From rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

It is wonderful how a couple of weeks can change one’s perspective with the help of four lovely good-natured and hard-working women who have cleaned my home from head to toe and every surface and object in it after the awful furnace puff-back which spread oily soot through the house. I now have a brand new furnace, and oil tank, in my old dirt floor cellar which was also thoroughly cleaned ~ pipes, stone walls, old wooden late 18th century beams, etc.  


The temperature today should reach the mid 60’s and though we have no blooming bulbs or bushes there are signs of crocus and little buds pushing their way up into the warm sunshine. I am quite envious of the gardens I see on instagram from the UK but March in New England always promises yellowing weeping willows and choruses of spring peepers by the end of the month.  

Having gotten my first Covid shot and the second just a week or so away has also made such a difference ~ I feel hopeful and forward-looking again! Museums, movies, restaurants and visits to friends seem possible in the not-too-distant future. And a subtle feeling of worry and dread has begun to disappear.  


I received a copy of ‘2020 Vision’ from Pat Randle at his Nomad Press, where for so many years his father John Randle created his beautiful books that I have so admired, collected and treasured. This book celebrates 100 years of the Society of Wood Engravers from a collector’s 19 favorite contemporary engravers alongside the engravers who most influenced them. It is just a stunning book so beautifully printed and designed. And so inspiring ~ so today, as the first day I am free to sit once again at my desk after such an upheaval, I am ready to work again on the little engraving for the title page of the little book I have been working on ~ off and on ~ all year.  


My appreciation to David for his very interesting and illuminating description of his process, which I so enjoyed. It is so good to continue to read about everyone’s life one year into this Pandemic and our Journal. And as always, I particularly enjoy hearing from the Macrae children ~ their adventures and perspective.



Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Isolation Diary by Franklin Macrae


Next week we are going back to school!! I've been excited for this for ages and we were meant to be going back last week, but the year group has been delayed and the older ones are going back first. I'm not sure how it is going to work when we go back but I think we are going to have to test every week to stop the spread of the virus. That doesn't sound too nice to be honest but I think we'll get used to it. 


My Mum works at the test station there and she says she thinks that we will have to wear masks everywhere we go which I am not too keen on but I'll have to put up with it. However, I am extremely excited about going back and I can't wait to see my friends again. Although the school has done a good job with online learning I don't really like sitting at a screen all day and I would much rather be in a classroom.

Back to school by Marli Rose Macrae


I've gone back to school!


I'm soooooo delighted to be back at school and to see my friends.  I've missed them so much and it's wonderful to see them again. This week we have mostly been doing fun stuff to help settle back in however the head teacher has decided that we must all write in a certain style of handwriting. This is annoying because my handwriting is neat and clear and I don't want to change my style. Mummy said it's because some children have not been writing at all during Lockdown and now they must go back to the beginning and learn again. She said she will drop my teacher a note.


We are reading three books at school too. Two are fairy tales, one of which is rather dark. The third book is about a strange creature (that could be Dracula) in a hotel in Whitby in Room 13!

At home, I have been reading 'The diary of Anne Frank'. Anne is the type of girl I would love to be friends with, even though she's older than me. I think we have a lot in common. I enjoy reading and writing and so does Anne. She kept a 'book of beautiful words' and this is something mummy told me to do too, quite a few years ago. At one point in the diary she says "I'm currently going through a dance and ballet craze and I'm diligently practicing my steps every evening".  I also like dancing and because of Lockdown I am missing my classes and practicing every day at home. She is always talking about the future and it makes me feel so sad because I know she has no future, I know she will die. She looks so happy and full of love and life in the photographs and she wears beautiful clothes, like cotton dresses and blouses, she looks so loved and cared for. Mummy brought me back some things to read from the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam. I am so looking forward to the day when we can visit and we may even bunk off school during term time to go. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for Anne. I'm so glad to be back at school and outside. I am finding it really hard to get up in the morning though.



