Rosemary, Rodborough Common
I was feeling relieved that there did now appear to be that much talked about ‘light at the end of the tunnel’, but then at the beginning of the week the wretched virus offered up another new variant here at home, together with others that have been imported from overseas. My optimism plummeted; I felt more anxious than during the whole of the past year. I happened to watch a scientist being interviewed and questioned on this very subject. He mentioned that people should not be too concerned as scientists are far, far cleverer than any virus. This was so reassuring to hear and now I feel that I am back on track as we go forward. Something that I am finding confusing is those people that keep arriving here daily from overseas. Why has the compulsory quarantine at local hotels for several countries including Brazil, South Africa and Portugal has not been implemented? A recent news item showed an image of Heathrow, the journalist mentioned that the airports were looking relatively empty compared to normal with just a few stragglers. He then followed this statement up by saying 21,000 people had flown in that very day.
Who are all of these people that are still travelling overseas?
1. You are only supposed to travel overseas if your work cannot be done from home.
2. For medical appointments or
3. Educational reasons.
It was, however, patently obvious, as I watched, that many of those arriving from their flights had been enjoying a holiday.
Update - I have just learnt today that the quarantine in hotels for returning travellers is going to be implemented, but not until the 15th February.
On a more jolly note, the snowdrops are now gracing the garden along with crocuses and hellebores, and I have finally found some much needed energy, which has sadly been lacking for months on end, to finally tackle the much needed spring cleaning.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
I’ve run out of time this week, and I haven’t anything interesting to report, so here is one of our favourite soup recipes.
CREAMY VEGETABLE SOUP
1 large onion
3 sticks celery
½ litre chicken or vegetable stock
150 ml cream
Cheese (something that melts well, e.g. crumbly Lancashire)
Sauté diced vegetables in butter and/or oil for a few minutes. Sprinkle over some plain flour. Stir in stock. Simmer until vegetables are tender – about 30 mins. Add cream and seasoning, then grate in some cheese and stir.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
This week has been overly busy workwise and today I find myself unexpectedly home-schooling my grandson again. Seems he likes working with me. Possibly he likes my cakes - a grandparent’s privilege. Either way, my journal contribution this week is brief.
It appears that the costume drama series Bridgerton has led to an increase in the popularity of corsets, those body-sculpting undergarments. Corsets! I can’t think of anything worse. But then again, I am not a nubile woman who is young and sexually attractive. So, my opinion doesn’t count for much. Nonetheless, I am still curious. Why would you want to bind your body into such a garment? Because you wanted an hour-glass figure? Much of the swooning in drawing rooms was because women had been laced into too tight corsets. Because it’s erotic and sexy? But is that an individual choice or that of a partner?
When I was young I remember my mother struggling to get into a Playtex girdle every day. Heaving and wriggling this monstrous piece of engineering over largish thighs and tummy. Amazingly, there is still a demand for these on vintage clothing websites. Fortunately, I reached my teenage years just at the point when tights came in so I never had to contemplate the wearing of stockings or suspenders. And being skinny and underweight meant girdles were irrelevant. Roll on some fifty years and, having worked from home since the pandemic, I finally jettisoned the bra too. I had wanted to do that for years but never quite found the courage. I’m only ashamed that the decision took so long. From several articles I read, it seems I am not alone.
Good to see that the roll-out of vaccines is going better than expected. My mother’s GP, accompanied by a nurse, turned up on her doorstep last week to give mum her jab. Sisters and I are relieved. Mum was impressed that this had warranted special efforts by her own doctor. I think she also enjoyed, albeit for a few brief minutes, the opportunity to chat to someone in her own home and to feel cared for.
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
A few weeks ago I wrote that I thought the lack of trains running between the township and the city was due to the impact of the pandemic. Many people have had their livelihoods wiped out due to nearly a year of lockdowns. It seemed reasonable to suppose that this has had a knock on effect on the cheapest form of public transport.
But I was wrong. The lack of trains is due to the theft of the cables from above the tracks. Copper wire is expensive and there's a big black market in it. Thousands of tons of cable are stolen each year from the railways. It’s got worse since the start of the pandemic and so many rail services have been suspended.
In one way it is the pandemic that has caused the rail service to sink, because crime has mushroomed and that’s reflected in increased cable theft. Some two million people have lost work since the pandemic started. Unemployment is 43 per cent. Crime is a lot worse.
