Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

The recent Covid news update from the Prime Minister was very positive and optimistic. The country was congratulated for the reduction in case numbers and the public praised for being careful and following the guidelines. The sterling work of the NHS was lauded and thanks given to the brilliant staff and volunteers involved in the vaccination programme. As a reward - a ‘treat’ was issued. Apparently - from next week - people in England may cautiously begin to hug each other! Subsequently, a lot was made of this on the TV news. There were reports saying that Camilla has already ‘half’ hugged her grandchildren and reminders were given too - face to face contact must be kept to a minimum. 


I rang my sister a couple of days ago. “Who will you be hugging from next week?” I enquired. “No one”, she scoffed. “And you?”. “The same as you”, I replied. 


We are not ‘cold fish’ but in my family, hugging is not a regular part of greeting. A brief, somewhat awkward embrace might occur if we haven’t seen a person for years but I guess we see a hug as a more intimate form of affection. We have no children in my family either. That may be significant. I do recall cuddling my mum when my dad died. We had just said a brief but final goodbye to him in the unnaturally cold air of the hospital mortuary. There was a need to acknowledge an unspoken emotion. Not weeping, not wailing. Just reconnecting with life I guess. Oh of course if someone does extend their arms in enthusiastic welcome, we will politely and appropriately respond. And a gentle touch of a hand or shoulder when someone is in distress or feeling hurt and anxious is very much in order. But hugging? Not really. It is not that we are unfriendly or uncaring, just a bit ‘buttoned up’, old-fashioned perhaps, cautious even! And we do hug our dogs! They’re very huggable creatures! 


Last night on the late evening news, growing concerns were expressed about yet another ‘variant’ so there may be repercussions from the relaxation of the hugging rules. Seemingly, if there are surges in case numbers, the Prime Minister is not ruling out the idea that ‘local lockdown restrictions’ may have to be instigated. Hey ho! Here we go! We are still on the yo-yo of “relax, breathe, no, no, hold your breath”. One minute it is good news. The next it is all gloom. Do not despair. Beware false hope and destructive hopelessness. But to quote the reporter - “we are not out of the woods yet”. 


It has been a super week here. Some rain but generally fine days. Chilly at times but warm when the sun shines. A trip into Norfolk one day (once again using the charming Reedham chain ferry to cross the water) and an afternoon tea with friends in their lovely garden. At home - the garden is keeping me busy as always. Have eaten some of our own radishes and lettuce leaves - oh and rhubarb too. The lilacs are in bloom now - such a beautiful scent and striking colours. 


All good wishes, folks. Stay safe and well. Sending socially distanced ‘X’s!!!



Cotswold perspective

Rosemary, Rodborough Common

All of a sudden our diaries are filling up. We have been so used to simply pleasing ourselves when and what we do for so long that this new way of living feels quite overwhelming. We are even taking a holiday next week - such a treat, but it is so long since our last trip away from home that I wonder "will we cope?” 

A big milestone will be reached next Monday when indoor hospitality reopens. Social mixing including hugs but for loved ones only! Social events including weddings but limited to 30 people being allowed to attend. 

We are not heading off to sunnier climes, but will be travelling along Devon’s narrow country lanes with hopeful walks through lush green valleys and treks across heather strewn moors. It will be such a treat to have all of our meals made for us without having to think about buying and cooking food. 

The World Health Organisation has now announced that the Covid pandemic was a preventable disaster that need not have cost millions of lives if the world had reacted more quickly. During 'the lost month’ of February, countries should have been preparing. Some did and have suffered far less than those that did not. Many countries devalued or debunked the science, denying the severity of the disease with deadly consequences, as we know all too well. All of this feels like a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted.

I did enjoy reading about the arrival of baby Flora from California last week for a long awaited stay with her grandparents in France. It must be wonderful to finally see and hug her, and what a delightful little girl she looks.

The vaccines appear to be doing their job and slowly things do appear to be returning back to something that resembles normal. 

