Walking in L.A.

Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA

I have to walk every day; walking is my therapy, whether it be a two-hour hike or 5-minute walk around the block, I always return home more relaxed than when I started out. Today I walked beside the Ballona Creek, which I wrote about several journals ago. This time I was not in the protected wild life area but followed a path beside the creek on the other side of Lincoln Boulevard that led past an elementary school. The children had made nesting boxes for the local bird population. These boxes had been set atop seven-foot poles and protected from squirrels by cladding the upper foot of the pole with slippery black plastic. I wonder if any of the birds had availed themselves of this housing. Further along there was an area devoted to native fauna and flora complete with accompanying tableaux and information, including which ones were medicinal. Often when I’m hiking I’ll see a native plant and wonder what it is. If I have my phone with me I will look it up on my plant app but then more often than not will promptly forget what it is called until the next time. There was also information on the native Indian people who used to populate the area. They were from the Tongva tribe who moved southwest to Southern California from what is now Nevada 3500 years ago. The Tongya subsisted on acorns, pine nuts, small game and deer, as well as fish and shellfish. 

Today Chooch and I took a stroll around the lily pond at KH Park and spied a large turtle sunbathing on a rock. To my surprise he did not plop back into the water as turtles are wont to do but instead seemed to be posing for a head shot so I took him up on his offer, et voila.


Yesterday as I was sitting outside writing this journal I noticed a huge furry yellow bee flitting around on my salvia plant. I knew it wasn’t a honey bee or bumble bee so I looked it up and found that it is a male Valley Carpenter bee (also called a Teddy Bear bee). I also learned that like all males bees they do not sting. Apparently there is only concern for alarm if they move into your house and start woodworking!


On the domestic and economic side of life here, my husband and his partner John have had to lay off all but one of their workers (they had five, three part-time and two full-time) since sales are considerably slower now that children are back at school. Their business is making wooden furniture and equipment for small children, and their climbing triangles and ramps proved to be especially popular during Covid since they were a godsend to parents desperate to have something for their children to climb (the parents were climbing the walls, too). We’ll just have to tighten our belts for a while until sales improve again. However, to make matters worse, lumber prices in the US have almost quadrupled. The reasons for this are manifold, including pandemic-induced shortages, a slew of people imprisoned at home last year embarking on home improvement projects, and an ever-increasing demand for new homes. In addition, there is a shortage of wood from suppliers in Canada who have been besieged by bark-eating beetles and wildfires. Not looking good, to say the least.


Finally, congratulations (belated) to Margaret and Sheila for the recent publication of the feature on the journal in the Eastern Daily Press, plus I  liked the fact that I was able to put faces to the names at last. Thank you both for making the journal possible.



Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

The vaccine rollout is set to start in some provinces in a few weeks, and the system for registering to get the jab has been in place for some weeks now. I have now registered online with the Department of Health, just giving very basic information: name, passport number, age, address. 


I have dual British and Finnish nationality but just use a Finnish passport. My friends at the Finnish embassy in Pretoria say that there are no special arrangements for foreign service staff to be vaccinated in SA. They can get their jabs here or return to Finland to get them.


Yesterday, the president, Cyril Ramaphosa, did a question and answer session in Parliament about the vaccine rollout. He was accused of overseeing a hapless vaccination programme, one dogged by systemic incompetence and corruption. Most such accusations come from the right-wing opposition parties. There’s always a racist subtext to their attacks: look how blacks have messed up the country; they couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery, and so on.


And allegations of corruption and incompetence are so easy to make. They stick. Even if there’s no evidence that they are the cause of the problem. A closer look at the delays to the vaccination rollout show that all the obstacles have been to do with conditions set by the drugs companies and negotiating rules for compensation to do with possible adverse side effects of the vaccines. There have been delays in the delivery of vaccines because of this.


One problem with all the vaccines against Covid-19 is that they have been produced and distributed so quickly. Because they haven’t been subject to the usual trials, real and potential bad side effects of the vaccines have become a political football.


This has also made way for a lot of rubbish about treatments for Covid-19 that otherwise wouldn’t get a look in. The list of discredited treatments will probably lengthen but so far includes Vitamin D, Hydroxychloroquine, colchicine, convalescent plasma, lopinavir and ritonavir, remdesivir, and, from that infamous fake news oracle Donald Trump, injected bleach.