The small suburb where we live, Dorandia, which is in north Pretoria, is usually very quiet, at least by SA’s miserable standards of high rates of violent crime. Children here are discouraged from walking alone to and from school, even though the local primary is only a short distance from most points of the suburb. In other parts of Pretoria there have been cases of kids being snatched and turning up murdered or never heard of again.
Yesterday, Masana, my youngest, came running in shouting that there was a fight across the road. I was washing the dishes and looked out to see some guys tussling with someone across the street. I ran out to see what was happening but just heard a car speeding away. It happened so fast, as people always say.
Turned out that it was an armed robbery. The neighbour concerned had been followed from the nearby shops. The thieves wanted his wallet and cell phone.
So now we’re all being ultra cautious. Lots of WhatsApp messages between neighbours. Endless chatter and speculation. More fear and stress. More worry about locking the gates and doors properly, checking if we’re being followed when driving home, or if there are any cars waiting anywhere nearby when we arrive home and alight to open the long sliding gates that seal the entrances here. Less understanding, it seems, about why things are getting worse.
It is bad. I’m not denying that. Nor do I underestimate the pressure it puts on us all, and I fear for my kids’ safety above all. But it also seems clear that this is the sort of thing — this whole upswing in crime targeting people with cash — that is bound to happen given the increase in poverty due to covid and with the lack of any measures to alleviate it.
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
Varied weather this week. But January is over! It’s lovely and sunny today, at the moment, so we will hopefully get out for a walk before the sun disappears. On our walk on Wednesday we walked through a field of very attractive and friendly sheep – Balwen I think. One of them tried to take a bite out of my knee but luckily only grabbed my trousers. She then happily licked Jeremy’s hand – for the salt presumably. My farmer’s wife cousin is trying an experiment of spreading fleeces over her garden this winter to supress weeds. Her farmer friend has huge stacks of old fleeces in her barn because nobody wants to buy them, which seems sad. I expect the beautiful Balwen ones are more popular.
On our walk we met a friend who had just been invited for her Covid jab. She said she wouldn’t go as they wanted her to drive to a centre in Sheffield which is a forty mile round trip. As a keen environmentalist - she never flies anywhere – and knowing that many other people in the village had had theirs’s done at the cottage hospital in Bakewell, only three miles away, she didn’t feel she should go. I presume Bakewell is unable to vaccinate the required number of people who need to be vaccinated in this area. They were still vaccinating in Bakewell this morning when Jeremy went for a physio appointment so maybe she can get it done there soon. I do hope so. I think I would go anywhere.
Last year my mission was to not buy any new clothing. I did fairly well but succumbed when we finally were able to go away in September and bought myself some sandals and shorts. It felt so good and I didn’t feel too guilty. I haven’t bought anything since. This year I have set myself a goal of making everybody’s birthday present using materials I already have. Keeping busy is good for me. Jeremy is being recruited to help using wood from his stash! February is our busiest birthday month with eight birthdays – three on Valentine’s day – so I have been very productive. So far I have knitted three hats and two pairs of mittens and have shibori dyed two T shirts and one of Jeremy’s best white shirts. I’m sure he doesn’t need it! Jeremy has made a beautiful checkerboard design wooden chopping board.
I am also recycling some of the favourite birthday cards that have been sent to me. I put them away in a drawer after having them on display on my pantry door for a few months, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away. When my boys eventually clear out the house I can hear them saying, ‘Whatever did she keep all this rubbish for?’ So someone else will have to throw them away.
The bin men came and emptied the bins this week after missing two weeks collections so the village is looking a lot tidier. They are very short staffed. How high up the vaccine list should they be? I am really hoping that teachers become priorities. It is almost impossible for them to socially distance especially from young children or children with learning disabilities.
We very much enjoyed watching David in his play. Thank you for telling us about that. It’s still sunny and I am off for a walk.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
When you get to your 82nd year it becomes normal to attend funerals. In our latter years, when my husband and I went on holiday inevitably when we got home, someone we knew would have passed away. Trying not to make light of it we started to say to each other on our way home I wonder who will have gone this time and it got to be a standing joke.
So, this week has been no exception. My sister-in-law being ill for a long time passed away on the 5th January and I took part in a video funeral on Tuesday 26th January. Well, it was different.
I could ignore the vicar trying to recruit new members to his church and make a cup of tea and drink it during the long prayers. To give him his due he did say a few words about her. My sister-in-law was quite a character. Having five children and not much money she did things in life that most women wouldn’t even tackle or think of.