Take care everyone, enjoy your new found freedom, but cautiously.


Walking in L.A.

Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA

Meet Milo: enduring and endearing, a six-week-old grey tabby kitten who had survived being abandoned by his mother while moving his siblings to safety from the garden where she gave birth. He came to me via a kind elderly lady, Evelyn, who fed him for two weeks after his mother fled. Evelyn and I met whilst walking our dogs; she told me about a kitten she was caring for in her yard, and how she hoped that her nephew would take it because her dog was not cat-friendly. I told her that if her nephew could not take it then I would. She called me the next day and asked me to pick him up because she knew I would give him a good home. Not being too familiar with kittens' genitalia I assumed the kitten was a girl and named her Minnie, only to be told by my vet yesterday that Minnie was a Mickey. My sister came up with the name Milo; we looked it up and discovered that it is German in origin, meaning soldier, so we decided that this was the right name for him since he is fearless, even hissing and showing his claws to our dog, Chooch, who gave Milo a token growl and withdrew.


Since we bought our house 20 years ago I have been in service to stray cats. Our next door neighbor fed the local cats but since she seemed to be oblivious to the fact that they would just keep multiplying if they weren't fixed, there was quite a large colony. So for the next ten years, after learning the ropes from a feral cat organization, I trapped about 26 cats, took them to a vet (paid by the organization) for neutering, then picked them up and released them to rejoin the colony. Over the years the number in the colony dwindled to five and when my neighbor moved I took over their feeding and care until the last one died two years ago. Now I finally get to have a cat who (I hope) will be a lap cat.


Good news from my daughter: her daughter's school will fully reopen in September. "Hallelujah!" she texts. "Praise the Lord!" I reply (our standard joke). On the social front, next month we will be attending my husband's cousin's (second once removed) nuptials, more than attending actually since my husband will be officiating (he got his license on line). It will be so good to be with family members that we have not seen in over a year.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



Hunched over handlebars

and freshly kitted-out


they sport the uniform

of manifest intent.


Goggled, helmeted

and sheathed in lycra,


see them colonise

the break of day.


Theirs is exercise

that advertises virtue,


digital bracelets

buckled to the wrist


for distance and heart-rate

to be duly measured


then recorded back home

day by day.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Dear Margaret and Sheila,

Your decision to stop Plague20 journal had to happen, we all had to "move on" (whatever that means for each of us), and as good parents you both took the right decision for yourselves and for us. 

Plague20 has been a kind of life-jacket, and now we will have to swim without it in unknown waters. Thank you for warning us in advance. We can prepare mentally for swimming again in a changed reality.

Our confined world, after more than a year, was going to evaporate one day or another. We are a little bit shy and afraid. What's going to happen? Are we going to be able to match the challenge?  

We are all going to have to find a way to live up to the spirit of Plague20 journal, which has been developed over more than a year, an interchange which has been such a blessing and has allowed us to compare lives and given us courage when needed. Through the weekly contributions we have all come to know, sometimes quite intimately, the tastes, opinions, occupations, hobbies, families, friends, even the cats and dogs,of the various contributors... Thanks to you both, we have acquired an online family, a very improbable and unexpected one, as unforseen as the virus, and yet all to the good, with such a diversity of people - bookish people, theater people, professors, journalists, doctors, creative people, business people... from a host of different countries and back grounds, including notably Pierre as the patriarch (this is Peter's French alter-ego who is still bicycling from château to château along the Loire as if he was twenty years old) and the unforgettable Macrae "great" grandchildren.

The new world post-Covid19 is coming like a huge wave about to break.


On Thursday, Ascension Day, our daughter Constance is coming from Montpellier for a week, so the family is reunited. Our niece Clémence with her husband, and 6-month-old baby boy Auguste whom we have not seen yet, are also coming from Lyon for a long weekend. The bedrooms being full in our house, this little family will stay at Bruno's who is a Booking host just the opposite side of our street.