From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

I don't think I've seen anybody this week apart from the Waitrose folk. I was to have met my friend Kate and her baby Nicole for a walk in the park on Tuesday but she wasn't well and then there was a muddle about meeting my friend Alex. I thought we'd said Wednesday but we'd said Friday and he couldn't do Wednesday and I couldn't do Friday and Francis was supposed to be coming over here Thursday but I got cold feet because Chris Witty said we'd got to be careful because there was going to be a summer spike and that Chris Witty he always seems to know when those spikes are coming - so Francis and I agreed he'd come over only if the weather was nice on Thursday and it wasn't so he didn't. Alex could have done Thursday but Francis was supposed to be coming then but he didn't and anyway I couldn't have seen Alex either because of the weather so whatever happened I wouldn't have seen anyone but the Waitrose folk and I'm writing like this because I've been reading Marilyyne Robinson and that's the way she writes in 'Lila' but I think it's better when she does it. The  muddle with Alex may have been caused by the fact that we'd made our arrangements by text on Sunday night in French and I may have got my my Vendredis muddled with my Mercredis and I felt very foolish and that I'd had what they call 'a senior moment' but when I said that to him he said it was called 'covid brain' and he did it all the time. That was kind of him but I still felt foolish and I'll tell him to read this on Sunday because it'll make him laugh. He's such a good chap and we go for walks every week and talk about films and books and almost everything and he's not worked for a bit but now he's been offered an episode of Midsomer Murders and he's got to sing Gilbert and Sullivan and I'm really pleased for him because when you get a job it's like a drought breaking.


On Wednesday Evening I had two zoom meetings about Game of Thrones prequel which is called The House of the Dragon. The first was about covid. We're to be tested three times a week and, if someone gets too close to us on set we're to tell them to back off - 'counter- intuitive for actors,' said the man, Clem, who was from Northern Ireland. The second was about harassment and bullying in the work place and we were addressed by an American woman in Los Angeles. After it was over I watched two episodes of The Game of Thrones series one. In about an hours time someone's coming to covid test me as I'm rehearsing every day next week and then at 1.30 we have our first rehearsal of Twelfth Night which will be on YouTUBE on 28th March at 7pm. 


Oh, and I've compiled a sonnet from lines of other Shakespeare sonnets - 'all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.'  It sounds as though it means something but it doesn't, it's bollocks. 


Sonnet 155


When I do count the clock that tells the time -

Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste - 

With means more blessed than my barren rhyme

I summon up remembrance of things past. 

Why, with the time, do I not glance aside 

Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you?

For then, my thoughts, from far where I abide, 

May still seem love to me, though altered new. 

O though I love what others do abhor

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Who taught me how to love thee more

Than in the breath that from my mistrees reeks. 

All this the world well knows yet none knows well

That in thy face sweet love should ever dwell.


View from the top of the hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

Starting to write my entry on Wednesday this week, unusually. It has been such a busy week here, I feel the need to record events as they happen.


First of all and most important, my elder grandson actually enjoyed my classical music activity and loved Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy'. My life is complete! He doesn't seem to have any problem with that sitting next to his Grade 3 Rock Guitar, brilliant. I have now sent a second classical music activity, which includes 'The Hallelujah Chorus' performed in lockdown by the Royal Opera House, Bach's Toccata & Fugue and Beethoven's 5th. Any bets on which he will prefer?


The news from the hen houses is that Cheryl (named after Cheryl Cole, for her chestnut plumage), my lovely little Partridge Wyandotte bantam, HAS LAID AN EGG! Not only that, after about 10 months of not laying, she has now laid ANOTHER EGG! Sorry to sound hysterical about this, but this is a major event here and worthy of note. Cheryl's little eggs are so tiny and pink that one hesitates to eat them, quite honestly. I will have to have them scrambled together to make a meal.


We have watched, with the rest of the world, this week's drama of the Royal Family play out on our screens. It's so peculiar that the world is fixated on royalty. Should it matter to anyone any more? Apparently it does, sadly. However, if Meghan Markle did actually experience racism at the heart of the Royal Family, or 'firm' as they call them, this is so awful, for the Royal Family, for the Commonwealth and so on, it needs careful handling. And truth. I really don't care about Piers Morgan, he makes his own bed.