Such as laying crazy paving, crazy being the word. Building walls that were certainly different, but the craziest thing she did was to save her youngest daughters milk teeth and make a pallet with them and the photo came up on screen of these teeth on a pallet like false teeth. We found out after that there were lots of photos of her and family but these teeth stayed on screen. So, it made the funeral quite fun to watch. My daughter asked me if it was disrespectful to be knitting and I said no because I was painting with watercolor. I was quite glad that I couldn’t go to the burial afterwards due to Covid on such a cold damp day. Covid has its benefits on occasions. It did make light of a very sad occasion.
It got me thinking of my own mortality and what kind of funeral I would like for myself. My three daughters and I arranged my husband’s funeral and I spoke about him myself; goodness knows how I carried it off. I think by that time I had cried myself out. He told us what music he wanted and we gave him his wishes. Sarah did video photos of his life from birth. Being an atheist, he wanted no religion.
On Wednesday. I was having a face time call with my new found journal friend Shirin Jacob and we found ourselves discussing what we wanted our own funerals to be like and made a pact we would both talk about it in the journal
After the funeral my daughter Sarah rang to ask me what I would like at my funeral. It’s good to discuss these things. I know exactly what I want at my funeral, I had already decided on my choice of music and do not want it to be a religious ceremony. I would like a nice piece of poetry and I hope someone I care about cares enough about me to say a few kind words.
I have chosen classical romantic music.
Antonin Dvorak: Oh Silver Moon, Renee Fleming. From the Enchanting opera Rusalka.
Once upon a time deep in the forest of Bohemia, young women and men met and fell in love under the spell of the silver moon. Rusalka is Bohemia’s little mermaid.
The words are so romantic:
Moon high and deep in the sky Your light sees far
You travel around the wide world to see into people’s homes.
Moon stand still a while and tell me where is my dear
Tell him silver moon that I am embracing him
For at least momentarily, let him recall dreaming of me
Illuminate him far away and tell him who is waiting for him
If his human soul is in fact dreaming of me
May the moment awaken him?
Moon light don’t disappear. Don’t disappear
The second romantic piece I have chosen.
Delibes: Lakme/act 1 veins, Malika, The Flower Duet
The story of Lakme a Brahmin girl based on a novel by Pierre Loti
When Lakme`s Father was attending a gathering of the faithful Lakme and her servant Malika were left behind in the jasmine garden by the river to pick flowers. As they approach the water Lakme removes her jewels and places them on a bench. Two British officers Frederick and Gerald and lady friends arrive for a picnic and the lady’s see the jewels and ask Gerald to sketch them. He spots Lakme and Malika returning and Malika leaves. Lakme is scared and calls for help but she is intrigued by him and they fall in love. But Lakme's father finds the British officer trespassing and vows revenge.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I commented last week on the challenges of exporting “Products of Animal Origin” to the EU. Unfortunately with each passing day, new unforeseen complications arise and I am now less confident that we will get back to normal before the end of February. Part of our product range, including the bars made on our super new bar machine (see 12th June 2020 journal entry) are outside the PoAO regime, but as regards the core products, low calorie milkshakes, we are still some way from being able to ship to the EU. And one matter outside our control is that many hauliers are refusing to ship PoAO because of the risk of finding themselves stuck at some European border control post with incorrectly prepared paperwork. It is small comfort that we are not alone in this position, and some of these absurdities (like British supermarkets being unable to send sausages to Northern Ireland) demonstrate that the EU is determined to take an absolutist approach in the enforcement of border health controls, “pour encourager les autres”!
Our son and girlfriend are getting on with their house renovation project in Leamington – they are recording progress on Instagram under the name “novicereno”. The builders started work this week, and have got underway by demolishing the chimney breast. I might drive round on Saturday morning to check on progress. Also on Instagram I liked our editor’s hellebore photograph – a wonderful deep purple colour. My hellebores are probably a week or two behind yours, Margaret.
The world of social media, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is something that has largely passed me by. I have a Facebook account so that I can follow my company’s page, but I have never knowingly posted anything on these platforms, apart from one tweet about five years ago – and I am not sure that that was intentional. I maintain a LinkedIn profile, because it is good for the ego to have recruitment agencies getting in touch about exciting (and sometimes not so exciting) job opportunities. More usefully it enables me to follow the career progress of former colleagues. But the idea (much reported in anti-vax debates) of people getting their news from Facebook leaves me baffled. I am quite content with the news from Channel 4, the BBC, The Guardian and The Telegraph. Sometimes I also look at the Italian press online. And Italy of course has experienced another of its bloodless coups this week, with the President appointing as Prime Minister someone who is not an elected politician. Mario Draghi is a well-respected economist, the man credited with saving the Euro after the financial crisis, but he is simply a reassuring technocrat who will try and cobble together a new coalition government and keep Brussels/Frankfurt/Berlin happy. For all its political instability, (Italy has had 67 governments since the war), Italian politicians and bureaucrats always tend to treat calling an election as the last resort. I always enjoy exercising my civic duty of casting my ballot, even if it is just district council elections, so I am reassured to hear that the government is determined that this May’s local elections will go ahead, with a message of wear a mask and bring your own pen!
