Rosemary, Rodborough Common
An email from the National Trust informed us that their gardens and grounds were once again open and could be booked online. I was excited, we could nip up to Herefordshire with a picnic and walk through their splendid Weir Garden straddling the River Wye, and with glorious views over the surrounding country. But is it local? I fear not, it must be getting on for 40 miles away, so sadly, local we must remain.
Last weekend was glorious, Spring turned up suddenly feeling almost like summer:
"When you've got it, you want - oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so much ! "
We took a walk along the canal towpath down in the valley. People were revelling in the sunshine, some were paddle boarding up the canal, others sitting with their faces turned towards the sun, blackheaded gulls were being skittish as they skimmed across the water. Mother Nature had suddenly cast off her winter mantle, rubbed the dust from her eyes, opened wide her paint box to splash delicate yellows, pinks, blues and shades of white around our land, and it felt so good,
Antipodean in Cambridge
Katherine Holland, Cambridge
I remember when the earth was an object I could hold so very lightly
In my hand; its vast oceans and rocky deltas traversed with the ease of a finger, lightly drawn along the creases on my palm
Etching new lifelines over and over
All it took was a day and a night in a tin can vessel.
Watching sunrise in reverse. The clouds dancing under an aircraft wing.
My face a shadow against the window.
Cold breakfast on repeat.
Nothing more, or less.
So confident were we then
We suspended our belief in geography.
The distance on a map reduced to a moving yellow line across a pixelated screen
Our trajectory mapped in real time
While we, suspended, sipped our tepid cocktails from plastic cups
Served to us by cool, exquisite women with Mona Lisa smiles, their starched uniforms and opaque stockings surrendering nothing.
We could sleep then.
In the stale air, cocooned against the body of a stranger.
Sleep had a way of finding us.
The only place I know where time could be lost, or gained. Short of death.
Nothing more, or less.
Without this steady stream of traffic, the sky is still full.
Ursa Major, Cassioppeia, Polaris.
Northern stars who sing their origin stories against a black, unreachable sky.
They have no need for us up there. We are reminded of this.
Last night the neon moon shone through the kitchen skylight
My face a shadow against the window
Omega centauri, Milky way, Southern Cross.
Your southern stars tell different parables
And we, who are so far apart must keep our peace with this same moon.
Nothing more, or less
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
The cats have completely destroyed the slipcovers of our sofa. So off we trudged to the only interiors shop here (one which isn’t part of a chain) and were shown all the cat resistant fabrics. The owner recommended a beautiful one by Designers Guild and told us it would take ten days to order the 18 meters required. We went back on Saturday to confirm the order and asked for recommendations for a tailor or upholsterer from the assistant. I got a short SMS later, effectively saying “so sorry but we only sell material and the tailors we know don’t sew slipcovers. God helg!”
I find the moods and emotions of different towns, countries, seasons, days of the week, families and people very interesting. It was useful as a doctor to understand the familial mood in order to help effect change in patients’ habits and lives. I personally find certain cities have a magical mood. Sydney, Madras, Kathmandu, Istanbul and the London of my youth. I grew up in Singapore’s mood, the can-do culture of Lee Kuan Yew. “No” was not an option. As a physician, “Don’t know, don’t care, I give up,” isn’t encouraged.
In contrast, living in Norway’s Remote mood, it is sometimes a continuing struggle to deal with the poor service attitude and lack of charm. I’m trying to understand it from the historical perspective of their hard lives and isolation. Now, with their job security and nanny state mentality post-1969 oil discovery, service providers really don’t care. My husband disagrees. He thinks bad service has always existed. Norwegian consumers are tolerant and don’t expect anything better.
Hopefully, multiculturalism and being served by the occasional charming Polish, French, Portuguese and Italian might percolate and change their taste?
I rang Ralitsa in Singapore and got a quote from her upholsterer in two hours flat. I may have to send my covers to Singapore and have them made there.