And now, to the major event of the week. We got up (was it only yesterday?) to find water dripping from the office doorway and then we found great bubbles of wallpaper down the office walls. There were frantic exchanges of phone calls with the landlords, the plumbers, etc which resulted in the water being turned off at the mains and very swift movement of boxes of books from the firing zone and now there are a lot of boxes of books in the kitchen! We had to move all the furniture in the upstairs room across to the other side so the plumbers could access the floor boards. We then had to move some of the drum kit to the living room. Then we had to sort out the phone and internet cables so they wouldn't get tripped over by the plumbers. Then we tried to keep going with the business while plumbers came and went. All went well and we were up and running before Sainsbury's came, a miracle and not a single book got wet.


Thursday. I was working on my books at the kitchen table when I heard some awful, really awful, sounds, of cattle, mooing in distraction. Living here, you learn to live with these noises, but I did wonder if something different was happening. It turned out that a black bull had got loose in the yard, along with a cow he fancied, and the farmers could not contain them, despite all their bashing of blue plastic pipes. Richard was out seeing to the hens and was almost in the firing line as they tried to herd them away. Even the farmers are scared of the bulls! Eventually they had to let them loose into the field at the end of the yard. I hope all the field gates are closed and that the poor things enjoyed their outing! I missed all the action...


So to Friday. The news from the grandchildren is that they liked Toccata & Fugue best, which was a surprise. It was probably the expression on the organist's face, which was quite scary! They're now working on a project they requested from me to learn about Russia, since looking up the events of 1812.  Their first task in each world activity is to draw a big map, I really look forward to seeing how they've got on when they hold them up to the camera in our Skype calls. I think they may have enough for their own atlas now.


There are still boxes of books everywhere as the office has to be partially redecorated. I have promised myself to do some intensive sorting and pass on the unwanted volumes to our local charity at the weekend. Most of my leftovers go to a friend who raises money for the upkeep of the Robinson Library at Timble, which is a lovely little historical building. They, like all charities, have struggled for funds during lockdown but are hoping to set up a book stall in the market again before too long. Happily I've also been able to raise some funds for Amnesty from book sales since Christmas. Our local group's Prisoner of Conscience is Raif Badawi, held in Saudi Arabia for the liberal views he expressed in a blog, and of course we have been campaigning for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's release. There are so many people being mistreated around the world it's hard know where to start.


Glad to report I have completed A Short History of Nearly Everything. What a great read! I have learned so much, although I'm sure I won't retain half of it. I find I have lots of the books he quotes from in my book stocks and have started getting them out to read, so my “books to read” pile is growing again!


It's strange, but I feel as though it's been a good week, despite the leaky pipes. My mood has improved since I started writing this on Wednesday and it's been a brisk week for book sales. The daffodils are cautiously peeping out along the lane and I have a couple of invitations for coffee pending, “when we're allowed”, so things are looking up.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Tuesday 9th March was national “Made in the UK Day”. This didn’t make the main news bulletins perhaps to due distractions from California, but we posted a message and photo (pictured) on our company LinkedIn page showing our main picking line.


This is where we pick all our customer orders and parcel them up for despatch to our network of sales agents across the UK. On a typical day we pack maybe 400 or 500 orders, but on a busy day we can shift over 1,000 orders, which is enough to fill two giant parcel lorries.


My finance team are busy finalising our budget for the new financial year. We are finding that following the cancellation or deferral of lots of projects last year due to the lockdowns, there is plenty of pent-up demand to spend and invest. I am having to adopt a “Mr No” approach to budget approval, or at least ensure that we are properly phasing in our new expenditure commitments, so as not to put too much of a strain on our finances in the early part of the 2021/22 financial year. 


We have also been debating whether to take advantage of the Government’s offer of free lateral flow testing devices for workplaces. I am instinctively uncomfortable with the idea of subjecting employees to medical testing, whether compulsory or voluntary. I am also not clear where we would set up a testing site within our factory and warehouse, who would administer the tests, and how we would track and record participation and results. However, it seems that many colleagues in the factory and warehouse teams would be happy to undergo the tests twice a week, in order to try and identify and isolate asymptomatic cases. We are confident that all employees who experience Covid symptoms are staying at home, but it is the ones who don’t know they are carrying the virus who are the potential threat. And on the subject of cases, it is pleasing to report that we no longer have any staff absent from work due to Covid, and the recent spike of cases in the Corby area is continuing to decline.


