Hello from Eastbourne
Omicron homecoming by Shirley-Anne Macrae
After settling into 2022, my poor husband returned from his dam project in Pakistan with Omicron. I say 'poor' because he was really quite unwell. This was a shock for him, he's the type of man who soldiers on and who famously cooked a stew whilst ill with malaria.
His return started off well enough. He tested negative in Pakistan, enabling him to get on the flight home, arriving at the front door on Saturday at tea time. We cooked him a 'welcome home' dinner, poured him some wine (he can't get his hands on any alcohol in Pakistan) and lit the woodburner. We all enjoyed his homecoming. Things didn't look promising on Sunday morning though. He complained of feeling achy and exhausted but thought it was the long journey kicking in. By lunch time, it was clear that he was suffering from more than a bit of jet lag, such was his fever and complimentary shivers. His throat felt as though it had been "sprinkled with shards of glass". Out came the lateral flow kits and 22 minutes later, his COVID positive status was confirmed. I tucked him up with paracetamol but it wasn't as easy as that. He tossed and turned in his sleep, burning, hot and wet to the touch, talking jibberish and basically making me worry. I woke him, tempted him to sip some water, swallow some Ibuprofen, put cold flannels on his forehead. We continued like this, alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen every six hours, on and off, for five days. Hot water bottles, baths, more cold flannels, changing soaked sheets and pyjamas, offering bowls of soup and toast. The nights were always worse. He turned a corner last week, the fever broke and he is up and about, although extremely tired.
The rest of us were fine and all tested negative. Myself and the children tested positive before Christmas. Nick did not. He had been administered his booster shot before a trip to Pakistan in October and it protected him. It must have worn off for him to have become so unwell on this trip. I imagine sitting on a long haul flight with the recycled air conditioning must have been the equivalent to an Omicron merry-go-round.
It's his birthday today (Feb 3rd) and he ventured out for a little walk with me yesterday. I am cooking him paella for tea and baking his favourite cherry cake. We'll light the woodburner, pour him a glass of wine and spoil him. Happy birthday Nick ♥️.
View from a town formerly known as crazy
Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.
It's often said that a month is a long time in politics. It's certainly a long time to try to remember all the Crazy that goes down in this town.
But, we'll start with a crowd pleaser, that hardy perennial of British conversation: the weather. After an "unseasonably" warm December (flowering trees were a-budding, roses o'er blooming, the works), January has been Crazy cold. Beginning New Year's weekend, it's been one record setting cold day after another, with at least three significant snowfalls. But as February rolls in, it seems we're being spared the worst of the latest storm battering a good deal of the country, and instead are simply enjoying oscillating cycles of freezing cold, sudden spikes into the 60's, followed by heavy rains. Good times.
Perhaps it's just the weather, but the news has simply been too gloomy to contemplate. So instead, Your Intrepid Reporter has been trying to honor all those good intentions registered in the form of New Year's Resolutions. The new and improved Y.I.R. has been reading more books (i.e., spending less time on the internet), practicing his Portuguese guitarra (a twelve-stringed instrument seemingly descended from so-called English guitars imported into Portugal in the 18th c. - something like a mandolin on steroids), going to the gym, Dry January (thank God that's over) and prepping for the unknown consequences of Mr. Putin's latest adventures in statecraft. (Mrs. Intrepid insisted on getting a solar generator - a big lithium battery with solar panels - in case the power grid is shut down by the Kremlin's trolls, and Y.I.R. is always ready to invest in new toys, otherwise known "important tools.") One of the known unknowns we face (to quote another, lately departed, statesman) as a possible consequence of Vlad's Most Excellent Adventure is our own future. Mrs. I. is assigned to the A.I.D. mission in Kiev from 2023. Whatever happens in between, it's a given that A.I.D. will be doing something about it. So the assignment is likely to go forward, but who knows where we'll wind up - Kiev? Lviv? Estonia? Poland? Romania? The possibilities are endless... and our Dear Editors are most insistent on knowing where Y.I.R.'s future by-line will come from. Patience, Dear Eds, all in the fullness of time, but rest assured the old war horse will run to the sounds of the guns.
The path of the Omicron wave (who can remember if it's the third, fourth, or other?) in Crazy Town has come to resemble nothing so much as the course of the stock market this year - sharp climbs followed by even steeper falls (and seriously, people, is there anyone anywhere outside the Zuckerberg household lamenting Zuck's loss of $250 billion yesterday?). Just as we've all gotten used to masking, presenting proof of vaccination and identity upon entering local eateries and watering holes, the need is easing. No doubt the masks will soon come off, the good times will roll on, and the groundwork will be laid for yet another resurgence a few weeks down the line. It's like Ground Hog Day (the movie). Speaking of which, this week did indeed mark the passage of the "real" Ground Hog Day. Disafortunately, as Mrs. I. is wont to say, Punxsutawney Phil saw his own shadow, heralding six more weeks of winter for us and further underground slumber for Phil. No fool he. Given the weather, Vlad, Omicron, etc., he'd be Crazy to do anything else.
