what I could with it. Of course they were for culinary purposes, so I have tried various things. The very best I think has been a veggie/vegan version of mulligatawny soup. It's a delicious recipe indeed, especially with my own addition of extra chillies - yum! Must make more of that...