From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Happy New Year everyone!  


I had the loveliest ‘visit’ this Christmas through the magic of Zoom on Christmas Eve with Margaret and Peter, and their visiting friend, Jane with handsome Bertie making a short appearance at the end on the back of Margaret’s sofa. There was a beautiful fire going and a glass of Irish whiskey by my chair beginning at 8 pm UK time (3 pm, EST) with Peter reading ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’. I knew it would be wonderful but had not been prepared for what an actor Peter is ~ every little detail brought to life with his phrasing and delightful expressiveness. It was enchanting. Thank you again, Peter ~ and to Jane who was very clever and persistent at getting us connected. I think it was the highlight of this Christmas ~


We are expecting snow tonight and into tomorrow which I will enjoy and know how the gardens thrive with this poor man’s manure. This year I left a good many stalks in the garden for the birds love to poke about and find seeds during the winter months. It was more because I was busy printing the book I’ve been working on this past year, and didn’t get to it, but seeing the birds foraging in the seed pods on cold days seems worth the extra work I’ll have when it comes time to tidy up in the spring.


The book is all printed, hand colored, numbered, folded and collated and sent off to the marvelous book binder, Christopher Shaw. It will be such a treat to see them when they return as beautifully bound books in the colorful paste-papers created by J&J Jefferys from Scotland and a few in leather with the lovely gold tooling Chris is such a master at.  


Wishing everyone a very healthy 2022 ~



Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

The decorations are back in the loft, the hoover has been pushed round and the temperatures have plummeted from a balmy 16 degrees at Christmas to a frosty -3 this morning. The new calendar has a few entries but they are hesitant ones as who knows if events will actually happen and what the year ahead will bring? 


Christmas Day was a great improvement on last year, six of us to share a meal, a dog walk and games. After making sure we were all infection free with a lateral flow test, we relaxed and tried to forget the bad news outside. We zoomed with our son and daughter-in-law in Canada, isolating in their basement apartment after our daughter-in-law had tested positive at work just before Christmas. Neither have had boosters yet, but their symptoms were cold-like and very mild. They were sitting in front of a blazing log fire and through their high up basement window showed us the deep snow – the temperature on Christmas Day in Banff was -26 degrees. Not so hard to be confined indoors!


I was interested to read in November’s Plague Journal, Dianne’s description of the knitting sticks she had seen at the Dales Countryside Museum – being a keen sock knitter myself. Bala, in North Wales, where my grandmother was from, was famous for its woollen stockings. I quote from Rev. John Evans 1798 writing about Bala

“knitting being the common employment of the neighbourhood, for both sexes and all ages: you see none idle, going out or returning home, riding or walking they are occupied in this portable employment”.

I had never heard of knitting sticks until reading Dianne’s journal entry and I have since discovered that they were used in Wales and many were beautifully carved and given as love tokens.


On the subject of exhibitions, my friend and I enjoyed a pre-Christmas morning visiting Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society’s exhibition at Norwich Cathedral. What a treat it was, beautiful woodwork, patchwork, textiles, ceramics and jewellery. Fellow journalist Sheila’s display looked wonderful and we loved in particular her “Christmas pudding and cream” platter. Some very gifted people were obviously busy last year! Our morning was completed with coffee and scones in the Hostry, now run by Jarrolds. A simple outing but one that I no longer take for granted.


Our next excursion is to the Textile Exhibition at Norwich Castle in the hope it will inspire us to start our own winter craft projects.


I send good wishes to everyone for the year ahead.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Kyneton, Victoria, Australia


I am sorry to have been rather quiet. Moving and then finding a house and garden in complete shambles has and is keeping me occupied. The house has been much altered and lost its character and integrity and it has taken us a few months to get a handle on what we needed to do to bring her back. Work will commence when we can pin down a good builder. Tradespeople are busy, lockdowns have focused attention on the private and personal. The Government’s “decision” to let the virus run rampant will make all kinds of shortages inevitable and friends in southern Victoria are telling me supermarket shelves are near empty. There is no evidence of it yet in the southern Riverina, but I’m guessing there is an inevitability of it happening. 

My husband’s booster vaccination was cancelled this week and the pharmacist was unable to predict when he might be able to re schedule. My appointment of long standing at the end of January appears to be “safe” for the present. Honestly it is a shambles as the posturing over the tennis player has shown. Good policies don’t result from reactive politics & we now have an anti vaccination fool with an international profile making our government look exactly what it is. 

Because I cannot begin in the house (due to the necessity of structural work) I have focused my attention on the garden. It has been a hard, hot slog but it is beginning to pay dividends. I’m loving it and while we have the relentless heat of January and February ahead of us I’m loving the sun and the warmth. The proximity to the river and the red gum and black box forest provide endless variety and peace. We are very happy to be where we are. 