Jane, just south of Norwich
How good to welcome February this week after the long, dark month of January. Good to see snowdrops on banks, in woodlands and gardens. The Welsh call the snowdrop 'lili wen fach' (little white lily).
I have just completed my second Welsh language on-line course led by an enthusiastic tutor zooming from her kitchen in North-West Wales where today she said the mountain tops of Snowdonia were white and the snow was falling fast. It feels cold enough for snow in Norfolk too.
Chris and I will wrap up warm for a concert we are going to in St Peter Mancroft Church this weekend to see the cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. A first proper outing for us in a long while. We will mask up and take tests, part of life now when mixing with others.
After thirteen years of keeping hens, we rehomed the one remaining hen before Christmas and are now in the process of dismantling the hen run. A mirabelle (wild plum) tree was delivered yesterday with two small cobnut bushes. We are going to have a small bird friendly area where the hens used to be and I look forward, hopefully, to one day making mirabelle jam and roasting the cobnuts. It's good to make plans for warmer days!
Good wishes to all.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
We are in the middle of a snowstorm here, eighteen inches and counting. I have to shovel the back porch so the dog who is quite small, can go out and pee. Fortunately he sleeps late in the morning so I can write here first, before suiting up. It’s cold too, but very pretty.
My life has been revolving around the March Arts Marathon. We have 32 artists signed up and they’ve started fundraising so I’m very relieved. I don’t know if I said this last month, but it is like throwing a party and then worrying that no-one will come.
In the meantime I’ve started taking a watercolor portrait class, which is fun. So far I’ve entertained myself by copying self-portraits by Van Gogh (who did many because he couldn’t afford a model and wanted to learn to paint faces) and Picasso, who, as far as I can tell, didn’t do many. He had lots of money perhaps, and anyway, I don’t think portraits particularly interested him, though the one I copied was from his “African period” and brings to mind wooden masks. I’ll attach pictures of my copies. I did Van Gogh’s in watercolor, and Picasso’s in very cheap wax crayons. There are some glaring errors but with luck you won’t notice them!
And we’ve been avidly watching the complete Grantchester, being new to the show. The vicar is so good looking! And we’ve quickly adjusted to the new vicar too. There’s a strange nostalgia to the show, that I partake in, though I remember the fifties as being bleak, but then I was very young.
Because of the Omicron variant we’ve been very isolated… we have Sam and Michele over but we all test first. Now though, it seems to be fading and I’m hoping we can widen our lives a bit. It’s a bit like an accordion, in and out.
Anyway… I hope everyone is doing well through all this and I look forward to reading your journal entries. And the dog just started barking so I have to suit up and shovel.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
We've had another month of changeable weather, a book sale which was not as busy as last January's, more shenanigans in Westminster and lots more visits from the grandchildren. The first highlight to mention is that a customer in my January book sale turned out to be our own Hilary Q! We have spent some pleasurable times getting to know one another by email and remarking on the smallness of the world – hello Hilary, hope to see you in Pateley Bridge or Norfolk one day!
The tennis is over for now, but we enjoyed watching Nadal lift the Australian Open trophy while wondering how things might have been different if not for Djokovic being sent home. I was sad that his views on vaccination caused this situation but it would have been unfair on all the other players if he had been allowed to stay. It was also a shame to see Emma Raducanu go out after her brave attempt to play with a serious blister on her racquet hand. Let's hope she has a smoother journey in her future grand slam events. We don't mention the cricket...
From tennis I have made the seamless journey to absorption in the winter Olympics, particularly the curling. What a joy, to watch the British team enter the newly created ice cube (formerly the swimming pool in the summer Olympics) to the sound of the lovely bagpipes. I just love this sport, maybe because I was born in Edinburgh, it must be in my psyche. The difference between tennis doubles play and curling is that instead of mumbling their strategies behind cupped hands at the baseline, the curling players shout their plans to one another from opposite ends of the ice for all to hear. As the heavy stones make their icy way down the sheet, their course assisted by frantic sweeping with soft brushes, the players encourage their partners with ear shattering commands of “HAAAARRRRRD!” and “GO GO GO”, which gives me most pleasure when delivered in a Scottish accent. I am trying to relearn the terminology after the absence of the sport from our screens for so long and remember that a “big end” is not necessarily something to do with a car.