So, 9 persons to feed 3 times a day, the house permanently in a chaos. Coats - weather being wintry -, toys, pram, playpen, baby cot... dishwasher permanently on...  

On top of that, on Friday my sister and her two daughters, both students, are also coming, wanting to see their cousins and the "new" babies added to the family during the Plague.

Hélas, the restaurants and cafés won't yet be reopened (that will be on the 19 May) and then only on the terrasses with less than six persons at the same table. 

The weather is forecast to be rainy, so no picnics by the Loire. Luckily, except for the two students - who will test themselves beforehand - and the two babies, everybody is Covid vaccinated.

After fourteen months by ourselves in the house, the arrival of Flora, Justine and Benoît a week ago has made me so exhausted. I can't imagine how it's going to be, even if everybody joins in and helps. It's going to be difficult for Rob and me to adapt. We hope that the pleasure of seeing everyone will carry us through. The young adults want so much to meet each other again. If we get tired out at least, we will be surrounded by love and friendship. That's the "real" life one can aspire to. My fear is probably just because of the 14 months of isolation. Previously I should had been so happy, with no reservation at all, to have so many people around. 

Rob has also been busy last week with the correction of the proofs for his new book of poems, to be published in July by Carcanet. This was another cause of tension. Benoît helped transfer the corrections onto a Word Document - Rob doesn't like computers too much. He says, "these days you could be Dante, but without a computer nobody would publish you".

By comparison, going out to work yesterday was a safe "heaven", if it can be put like that, I know so well what to do there. Even if it's a demanding job emotionally and intellectually, it's easier than coping with a stressed new maman, a 9 month old baby and a politically opinionated (though good-hearted) son.

In the picture attached, Rob's proof-correcting chair, empty while he is left holding the baby.



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

Today is Ascension Day, a very rainy day, and the local parishes offered an outdoor service held by several pastors. We prefered to watch the streamed version at home and sang along wholeheartedly. They quoted a wonderful poem by Rilke and were accompanied by a trombone orchestra, it was very nice.


I read a remarkable book at the last weekend, which deals with the outstanding French physician Anne Beaumanoir, who continously fought for the persecuted and oppressed during her whole life and unfortunately payed a very high price for it: imprisonment, being a refugee in Algeria and permanent separation from her family. The book was published in German and French (Annette, une épopée) and is very touching.


I am glad that the situation in England is by now that hopeful that more easing of restrictions is in store, it is somewhat slower here with about 35% of the population being vaccinated (once) and people are getting impatient, but have to make do with small steps. 


It has been a wonderful experience to be part of the online community of the Plague Journal for such a long time, and I also think it is about time to finish the journal. "When one door of happiness closes, another opens (...)" - so this should give us all more time for new projects. I look forward to two more editions and reading your contributions on Sunday!


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Lots of good news from Journal contributors last week - lovely picture of baby Flora, great to hear about David playing King Lear, and congratulations to Shirley-Anne on the job (wish Charleston was a bit closer!). 


On Monday morning I ventured into a couple of clothes shops for the first time, although my heart wasn't really in it, and I couldn't see anything I wanted. I did rather better at the Antiques Centre, which was very quiet, and came home with a pretty vintage moonstone necklace which I thought was a bargain at £8! I think moonstones are my favourites.


Second vaccination on Tuesday - no ill effects this time. It was just as well as on Wednesday afternoon I had to do a bit of filming in Beverley Minster, the brief being to say something about the history of the town for the online publicity for the forthcoming Early Music Festival which is partly 'virtual' this year. I was expecting it to be an interview ('in conversation'), and primarily about the town rather than the church. Instead it turned into an unscripted solo, and I was asked if I could begin with a brief history of the development of the Minster, which was a bit of a surprise. Much easier to do a lecture with the security of a powerpoint! No idea what I said, but fortunately it's the sort of thing that won't be around for long. Many years ago we both spent three days working with Time Team, a series which is repeated endlessly (but no repeat fees) - at least once a year someone mentions seeing it for the first time. 