We are however very cautious about where we go and what we do. More hesitant than any time over the past two years. I think the next twelve months will be a rocky ride. Take care people♥️


From St Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

Even though we've escaped lockdown, I feel in a kind of time slip: possibly induced by research leave and the absence of most of the normal markers of the progress of the year. So I'm in St Just, with some writing and jewellery-making deadlines but otherwise firmly disconnected, & on a kind of personal repeat. And I've almost given up listening to the news, as it too seems to be a stuck record.

It's particularly disconcerting the way things go wrong just at the point where they seem to be coming right: at the very end of November I visited a friend in Edinburgh in an almost orderly fashion, where we agreed a few weeks ahead of time that we would do something and then did it; the only excitement was because of Storm Arwen, which struck on the day I was travelling up, so that we were told just outside Preston that we'd have to switch to a larger train because ours would be the last one allowed across the border and they wanted to carry as many people as possible. Then came Omicron, and the run-up to Christmas felt something like a game of chicken on a national scale... I was fully convinced we'd go back into lockdown two days before and that I'd neither get to Norfolk to see Peter & Margaret nor down to St Just afterwards (as only one of the many millions experiencing similar frustrations). And I'm still infinitely relieved and slightly surprised that both turned out to be possible. 

Although I'd got to the point of thinking the government couldn't do something right even if it was the only available option, I am encouraged that they haven't locked down again. I can see it's a risk - and the pressures on the NHS and (more importantly) individual human beings who work in the NHS are obviously very real and very extreme. But it does seem hugely important that lockdown shouldn't become a feature of everyday life, but continue to be treated as utterly exceptional - and there seemed to be a real danger that it would become part of an endlessly repeated pattern. I was particularly alarmed by a scientist whose advice just before Christmas was 'lock down first, think later'. 

The only real news apart from various articles written, conferences attended, poems mostly not written, paintings painted & necklaces soldered is that - 10 months after Smokey's death - there is a new Feline in St Just. She is Tirzah; she may be Smokey's great-great-great-great granddaughter, or anyhow some kind of cousin 5 times removed, and she has had two encounters with Smokey's Enemy, Claude-next-door, through the bathroom window. The first time he yowled ferociously and she cowered; the second time, he meowed politely to be let in and she spat. The rescue centre billed her as 'terrified of everything', but I think she has a very good sense of her own worth. She washes my hands several times a day and likes sitting in the washbasin; Covid-consciousness is clearly engrained.



Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

South Burlingham


What joy! Here I am, in Norfolk, with Peter and Margaret! All those months in lockdown, in Melbourne, now seem like a dream! It’s so wonderful being here in England visiting my daughter Katherine and contemplating going to the US to visit my daughter Laura. Such a long time to wait but it’s finally happened. I’m trying to make sense of it all, this very very strange time. I think it’s going to take awhile.

Misty Mill road, Cambridge,

1st outing after the flight


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

Too long since I last wrote in here and much has happened. Francis, my son, had covid (quite mildly) over Christmas and so we were unable to see each other as planned. He had gigs on Christmas Day and Boxing Day which he felt were too remunerative for him to forego so he was to have come over here on Christmas Eve, I would cook a duck, make a lemon cheesecake, he would stay the night and I would spend Christmas Day with friends while he went off with the band. Then covid intervened on December 23rd. I ended up eating the duck with quite a special orange sauce on my rather melancholy own and made considerable inroads into the cheesecake which was nice but a bit sloppy as I couldn't get the right kind of gelatine. As for poor Francis, he was alone for that whole week though very well catered for by kind neighbours. I decided that I would drive the 12 miles over to Forest Hill, on the day, leave him some presents outside the door and sing 'God rest you Merry Gentlemen' up to his window. But on Christmas Eve I discovered the battery was flat and the car wouldn't start. When I told Francis what I'd been planning to do he said 'God, I'm glad you couldn't.'


This experience, or others like them, seem to have been replicated all over The UK. So many of my friend's offspring, presumably unboosted yet, have been similarly stricken. Francis is coming over here on Monday and we'll have a deferred Christmas but we're going to a restaurant in Richmond and then coming back here for a present or two and even perhaps a cracker and he'll stay the night. I can't wait. 