We hear that the Russians have agreed to hold off from invading Ukraine until the Olympics have finished, to appease the Chinese government, so our enjoyment of the curling, figure skating and skateboarding is going to be tempered by worries about what will follow. We are also worried about what gaffes our dear leader might make while he's trying to play the role of world leading statesman (we all remember his miserable performance in the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe when he was Foreign Secretary).
Today we hear that five Downing Street advisors have now left their jobs but did they jump or were they pushed? “Partygate” has been a national embarrassment, especially the “bring your own booze” party. How dreadful this is for people who lost relatives during the pandemic and didn't get to say goodbye. We attended a small funeral for an old friend, where there was no wake and we couldn't hug his widow. We cheered Ian Blackford when he was ejected from the commons for refusing to withdraw his accusation that the PM had misled Parliament. So far no-one knows how many letters have gone in to the chairman of the 1922 Committee. Richard and I had a bet on the date we thought Boris would go but he has wriggled his way past both our forecasts. Ah well.
My book of the month was “The Bookseller of Kabul” by Asne Seierstad, which I had never read before. Sadly, it largely features life in Afghanistan after the Taliban left and people were once more able to travel, go to school and enjoy music at weddings. I am wondering how life will have changed yet again in this beleaguered country. Today the BBC is covering the sale of daughters into marriage by poor Afghan families unable to afford food.
Here in Britain we are facing massive increases in fuel and food bills but I haven't heard of anyone selling their daughters - yet.
I have just written a home school project for the grandchildren on modern Russian history, which opened my eyes to how little I know about Russia. It's a timely subject, in light of international events at this time. I'm going to write another one featuring Russian culture, so as my knowledge is largely based on watching the TV series of War and Peace I will have to do my homework!
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
Jeremy has Covid. He tested positive on Tuesday and today is Friday. Apart from a slight sore throat and feeling a bit rough on Tuesday evening he has been fine. We presume it is Omicrom. It seems strange for him to be self-isolating, for me to be avoiding all contact with him and for us both to be wearing masks when he is perfectly well! I have to do all the cooking too! Luckily he has a workshop and takes himself off for hours to work on his many projects. We also both did some tidying up in the garden yesterday as we are making the most of a few sunny days.
We both did tests on Tuesday morning as we had dental appointments. We waited for thirty minutes and both tests showed negative. Off we went to the dentist and then pottered around Matlock and finally went to the supermarket. When we arrived home Jeremy had a phone call to say that four members of the panto team had tested positive and they were considering postponing the second week’s performances. They had already had three performances the week before. “I’m fine,” said Jeremy. “I’m happy to go along with whatever you decide.” He then glanced at the test he had done about five hours earlier and noticed a faint line on the ‘T’. As you are told not to look at them after thirty minutes we thought it might no longer be relevant. “I do have a bit of a sore throat,” said Jeremy. “I think I’ll do another one.” This one came out almost immediately as a very definite positive. So self-isolation and phone calls to the panto director, the dentist, the friends we had been outdoor swimming with on Monday and family. We had avoided it for so long. I had presumed our five grandchildren would be our downfall as only one of them is old enough to be vaccinated and four of them go to school. Instead it was Jeremy’s involvement with Youlgrave pantomime. It seems that a child in the chorus was the first to test positive. As primary age children are often asymptomatic and do not have to be tested regularly like secondary school pupils there could have been others.
I am still testing negative and have no symptoms. Would it be better if I caught it? Would that mean we both had boosted immune systems and the plans we have for the next few months would be less likely to need to be cancelled? People are getting it more than once but what are the gaps between their infections? Who knows? What about all the plastic being generated from millions of tests being taken every day?
My teacher daughter-in-law is off school for twelve weeks recovering from a shoulder operation. The supply teacher for her class taught for a week and then caught Covid. Supply teachers are not readily available at the moment so the head was doing some of the teaching as well as running two village schools. On Monday there were four members of staff off as well as many children. I think we should be vaccinating 5-12 year olds. I went to help with the after school club on two evenings so it could go ahead. Parents are having a tough time and they need to work. The first evening was spent clearing all the leaves up in the playground. The children had a wonderful time!
The garden is full of snowdrops. They make me feel so happy because Spring is on the way. The tulips in the planters are poking through and the ones planted out in the garden from last year’s planters are starting to emerge. Tulips are my favourite flowers, especially the more unusual ones.