I got this from my uncle, a retired professor of medicine, who lives in Birmingham. I’d asked him a few weeks ago what he though of the vaccine and treatment situation. He wrote back “I think the most important message from the Covid pandemic is that there is no substitute for rigorously conducted, randomised, double blind, placebo controlled clinical trials. And politicians should be forbidden to interfere.”


For now, though, politicians are interfering massively and will likely continue to do so for as long as the pandemic lasts. We’re seeing that everywhere. 


In South Africa, this politicisation of vaccine procurement and rollout is simply being used to hammer the government. Interestingly, the leader of the right-wing Democratic Alliance (DA) yesterday told the president that he is responsible for Covid deaths caused by delays to the vaccine rollout. 


This is the same DA leader who has vehemently opposed all the lockdown measures and WHO guidelines on the different phases and rationales of lockdowns that have saved so many lives.


So, for now at least, I would defend the government for its handling of the pandemic, and trust what it has had to say and done about it since March last year .


South Africa is a strange, quintessential mixture of everything that is right and everything that is wrong with the world – the most developed and underdeveloped, the most beautiful and loving, the most ugly and horrifying. 


Often, you have to face up to the worst of what happens here, and the ghastly legacies of hundreds of years of brutal oppression that play out in so many ways. But more often it’s not like that. It’s the beauty that shines through in very many ways. 


Racism and prejudice are still very much blight on the lives of the black majority here, and yet when I look at the social and political environments of wealthier countries far to the north, including good old social-democratic Finland, I’d rather raise my kids here than anywhere else.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Not much to say this last two weeks as my laptop is having to be cleared professionally due to unforeseen circumstances. I have had a friend to see me and we ate in my garden. I have bought a new garden bench and my daughter Sarah has written a dedication in pyrography with a memorial for my husband. The weather tonight is spectacular. Here are a few photos



Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Well. The moving adventure continues. Our Ithaca house went on the market this morning and within four minutes two people made appointments to view it. We’re back in Vermont. I can barely walk and just tried to make an appointment with my physiotherapist, but who knows if she is seeing clients yet. And I find myself very sad to be selling the house and leaving Ithaca, even though we haven’t been there for a year and half. And then there is my very close family member who is refusing to be vaccinated. At least so far. That is causing me much worry and sorrow and distress. And of course I worry about friends in India. I feel like in the U.S. we were so lucky to have the election when we did, so the competent Biden administration could take over vaccine production and distribution. Yet who knows how it will work out if so many people refuse to be vaccinated thanks in part to right wing media, and FB and and…


In the meantime we have to sort out this house so when all our belongings arrive we’ll have room for them. Sorry to be a bit gloomy. In happier news the dog is fine, the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming. I like going back in time. When we left Ithaca the tulips were out, and the fruit trees and magnolias were finishing blooming and starting to leaf out. Now we are further north in Vermont and the fruit trees are only starting to think about flowering. I once read a book that followed spring all the way up the East Coast and I’m thinking that’s a great idea. Maybe next year.


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk UK

At the end of last year I agreed to take on being Chair of the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society. I have been a member for nearly 10 years, I think, and in recent years have been quite active in organising exhibitions etc. I have also recently re-vamped the society website and been keen for a while now to try and raise the profile of the society. It will be our 50th year in 2022 and we are trying to build on the past success of the society to enable the members to benefit from their membership (still a modest £40 pa) even more fully in the future.

We are also on the hunt for new members and although there is no certainty of being accepted are actively encouraging new applications. If you are interested and would like to know who my fellow members are here is a link to the website: norfolkcontemporarycraft.com

This pandemic has been a creative vacuum for me in my glass making and I am keen to use the focus of our 2021 exhibitions onwards to galvanise my creativity once more. 


My garden has been a delightful haven during lockdowns and my seed sowing and plug purchasing have created a wealth of excitement nurturing these small things into plants. My greenhouse is now bursting at the seams and the cold frames outside are also full. Consequently, much work needs to be done in the garden, imminently, but as soon as the dangers of frost have reliably passed.

Our Yurt for rental (almost fully booked already) will be erected soon and I will be once more up to my eyeballs in soft furnishings, subsequent laundry and general "fettlin'" as we call it.