After all this time, there's so much to write about but I want to say a few words about the desperate 

plight of the theatre. Hearing that my friend Rory Kinnear had covid and that a preview of his play 'Force Majeure' at The Donmar had been cancelled, I texted him and found that the whole cast were down with it. I have booked for a play at The Orange Tree in Richmond three times now and on the morning when I was due to go been offered free tickets for another night as someone in the cast has tested positive. I am due now to go next Wednesday but I'm not holding my breath. The same is true of a show I was due to see a few weeks ago at The Young Vic. It's  hard to imagine somehow that the theatre in any recognisable form will ever return and that makes me sad. Behind the figurative footlights is where I've spent most of my adult evenings but I feel out of step with the current theatre and its strident wokeism and insistence on fairness over excellence. I did a rehearsed reading of a play called 'The Dybukk' at a smart fringe theatre in North London way back in May. On the first day, before we read the play we sat round in a circle and were invited to say our names, the name of the part we were playing and... our 'preferred pronoun'. Everyone said either 'he' or 'she' though one or two women qualified their sheness by ponting out that they were lesbian which I thought was a declaration that belonged to another game altogether. As fas as I understand this game is designed to allow the very small minority who feel that they are a 'they' to make that known. I wanted to say that I was a 'darling' but that's not a pronoun. It's simply what my generation of actors have called each other since time immemorial, largely I suspect because we can't always remember each other's names. I suppose it conceals rather than reveals and I'm all for that. There's something inquisitorial about being asked to reveal your sexual orientation or preferences - is that what it is? I confess to being baffled - to a group of complete strangers on the first day of a new job. 'I'm John Carruthers, I'm playing Laertes and I'm trans.' Yesterday my brother in law, not an actor, suggested that next time it happens - and it may, if I work in the theatre again which is not looking likely as not only is its very existence threatened but my age, race and ethnicity are all against me, - I should say 'Me. Me is my preferred pronoun.'  


Wishing you all a very Good New Year. Darlings.


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a good Christmas in the circumstances.


It seems strange that last month we were only just learning of the Omicron variant and already the lightning speed of this strain's transmission is causing huge disruption. The infection rates are jaw dropping and it's very worrying to see the US and UK with the highest numbers. Yet again the UK is a world leader in something. Today the government has deployed the army to help the NHS in London, as the progress of the virus there is ahead of the rest of the country and they want to see if the NHS can ride out the surge with a little help, in which case there will be no more lockdowns. In the meantime the WHO is warning that Omicron should not be described as mild as it can still cause serious illness.


In view of the fact that 20% of the UK population currently have the virus, it isn't surprising that several people we know have been ill, either with Covid confirmed by a PCR test, or with the widely spread bad cold that doesn't trigger a positive result. I am trying to get to grips with this business of types of tests. It appears, and feel free to correct me, that the lateral flow test gives a positive result when the person has the highest level of infection, so if the result is negative they could still have the virus to some degree but are not highly infectious, whereas the PCR test detects any presence of the virus. So you can feel rotten, have a negative LFT (ha, we're getting casual with the nomenclature now!) and still have a positive PCR. So it may not be the case that the LFTs don't always work. Also, you can continue to test positive with the PCR test for quite a while after recovering from the virus but you would still test negative with an LFT. This doesn't get mentioned very often. That's my science done for the day.


We went to our daughter's for Christmas dinner, which was lovely and saved Richard the usual stress of cooking for everyone. The only blot on the occasion was that our younger grandson had come down with a heavy cold the night before and we all had to take a deep breath while deciding to go ahead with the day with the windows open. Luckily it wasn't freezing over Christmas. Poor little mite had a streaming nose all day and couldn't eat his dinner, although he did manage to put together all the Lego sets he had been given. Happily, none of us seem to have caught his cold, for which we are thankful. We've had the children to stay for a couple of days since New Year and we have all stayed well.


Having had the warmest New Year since records began, we now have sleet and snow and the hill is like a toboggan run. I made it out for my physio appointment yesterday. Sadly the fabulous Phoebe has finished her work placement and departed for pastures new but I am now in the capable hands of Fiona. She has given me a new exercise which involves passing a 1kg weight round behind my back. The item Fiona suggested to use at home was a wooden rolling pin, but on weighing mine it only weighs 250 grams, so Fiona's grandmother must have had a very heavy old fashioned one. Hence, I am casting around for an alternative. Currently I am using a multi pack of tinned tuna but am concerned they will fall out of the open carton with so much handling. Courtesy of Ripon hospital I now have a lovely collection of elastic straps in yellow, pink and purple (to signify their level of resistance to my pulling), which I tie to the Aga to do my stretches. 


Unfortunately it started to snow while I was in the hospital and when I reached home the car would barely make it up the hill, so we had an anxious afternoon waiting to see if it would melt as Richard had an appointment with the nurse at tea-time. We braved the hill together and happily made it there and back without incident. As you see we are getting our share of attention from the NHS, although when Richard asked for a doctor's appointment (he could barely stand on his foot) he was told “no but you can see a nurse tomorrow,” so that's something and it worked out well as the Voltarol prescribed by the nurse was instantly available in the pharmacy round the corner, thanks to the miracles of modern communication.