Moving on from the mood of cities and countries, I have been thinking about Kindness. In the last year, I discovered some lovely potters in the UK through Instagram. It was a novel experience because I’m used to buying from galleries. The art or ceramics found there are usually the best pieces of the artist, already curated by the gallery, who then do what they are best at. Seducing, selling, packing, posting. And dealing with “particular” clients. I am crippled by my inherent OCD and my surgical training - to notice patterns, the slightest blemish, imperceptible flaws. I prefer one piece over the other, not because I don’t appreciate or love the artist, but because I need to deal with my own dark troll on my left shoulder who constantly questions my choice. Dealing with potters or artists personally can be more difficult. They are forced to do what they don’t do best. They can take rejection of their seconds personally and find packing and posting abroad too wearisome.
I was blessed to discover Annabel Grey, the artist and purveyor of good taste at Verandah Holt in Norfolk (@verandahholt). We have slowly through time become friends, sealed by the Terrys chocolate oranges sent to me for Christmas. A memory from my childhood a half century ago.
Margaret Brampton in Wales (@sgraffito2003) and Annie Hewett (@anniehewettceramics) in England, who both sent me beautiful pieces I was going to buy, without taking payment till they arrived safe in Norway. I was a complete stranger and that act of kindness told me volumes about them.
Felicity Jones (@felicityjonesceramics), whose beautifully decorated wares with wildflowers I’d first seen in Petersham Nurseries years ago. She is kind and charming and her cups carry her energy.
Akiko Hirai, whose ceramics remind me of my Mother’s Ikebana containers, is gracious and so easy to communicate with.
Caroline Nicolaou (@caroline_nicolaou_), who I commissioned Christmas tree decorations with the names of our family including our puddycats, sent me presents along with the order.
I find the new Instagram habit of loading a few things for sale creating a desperate scramble to buy, too stressful. I’ve spent my life in stress. I like to talk and ponder. This new world of click and buy in a Flash, is not for me. None of the potters I’ve mentioned are divas or too filled with a sense of their own importance. In addition, the objects are sent beautifully packed with little ceramic treats or Thank you cards. They are forming a long-term relationship with me across the waves. It’s not Just a sale.
I love you all. Your cups and objects carry the kindness of your soul. Thank you.
Mary’s projects mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
The journals and diaries and letters written by “ordinary” people during the war make fascinating reading. We continue to be interested and new collections continue to be published. I am particularly interested in the observations made when the outcome of the war was uncertain. Did the writers feel the war would never end? Did they have moments of hope - anticipating triumph - or despair that Britain might face defeat?
I think about those writers quite often because, of course, this Journal shares similarities. We are sharing our reflections on living in the midst of war - this time with an invisible, but clearly deadly, enemy. We write about what we are doing, what we are experiencing, how our pandemic world looks and feels. Mine has been fairly gloomy of late, so apologies for what follows.
I have been heartened to read recent hopeful entries about the twin arrivals: Spring, with all that warmth and sunshine and the Vaccines, rolling out so quickly and efficiently. I have wondered why I find it hard to fully share the joy and embrace such hope. What holds me back?
It is still a great jumble in my head, a jarring, mismatch in my thinking. Possibly others writers could explain it more clearly but I have such an intense desire for all of this “pandemic business” to disappear but really cannot convince myself that the virus will ever go away. At the same time I feel that even if it recedes I am fearful that I will no longer know how, or have the energy, to cope with a post-pandemic world. For nearly a year we have been isolating : concentrating on self-protection, shunning social interaction, pretty much divorced from the real world. How quickly can you unlearn fear? Perhaps when I have had my second inoculation? Perhaps when the case numbers fall even more quickly? Perhaps. Perhaps. Sorry for the gloom.
Walking in L.A.
Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA
Nature in L.A.
One doesn’t have to go far in L.A. to come across a little oasis of nature amidst all the urban growth. One such example is the Ballona Wetlands, a habitat of a marine estuary. These wetlands have been the subject of a battle between developers and environmentalists for decades resulting in the loss of 83 acres to the evil developers. However, the remaining wetlands between the development and the coast are now protected and this is where I go when I want to see some wildlife. The wetlands are fenced off to protect the flora and fauna but one can walk around the perimeter and spot a variety of birds. I recently visited Ballona and saw various ducks, coots, pelicans and hawks. A redwing was even obliging enough to pose on a fence and allow me to take its photo. While I was watching a couple of ducks in the water a third suddenly popped up from under the water and I realized that I had caught them in flagrante delicto.