Last Saturday morning the BBC reported that letters were being posted out to 55-59 year-olds, inviting them to book their first vaccination appointment. My letter duly arrived mid-morning, whilst I was giving the front lawn its first cut of the year. I quickly logged onto the web and made an appointment at the National Agricultural Centre (a couple of miles from Kenilworth) for this coming Monday afternoon, with my second appointment on 5th June.


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

The week began badly. On Sunday evening just before bed my parent broke a tooth on a barrel shaped chocolate liqueur - a gift to her from our wine merchant! We haven’t told him!


I dreaded Monday morning as none of us is registered with a Norfolk dentist. The much recommended Holt practice said an appointment was out of the question and I was disappointed that it was unable to suggest an alternative other than that to dial 111. However, I googled ‘dentists near me’ and discovered Hugo and his team at the Community Hospital in Wells. An emergency appointment was offered at 1.30 that same day and so, after a soup lunch with pobs (soft bread stirred in) off we tootled. What service! Apart from the fact that the hospital looks like a disused Butlin’s Holiday Camp from the 1960s and had a transistor playing Radio Norfolk in the otherwise empty waiting room... magnolia painted walls and grey carpet tiles for those who notice such things... it was absolutely brilliant! Half an hour later the situation had been assessed, x-rayed, options discussed, the root of the defunct tooth extracted and a forward plan for the remodelling of her denture agreed and booked! The whole experience was quite remarkable... genuine care without the gloss. I am now thinking of registering there myself... though I love my London dentist of 25 years and until she retires I am reluctant to change.


This same conundrum arose a decade ago when I decided to change my hairdresser from London to Norfolk and switched to Bert Frew in Walsingham. At my first appointment I said that this was just a trial run - no pressure! He did what my London hairdresser did taking half the time and about a fifth of the cost! After my second appointment he suggested that I stop having my hair dyed blonde, go grey, let it grow long and wear it up! We laughed so much at this win lose suggestion! I would win time and he would lose money! Ever since my hairdressing budget was reduced to a tenner when every six weeks, primarily to keep in touch with Bert and have a riotous catch up, I would luxuriate in having my hair washed and dried by him. However, yesterday we learned that he is not going to reopen.  

But, given this experience and now the newly found dentist, we are determined to stay local.  


On Sunday we shall celebrate Mother’s Day and my husband’s 65th birthday. He has yet to reveal the celebratory feast he is planning!


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

Last Friday I met a friend whom I had not seen since August and we cycled along the industrial parts of the river Elbe for about 7 miles in order to pay a visit to her allotment. I had not been there before, and it was very nice to enjoy this flair of countryside feeling in town in brilliant weather.


This week I practiced yoga every day, a very welcome opportunity is the fact that my sports club offers online lessons. My vigorous and cheerful yoga teacher keeps motivating us all from her home and it is always fun to take part.


A lot of female composers' works were broadcast on women's day, nice music by - unfortunately - rather unknown women. On Tuesday and Wednesday I participated in teacher trainings held online. They were both informative and well- structured, I especially liked the second, which was about Ireland, given by a lecturer with Irish roots.



Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Although lockdown and the restrictions related to the virus drag on and on, I generally feel fortunate in that time seems to pass quickly and the weeks fly. Yet I’ll be so glad when normality (whatever that means) returns. The novelty of being stuck at home wore off back in March last year if I’m totally honest. And like everyone else I guess, I could have done without having been a part of this particular episode in the world’s history. Is there an end to all of this in sight? I hope so. Maybe it won’t be quite as the prime minister plans, but I really, really hope we are moving on. 


We are almost in mid March - how did that happen? The view through the rectangular window today is of an overcast sky and a damp spring garden. Some clouds, blustery winds and yes, it is raining again. But it is only just spring. I saw a hare tearing across the field at the bottom of the garden on Monday. A grey-beige blur of colour but such a beautiful, distinctive form - just before twilight. The mad, March hare, eh? 