We are having a book sale this month and in anticipation of the rush ordered a quantity of cardboard book mailers before Christmas. They still haven't arrived and the courier's tracking showed yesterday that our package would be delivered on 29th December (which year?) and we were “Drop 70” yesterday but now our package has returned to the depot. I hope he can get up the hill when he eventually arrives. Meanwhile I have to make my own boxes from scrap cardboard, which takes an awfully long time, so I really must get on with it, assuming I can get to the Post Office.

It no longer seems adequate to say “keep safe” as it seems we are all destined to catch the virus repeatedly due to the government deciding we have to “live with it”. Personally, I am sick to death of wearing a mask, staying home, coughing, and all the rest. I just want it to be over as soon as possible. How to end on a positive note? The day after Boxing Day Richard and I had a second Christmas dinner, just the two of us, and we thoroughly enjoyed our turkey with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding. I decorated the table with candles and poinsettias and made crackers, with three silly gifts from previous years' crackers and a hat each, and we pulled them, shouting “bang!” and had a thoroughly enjoyable day.


Happy New Year!



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

First of all, I would like to wish everyone a happy New Year and better times to come. Due to testing and meeting relatively few family members and friends over the Christmas season, we were able to enjoy each other's company and were glad about it.


The fifth wave is speeding up and there might be more restrictions soon, depending on decisions of the politicians to be taken on Friday. Unfortunately, the opposition of the many unvaccinated and partly radicalized people, who keep organizing so-called walks via Telegram, causes quite a lot of trouble.


School life has taken up again on the fifth of January with a fair amount of students being absent with Covid or quarantine. Some of my colleagues are very concerned about getting infected and insist on teaching from home, even though we are strictly advised to keep schools open. I got boosted in December and try to be careful and actually looked forward to seeing my class in real life. Our Erasmus programme stays abroad have been cancelled once again for this spring, and the disappointment of the potential participants is enormous. 


Luckily, our new health minister is an epidemiologist - the right man at the right time, and most people trust him to manage the ongoing crisis well.


Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

I’m looking for a new home for the complete works of Dick Francis and his ever noble inadvertent heroes. Twenty three paperbacks that have got me through difficult summers and stultifying depressions, but now I can’t read the many pages of small print so if I absolutely need to revisit one of Francis’s interchangeable heroes and his fight between good and evil (good always wins) I’ll buy it on kindle. Or hope that that ABLE library, the library for those of us less than able to see, carries them and lends them out in large print. I’m not yet reconciled to listening to books, but I need to practice, clean the house and listen at the same time. Usually I can read a paperback, let me rephrase that, I could read a paperback, in couple of hours. Listening to one takes fifteen or twenty hours, more hours to escape whatever it is I need to escape. Which is nothing really at the moment. Except for the oppression of my thousands of useless books each of which needs a new home. 


On another topic, I’m realizing how thoroughly I’ve become accustomed to the virus and protecting myself from it. I didn’t ever resist wearing masks, but I didn’t like it. Now I wear a super duper one or I wear two, one over another. I was in the food coop buying bulk pecans two days ago and realized that now I take my mask for granted. And everyone else’s too. Though I keep a serious distance from anyone not wearing a mask. Driving home I remembered how excited I was to buy a fire pit so friends could gather outside. That was Spring of 2020. Now I assume I can’t see most friends. We visit with Sam and Michele by testing first, and it is harder and harder to find tests. Meanwhile the cases count rises exponentially in Vermont like it is in most other places.  


My other realization is that I really resent how this virus, highlighted by Omicron, targets my particular demographic. Older. Chronic illness. Not that I wish it would target another demographic exactly but while younger friends are blasé, saying they are fully vaccinated and boosted, and the infection is mild, I know the hospital is full of, yes, the unvaccinated, but also full of people like me. No point in being resentful really, but there it is. 


My relative who refuses to get vaccinated is still refusing to get vaccinated, believes her stellar immune system will protect her, and I am either beside myself with worry about her or working very hard on not thinking about it. 


And on the more cheerful side, I’m busy organizing the March Arts Marathon, where writers and artists and crafts people create something every day for the month of March, and send a copy of that creation through email or other social media, to their sponsors. The money raised goes to support asylum seekers and Afghan refugees that the Central Vermont Refugee Assistance Network settles and supports in Central Vermont. A small completely volunteer organization that works wonders. If you’d like to sign up for the March Arts Marathon, or help get the word out, you can sign up on the CVRAN.org website. Or you can sponsor me on the same website. (A shameless plug!).  


Organizing this puts me in touch with lots of people, artists and sponsors, which certainly helps alleviate the covid isolation and winter, which so far has been quite mild. Relatively speaking.  


I hope everyone found ways to celebrate and had joyful holidays.