My next nature ramble took my friend Keitha and me to Point Dume in Malibu to look for sea lions. Point Dume is well known for the volcanic outcrop that served in the past as a landmark for sailors, and was also the site of a Chumash Indian settlement. It is very popular with rock climbers, and the beach is used frequently as a location for filmmakers. As if on cue, there was a film crew clogging up the works, shooting scenes for a TV series called The L Word. We climbed the path up the cliffs and were rewarded with a sighting of two groups of sea lions sunning themselves on the beach far below. I had told Keitha that many years ago my sister and I had been sitting on the beach when we looked up and saw two California Gray whales sail by on their way north. Evidently history repeated itself and this time Keitha and I witnessed a pod of four whales in the water blowing through their spouts as they moved up the coast. Unfortunately, I was too far away to get a decent photo. We were irritated by a young couple next to us who sent up a drone to take pictures of the cetaceans.
Cycling in L.A.
The earlier the better is what I discovered recently when I rose at 6:45 am to cycle to Kaiser Permanente Hospital to pick up a prescription for my husband. Firstly, there was no traffic and no lines at the pharmacy so I was in and out. Furthermore, there was the added bonus of discovering a new Little Library and picking up a few books on my way back. I was also able to take time to check out gardens and listen to the birds singing as I ambled back home (if one can be said to amble on a bike). The thought came to me that cyclists who whiz everywhere on their bikes miss out on a lot.
Yesterday I rode my bike along the bike path abounding Ballona Creek and was dismayed to see even more garbage than usual in and around the creek. I soon discovered the reason: a homeless encampment under the road spanning the creek. I have a great deal of sympathy for the homeless but I wish there was some way to control the trash that accumulates in and around their encampments.
We visited our favorite Italian restaurant again after several months to find that they are still hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Unfortunately, we had to wait a long time for our dinner since there were only two servers, probably because they are forced to manage with fewer staff in order to survive.
The best news is that come Easter we will be meeting up with our daughter and her family somewhere between L.A. and Oakland for a mini vacation.
View from the top of the hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
The sunshine has returned this morning after a few gloomy days. My mood has been heartened by receiving Nicky's lovely paintings and poems, all in a very good cause and something to look forward to every day. Keep up the good work Nicky! Go here to join in: https://cvran.org/
This week's news was mostly about the budget, which we mostly ignored. I hear this morning that the Chancellor has avoided giving anything to the NHS to help them catch up and is only offering nurses a 1% pay rise, which has gone down badly. Apparently we are short of 50,000 nurses and 100,000 carers and nothing much is being offered to attract more to the profession. Sometimes you just have to sigh and let the government get on with it, they seem to have no concept of what's required. I believe they still haven't published the information about the PPE contracts.
Since the “road map out of lockdown” was announced, apparently the over 80s who have had the vaccine have thrown caution to the winds and are rampaging around the country without taking any precautions and booking foreign holidays. Tempting, isn't it? The vaccine does make you feel like you have armour on but we just don't know what these variants are going to do. I can imagine us having to have a whole series of jabs every year to keep up with them all. Personally, I think there's no harm in carrying on with wearing masks and washing our hands constantly, it's become second nature and we'll catch less colds.
We watched the news from Washington rather anxiously yesterday, waiting to see if Trump's supporters would storm the Capitol bearing him aloft on a golden throne, but nothing happened. Perhaps they are keeping their powder dry until the military presence is stood down. Also, apparently Q-Anon now think Biden is really Trump in a latex suit or something, so they've got their man in the White House without a revolution and can dispense with the Proud Boys. I see that Texas is lifting all Covid restrictions. Good luck with that Texans.