Two zoom meetings tomorrow. The first is the Board meeting of the East Riding Theatre, at which I now take the minutes. The second is a project meeting as the Arts Council have just given ERT a small grant for a sort of cultural trail app for which I'm providing the research material. It will be strange when meetings are face to face again. I'm about to take over the Chair of the Patient Group at our GP practice, which currently has in excess of 12500 patients. So much has changed over the past year that it seems inevitable that telephone or video consultations will continue to replace many face-to-face appointments once the pandemic is over.



Antipodean in Cambridge

Katherine Holland, Cambridge

How to fall in love


First of all - you must get out of bed

Yes, there will a temptation to stay, cocooned in the warm hollow fashioned from your own bones.

This, you must ignore. 

And no, do not waste time in contemplation of the slate grey dawn outside.

Yes, it will be cold, the air biting.


Lace up your shoes, out, out you go into the shaken world

Perhaps consider tying a double knot, so as not to trip

Over your own feet. 

Yes, it will be cold, the air biting. 

So take the shortest route down to the river.

You are so tired. You can afford now, to take a small detour. 

The hardest part is already done.


If nothing else, you know how to run. 

Crossing over the green bridge you may observe some scattered snow drops

Emerging from the thawed earth. 

The promise of flowers. We look for hope

In spite of everything. You are older and wiser now, so you may acknowledge the snow drops but still

You know that this is a narrow crossing and only a few short weeks ago 

Black ice laced this very path beside a frozen river. 


Today the river lies still as glass. 

Who has time for silence, when words are climbing over themselves

From the deepest crevices, and even the darkest corners are no longer safe

Your breath will come

Shallow and fast. 

The river flows under the green bridge. 

Grief has clawed its way out. 


Lying on the warm grass you and I. Sometimes even grace finds us here behind our half-closed lids

Sunlight dances through the branches overhead

Your touch so soft that for a moment I surrender to the promise of summer.


Breath slows

Against my better judgement 

There you are

Katherine Holland. May 2021


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Sunday 16th May 2021

I can’t believe its two years since my husband passed away on the 16th May 2019.

Its also my youngest daughter’s birthday today.

My three daughters and I sat with him after his terrible pain ended and he laid there at peace. We sat with a cup of tea while Sarah opened her presents all of us exhausted and calm knowing his suffering was over.

Dying with mesothelioma asbestosis is a terrible death. 

I visually see it as being like Covid 19 attacking the lungs and I feel sad for all the people who have died alone of Covid 19 and for their relatives who could not be with their loved ones at the time of their death, to hold their hands and reassure them.

At least we had the good fortune of holding his hand and reassuring him.


Since then, I was introduced to the journal through a friend we knew in Sheffield years ago and who now resides in South Africa. Mark Waller was in communication with my daughter Ellen who lives in Oldham and Mark told her about the journal and she also started to contribute. I wrote a poem when Leslie died and Ellen told me to send it into the journal.   

The high light of this journal is the friends I have made that have helped me overcome my loss and loneliness during the long year of lock down.

Shirin Jacob in Norway and Mary Fisher in Norfolk who I speak to on face time and have a laugh with. What lovely people to pick me up when I am low?


This week I found the piece written in the Eastern Daily Press. With the story of how our two wonderful publishers Margaret and Sheila got started with the Plague 20 Journal. What joy I got putting faces to names at last?  Thanks to you both it brought a new lease of life to me.  

What a lovely interesting story about Margaret and Peters house.

Tuesday was a good day the sun was out and my daughter Ellen and granddaughter Niamh came from Oldham, what joy, we were able to sit on my lawn together. The first-time months.

This week as I was still suffering agony with sciatica my GP told me I could take more of the muscle relaxing tablet. Unfortunately, they didn’t suit me and my system got out of control and I am now suffering withdrawal symptoms feeling very ill and sleeping for hours. My daughter Sarah came for me today and I am now staying at her house to recuperate.

The many hours of rest have done more to ease my back pain than all the tablets.