I tell you all this as a way of explaining how my life is suddenly starting to be full of things that will distract me from my work on this journal. I have discussed this with Margaret and we both agree that soon it will be time for us to return to our normal lives (if they will ever be the same normal again) and so the journal will be published online in this format for the last time on Sunday 30th May. That's 3 more editions after this one. Hopefully we will know the impact of the 17th May relaxation of restrictions by then and will be able to report positively about the return to socialising, going for meals indoors and warmly embracing our loved ones with abandon - sort of...


I will thank you all properly in the last edition, but thought you would like to build up to it yourselves, perhaps in reflective mood. What I will say now is that it has been an enormous pleasure to be part of this unique (I think) record of our most unprecedented times.



Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

We have driven up to Bristol. It should not feel so strange - we have been making this drive every few weeks for fifteen years. But this ten day visit feels like a holiday, an escape. Except for twenty four hours here in December we have not lived here since 4th November - six months ago.  


We arrived on Sunday and on Bank Holiday Monday, had the same high winds and rain as the rest of Britain. Since then it has been windy but good walking weather and we have managed two long, familiar, walks - to the Suspension Bridge & Ashton Court and to the Centre & the Harbourside. Neither walk was more than 10,000 steps but both exhausted me. Digging in the garden in Devon is a different kind of exercise. We had a glorious late meal outside one of our favourite restaurants near the water.


Bristol is surprisingly busy. The traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels or more. Students are back on campus, the schools are at full capacity and perhaps people have stopped working from home.


With both of us fully vaccinated and with the report in Thursday’s Guardian that a vaccination against several of the variants has been developed, we have begun to feel more safe. We are still having most things delivered but we are considering travelling further, perhaps as far as the grandchildren. I would love to think of this small adventure as the beginning of real change.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

So, yes, only three more editions of the Plague Journal. Something that we expected to last 12 weeks, will have flourished for 60 weeks. But as our lives get busier again, as we cross fingers and hope that a sort of normality can return, it seems the right moment to draw the line. 

Like Sheila, I’ll miss the anticipation of the Friday deadline, and reading all the contributions. Then seeing the finished journal on Sunday morning (or sometimes Saturday evening). But we are all going to be finding life fuller, with more social interaction, more work possible. And that is good. As Peter said, we should feel good that it looks as though we no longer need a plague journal. Cross fingers. Cross fingers.

But I know also that we’ve created an online community, offering support to each other, eager to exchange thoughts, fears, ideas, enthusiasms. So I’m sure there’s a way I could act as a hub if people want to stay in touch. I could collect emails from contributors each week (not too long) and redistribute to everyone as a sort of email group newsletter. Or you can exchange emails with each other and keep in touch that way. 

Let me know what you think. And let me know also whether you would want your contributions to be included in an archive of the journal, to be used by scholars and future generations as a social history resource. And, in addition, if we can find a publisher, whether you’d be happy for some of your pieces to be included in a book.


Finally: the party!


I was thinking that Sunday June 27th would be good for a Midsummer party in Norfolk. But it could be in July (Saturday 31st?) or August (Saturday 28th?) 

I know we won’t be able to get all of you dear people together in England this summer, but it would be great to finish with a jamboree of some sort! Let me know if you (plus partners, spouses, children, dogs) could make any of those dates and which are preferable. And the party is open to anyone who has contributed in any way over the last nearly sixty weeks.


Thank you all for your loyal, enthusiastic and honest reporting. I’ll miss you all, but I expect as many of you to keep in touch as possible. And, if you’re passing through Norfolk, we’d love to see you...


And it has been a week for visitors here. Very invigorating and cheering. Last weekend a surprise flying visit from Mark Hearld and his lovely dog Brio (they slept happily in the shepherd’s hut), then a morning visit from Clarissa and George Szirtes, sitting in the sun, and yesterday our first visit from my sister in law, Ann. She only lives in Norwich but we hadn’t met for six months or more! It was lovely to reconnect with all in a real face to face way. Today the rain is pouring down again, but we hope for a warmer sunnier week to come. May is my birthday month, my favourite month, but I’m well used to it’s fickle weather. The hawthorn isn’t even out yet and all the late tulips are still to unfurl..