The news this week seems to have been dominated by disgruntled royals and angry presenters. Horrible, sad family divisions. It makes a change from death tolls and virus updates I guess but I can’t say that I watched “the Oprah interview”. Journalism now seems very much about whipped-up furies. Overblown reactions. “He said what?”. OMG. “She did what?” No?! Shock. Horror. Trauma. Switch it off, please! Turn it over!


Avoidance. We have been quietly working our way through some DVD box sets and enjoying a different type of drama - in the shape of the grumpy, intolerant Inspector Morse and the flustered, dithery restraint of Miss Marple. Crime stories. Added to this - some gentle humour from Frasier and the Golden Girls. That dog on Frasier - Eddie - what a hoot! 


Routine is psychological armour I’m advised. Sleep, eat, walk, watch TV, read, walk again, sleep. And repeat. It must be different for those of you at work or in school or studying. Or is it? For me - variety lately comes in different food, different TV programmes, books, the internet, walking and seeing different plants, flowers. Gardening. Usually, life is so much more varied, colourful. Going places and seeing people... but right now of course... there’s no going places and people are all at a distance...


A few phone calls. My aunt said she is getting fed up - day in, day out - the same four walls. A friend rang to say she’d just completed the online census. Another friend’s granddaughter has been asked to consider the important questions:- ‘What is the truth and how do we know it?’ I attended a lecture once where the very same questions were posed. The lecturer had brought in a pink, fluffy elephant toy that he told us belonged to his daughter. Predictably he asked:

“In truth, is this an elephant?” 

“Oh yes”, we all said, playing along. 

“No, no, no” he replied with satisfaction “but why do we call it an elephant?” 

“Because we recognise its shape”

“But are elephants pink?”

“Of course not”

“And what size are elephants? How do you know it belongs to my daughter? How do you know you’re in a lecture? Is the world flat etc etc?”

I’m sure you can see where this is going. The lecturer just confirmed to all of us that there are so many perspectives on what is right or wrong, good, bad, truth and lies... 


Fish and chips for Friday lunch. A very pleasant part of my new lockdown routine. And calorie free. Yes, totally. Not fattening. Honestly. You know it’s true. Would I lie to you? Besides, you’ve now read it on the internet so it must be true. Calorie-free fish and chips... 


Take care, fellow inmates. Keep safe xx


Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

On Monday the three dahlia tubers I ordered from Sarah Raven arrived, well packaged with good instructions. My order was inspired by Margaret’s beautiful dahlia photographs on Instagram last year. It was good to see the photograph of her potted up tubers this week – my three pots look very similar and are snug in the greenhouse and I must remember to keep the compost moist. Dahlia growing is new to me and my father’s reaction when we had our daily telephone conversation was a dismissive “earwigs”! As Sarah Raven suggests, once the dahlias are planted in the garden, I will place up-side-down pots filled with straw on canes beside the plants to trap these insects, emptying the pots at the end of the day well away from the blooms. That’s the plan anyway! From what I read, earwigs don’t cause too much damage.


On Tuesday I made the hearty chickpea and sweet potato soup suggested by Dianne in her journal entry last week. Just as she said, it was “easy and warming” and very delicious. Thank you Dianne.


On Wednesday I was sent a link by a friend to an on-line exhibition being run by a Norwich University of the Arts MA Curation student called ALONE TOGETHER.  This exhibition aims to document experiences of Covid-19 and lock down in things people have made and is open to all. Exhibits can encompass writing, poetry, sculpture, baking, etc. My friend thought that I could submit a little painting I had done of my father which shows him wearing some stripy socks I knitted for him for Christmas. I based my painting on a photograph my sister had taken. Dad was pleased with his socks and apart from keeping his feet warm, he said that by wearing them over another pair of socks they helped keep his slippers on. I felt that these socks were giving him the hug I am unable to give him at the moment. I attach a photo of my painting.


On Thursday the greenhouse door was yanked from my hand by a very strong gust of wind as I fetched hen feed and slammed against the side of the greenhouse pulling the door frame away. No glass was broken fortunately and Chris was able to fix it later in the day when the wind eased. But my old wooden greenhouse needs some serious maintenance this year to keep it going.


Friday is Journal day and my entry. The taking part has become an important part of my week.