Craftwise my cousin and I have been repurposing old jeans. I am attempting a hooked rug and she has knitted a wonderful scarf. So for her 70th birthday card I used a pocket and embroidered a tree with seventy branches. I have knitted a blue scarf for my youngest granddaughter who will be 3. Apparently that was the only thing she said she wanted for her birthday. I seem to remember her sister once asking for a carrot! Their parents better make the most of these cheap years.
It is raining heavily here now and actually looks a bit sleety. Maybe too early to be thinking of Spring. Best wishes to you all from Derbyshire.
Then and Now
one scrumpled day
dies in a garden
spun to fools’ gold,
where wind mews
over twigs and bones
at an outhouse door,
black sky sustains
the buoyancy of loss,
knots branch to branch,
caging a star
whose variable glance
is light’s tumult
cut to the quick
yet cold to the retina
as once upon a time,
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Highs, lows, achievements and disappointment - are all part of my life right now.
I finished the top down, circular knit sweater for a friend’s granddaughter and sent it off - she loves it! (Pictured)
The very tricky hat I was knitting for myself, is sadly too big and keeps falling down over my eyes. I am hoping to find a ‘big-head’ to donate it to. (Not pictured)
My best friend next door has turned the corner of her recovery from a horrid time in ITU - not covid, but she’s had an awful time of it. Her spark is slowly returning, as is her ability to walk.
Another well-loved neighbour died of a brain tumour - diagnosed just a couple of months ago. I have been asked to organise the flowers for the church - expected to be 200 at the funeral next week - no pressure then!
I have found a flower wholesale company in Suffolk who will deliver the nearly 300 blooms I’ve chosen and I’m gathering evergreen foliage from local gardens so that they can contribute too. I’m nervous and excited in equal measure - I’m no florist but what I lack in floristry skills I will hopefully make up with passion and creative flair. It has to be a stunning display to show the wife and children he has left behind how much we all loved him and them.
My Sweet Peas - sown in November, are coming along nicely. (Pictured)
The remaining 4 Poplar trees on the drive, sadly weakened through Poplar beetle infestation, have now been felled, but we’ve bought a selection of 7 different trees: Crab Apple (Malus Royalty, Malus John Downie, Malus Red Sentinel), Hawthorn (Crataegus Paul’s Scarlet, Crataegus Crimson Cloud) and Amelanchier (Robin Hill and Glennform) to plant there instead. Also I was thrilled to find a Liquidambar Worplesdon tree to plant in another spot. All have been chosen for varied Spring blossom colour, berries and spectacular Autumn colour. I’m just hoping they love the location and reward us with fast growth.
My wonderful blue hyacinths (pictured) are performing well on the kitchen table and I’m loving the latest Mark Hearld Book ‘Raucous Invention - The Joy of Making’ (pictured under the sweater) which is fabulous and inspiring.
And Spring is just around the corner...
From the Editor
At last it’s February. Spring creeps nearer. I have tulips and daffodils and snowdrops in the house, and there are catkins and snowdrops in the garden, as well as a winter flowering clematis and honeysuckle. And it stays light later, Candlemas has passed, and the grass needs cutting. Things are waking up.
It’s been a time of hibernation, watching the Box of Delights (a winter ritual) and staying warm and cosy.
Marie Christine has been in touch, sounding very upbeat and brave; since then she has undergone surgery, and we hope that she is recovering and that all will be well. Her husband, Rob, wrote as well and said how much being part of the Journal has meant to Marie Christine. We reply that her contributions meant a lot to us. We always looked forward to her sharp observations, wit and unique voice. Rob is looking after her at home. We all send love and best wishes to both of them.
Peter and I look forward to seeing Jean again, before she returns to Australia, and our friend Mark Hearld is visiting us next week. We’ve also been struggling with an unwanted guest: some creature has set up residence in the scullery, has managed to defy two humane traps (it even put half a piece of bread inside one without setting the trap off), and so far avoided being captured by the wildlife camera Chris Gates has kindly loaned me. Rat? Squirrel? I have to barricade the door between scullery and kitchen. We are in a state of siege. I want my scullery back! The cats are useless.
Most people still seem to be wearing masks for shopping in this part of Norfolk, which seems sensible. Peter has had a second booster this week. But so many friends have had COVID recently. See other entries in this journal. David Horovitch has it at the moment. It might be milder but it’s very prevalent. It hasn’t gone away.
Nevertheless, Sheila and I feel that our next March issue should both mark the second anniversary of this journal and be the final issue. So we do hope for a lot of contributions next month... even if you haven’t written for ages, it would be lovely to hear from you and make it a bumper issue. It will go online on March 20th, the nearest weekend to our first ever issue (22nd March 2020). Plenty of time to write something! And by then... there might be even tulips out in the garden and blossom…