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
On Thursday there was sunshine all morning. Not warm sunshine but a kind, gentle brightness that shows us all the winter beauty of the countryside. Really lifted my spirits. Got out in the garden, looked at all the buds and re-greening that’s starting. It is so uplifting and hopeful. Spring will be along in a few months. Walked the dogs near Minsmere and then came home to a super meal. Simple pleasures!
Several friends have phoned this week and we have chatted about our lockdown lives. There’s a sense of restlessness and some despair. A shrunken world. Most of my friends are retired or about to retire. We share similar experiences of lifestyles that have been lately much contracted. We all feel that we are much less active but I am not so sure. We certainly drive much less and spend much less. Yet I for one walk much more and try to take daily exercise too. Before March last year, I rarely thought about exercise.
One friend said to me “Hasn’t the news become a soap opera?” He feels it is no longer a report of factual events but moreover - a series of mini-dramas with side shows and giggling, glossy lipped, ego-inflated presenters colourfully dressed to parade in what is now a circus. At times, but not always, I think I agree. But fun and laughter are important right now. Bring on the dancing girls! Bring on the big balloons!
Not a lot more news, folks. The cashier at the supermarket checkout summed up things while I was on my last shopping expedition. “How are you coping with all this?”, she asked with a cheerful grin. “Doing okay, thank you”, I replied, “How about you?” She smiled: “I eat, walk, watch TV, sleep. Repeat”. Me too, I guess. Me too. Stay safe and well, people. Next thrilling episode, same time, next week xx
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
There is a lot of snow to be expected during the coming days in addition to the downfall at the last weekend.
All people got their toboggans out and enjoyed the season on our local "mountain" which is barely 129 metres high last Sunday.
Work involves meeting colleagues and students online who are expecting another prolongation of the current lockdown which is going to be debated about by the Chancellor and the Prime Ministers of the states next Wednesday. The mood of most of them is rather low in accordance.
We have watched all parts of the series "Inspector Morse" recently, thoroughly liked it and have started with "Endeavour".
Susan, Kyneton, Victoria, Australia.
Hotel quarantine continues to cause problems for Australia. First in Perth causing an immediate hard lockdown of five days, and now in Victoria resulting in mandatory face masks in indoor settings and limitations on numbers who can gather. Both the cities are trying to keep more virulent strains from getting into the community, and so far so good. In the Melbourne case there appears to have been no breach of safety protocols and the thinking is that is escaped into a corridor as people were collecting food and beverages. They were two family groups, all with the virus and the revamped ventilation systems could not clear the viral load that escaped the room. What a dreadful illness it is. On the positive front it looks like vaccination roll out will begin next month and if the take up is high enough Australia should continue to be in the happy position of having herd immunity. One prominent (read loud) politician has now been brought to heel by his party and their leader (our PM) for peddling preposterous conspiracy theories and general anti vaccination garbage since the beginning of the pandemic. The effect is corrosive, but he has been defended as being an example of our dedication to free speech. Many people I speak to in my little town begin sentences with “I’m not an anti vaccination person but...” Trust is so easily lost.
We have just celebrated yet another highly divisive national holiday. Australia Day is a day of great sadness and stress for our First Nations people; for the waves of European and Asian immigrants it is a day of total irrelevance. It was hardly celebrated until 1988 and many of us think that it time to change date.
Summer continues to pass us by here. There have only been a handful of days warm enough to eat outdoors. When the temperature has been reasonable we have had very windy weather. We have though, had some welcome soaking rain. Seventy millimetres last week and much more today, I haven’t waded out to the rain gauge to check. The second flush for the roses has just begun and the dahlias and zinnias are looking really beautiful.
On Annabel’s recommendation we have been watching Call my Agent, which has been a wonderful distraction. Last night we watched The Dig, which was beautiful. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes are such fine actors.
This week I bottled plums and peaches. With my own tomatoes waiting for some heat to ripen, I bought a box and preserved tomatoes for winter soups and casseroles. My timer is calling me to my Walnut sour dough, so I will say goodbye.
Take care xxxx Susan