I am steaming ahead with the Bill Bryson book and now I am learning about microbes, which is timely. Apparently there are trillions of them in my body and they can all inform each other about current events in the world of microbes, so no wonder that mutant strains of the virus pop up all over the place, if they have similar abilities. Over here guys, there's some great food! Think about them whenever you feel like scratching an itch. There are lots of the little beasties who can live in molten rock or in the most inhospitable environments, so what chance is there that we can eradicate them from our lives, they carry on regardless. I am off for a very hot bath!
After reading Bill Bryson's account of the hard-won advances in scientific knowledge over the past two centuries, I feel with hindsight I was unnecessarily churlish when I expressed my extreme disappointment with the Mars landing. It's much harder to make these things happen in real life than it seemed in my teenage years, when I read every single science fiction book in the local library. Actually it's a huge achievement to have cameras on Mars and maybe they will find some handy microbes in the rocks. A sightseeing trip around the moon is being offered to eight lucky people, all paid for by a Japanese billionaire. He originally advertised for a girlfriend to accompany him but he has dropped that idea, plumping instead for eight deserving people who have done something to benefit mankind. Pity, I could have offered him my company but I'm a bit old for him and anyway I'm spoken for. I hope all goes well with his flight as so far the SpaceX rockets have all crash-landed. Maybe I'll wait till my next lifetime.
Off now to get ready for my grandson to thrash me in another game of chess via skype. I'm waiting to see what he makes of my latest home schooling project, which is an introduction to European classical music. It may or may not sit well with his Grade 3 Rock Guitar lessons.
Stay safe everyone and enjoy the Spring flowers.
Jane, just south of Norwich
For the first week of March it has been cold and grey here in Norfolk and I’m missing the sunshine.
But a few things this week have helped lighten the grey days:-
Bees spotted flying in and out of two hives we pass on our regular walk. A jar of local honey is my indulgence and I buy it from local suppliers whether at home or away – delicious! (Chris prefers a bottle of good red as his indulgence).
Seeing the number of Covid infections going down markedly each day in the column of the newspaper.
A friend who had a medical scare was seen in super quick time at the hospital and within a week, and having had all the necessary tests, she had a result which was not as concerning as she had feared. Reassuring to know the hospital continues to provide wonderful service despite having been stretched to the limits.
We’ve been able to book a week in North Wales in September and the liklihood of it going ahead looks promising.
Our niece has re-invited us to her wedding this summer, postponed from 2020 – on-line hat shopping has begun!
Hair appointments have been booked for 13th April, the day after restrictions on personal service are lifted. Chris did trim his beard at long last and the birds in our garden now have plenty of material to line their nests.
March 4th was World Book Day and our walk took us via the little book cupboard set in the garden wall/fence of a local house. Such a good idea and so neatly done.
On the subject of books, I did enjoy Marli Rose’s journal entry and her story about the umbrellas. It was beautifully written. It reminded me of a set of books I enjoyed as an 8 year old (and still have) – and one story in particular, Ameliaranne and the Green Umbrella by Constance Heward.
Good wishes to all.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
A brief entry from me. Work keeps getting in the way!
Good things this week: the UK's Covid numbers keep coming down; our spike of cases at work has also dropped away; Sarah made a delicious ginger & walnut carrot cake; England are doing slightly better in the test match this Friday morning; the EU has finally decided that maybe the AZ Oxford vaccine is effective after all; company sales in the UK are very healthy.
Bad things this week: the EU and the UK are getting all hot under the collar about the EU's annexation of Northern Ireland.
Amusing things: the Duke & Duchess of Windsor's self-imposed Californian exile provides much entertainment for the tabloid press.
Uncertain things: the budget - the country is waking up to the fact that because of our prolonged and very restrictive lockdowns we are a lot poorer than we were a year ago; but maybe with the right incentives, the chancellor can encourage businesses to invest more, to create more jobs and eventually and lead us back to some steady economic growth.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
I’m having a job getting started on this entry. In fact I’m having a bit of a job getting properly started at all this morning, and that includes writing this journal entry. Having made an early start, my mind now seems to have dried up a bit, so I need to work at recalling events. Let’s try the world first.
The budget from Rishi Sunak has ended up annoying me quite a lot. I think that virtually ignoring the needs of social care in this country is really quite unforgivable. Others, mostly better qualified than I, have condemned this move - or rather the lack of it. The system doesn’t work and seriously needs reform. Well, seems it isn’t happening now, and in my view that’s a bad thing. How can people working mostly on minimum wage terms being expected to sacrifice and take risks as they have been? I am also annoyed by the derisory pay rises given to NHS medical employees. Again I am annoyed by the apparent looking forward towards the re-imposition of austerity. It’s a path that doesn’t work - surely that’s clear enough. My hope is that one day we can get leaders who are not as self-serving as the current crowd - people who understand the reality of most people’s lives. Rant over!
I have been really chuffed by the way the Zoom open mic evening every Monday evening has developed with time. I think I’ve written of this previously. There are now a goodly number of regulars attending, many of whom perform music, poetry, storytelling, and in other ways. People are gathering from as far away as Hawaii, which is quite amazing. My youngest daughter, Emma, joined me last Monday, quite surprisingly (to me) enjoying my singing. This was with guitar and broadly bluegrass in genre. I shall continue with this type of thing in future hopefully.
For the first time for a while, I’ve done work on my little American Austin car. The fuel tank is knackered and I’ve been trying to fix it without success. It’s now ready to be sent off to a specialist company to see if they can do better. Must pack it up and get it away this coming week.
Best beloved and I have restricted contact this week to phone calls. Usually we talk several times a day, and thus keep our relationship lively. Hopefully we’ll be together more soon. In the meantime she is struggling with mice that somehow keep finding their way into her house!
I’ve slowed down on Irish, having rushed through four week’s study in just one. The reason for pausing is that it was becoming quite an addiction, and I don’t want that. I shall return to it in a few days for a thorough review to see if I understand anything. It is a very hard language to learn.
My love to all who read the journal, and to all who write as well...
John Underwood, Norfolk
This week has been busy in the garden again, with preparations for building a garden shelter, and making space so that the last of our Leylandii could be felled. Our field has been slowly drying out and so it was decided to take down the two vast and imposing Leylandii trees that have dominated our rear aspect since we arrived here nearly ten years ago. The trees were managed with big boys toys; a digger, a chipper, and a “cherry picker” on a lorry, along with large chainsaws. Is chainsaw envy a thing? The young man who felled our trees had a much bigger chainsaw than me, and used it with great effect and speed. I have a small chainsaw, but I do have a lumberjack shirt. Does that count?
We have had a few sales following a “virtual” Book Fair. In our experience of such things, the customers and sales have tended to be virtual as well, as in virtually nil, but this time a trade customer found a few items that appealed . As so often, other unexpected sales followed like buses, including a British Library librarian who we have been corresponding with for a year or more, (with six month silences due to furlough in between) trying to buy a book that the BL does not have. None of this is wildly exciting, but when your business relies on international trade buyers at Book Fairs, and institutions which have furloughed librarians, anything with the whiff of trade is welcome.
One bright note has emerged in the last few weeks. A social media group of booksellers in my trade association have started to meet on Fridays at 3 pm- another 3 pm Friday deadline – and I have found it most heartening to meet fellow booksellers to chat and joke about trade, the troubles with international exports and postage following Brexit . “ Just teething problems” we are told. Items under £135 (I think) just need one customs label, and the consensus seems to be that Royal Mail services seem to pass unmolested to their destination. Above that amount and you are into other paperwork, with VAT being levied (despite books being 0% in this country) by carriers and by the respective country that you are sending to…which means that your customer will have to pay extra just to receive the book that they have bought.
Today at 3 pm, however, we are having a “show and tell” of our favourite piece of ephemera, which is much more agreeable than discussion of VAT rates levied in European countries and horror stories of lost and returned books.
And talking of lost books, we had one stolen in the post the other day. A package arrived via Parcelforce (curses curses) but with a neat cut down one end and the contents missing. This was so annoying. I had found a rare, quirky c18th pamphlet in French, illustrated with lots of images of men’s wigs, each with a lovely name. It was cheap, in nice condition, and just the sort of thing that I like to sell- quirky, with a strong visual element. Let’s hope that the thieving expletive deleted enjoys the thing as much as I would have done.