View from the Top of the Hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

Here we are again, back in national lockdown, which is actually a relief as it has put an end to all the arguments about schools going back and has removed the necessity for making difficult decisions about our daily activities. The infection rates have escalated, so it's the only way to go but such a shame for children who were looking forward to seeing their friends.


Added to our isolation due to the lockdown, we now have heavy snow, so we can't get off our hill at all and the post can't be collected, just as we have started our January book sale and have lots of parcels to send! Luckily we had a Sainsbury's delivery on Wednesday, so we are unlikely to starve, and the farmer's son has taken some parcels to the Post Office for us, so it could be worse. Farmers are undeterred by bad weather, their vehicles are built to handle the worst nature can throw at them and they have to come every day to feed the livestock.


It's been a tumultuous week, with the news from Washington of the storming of the Capitol building by Trump's supporters, incited by the President's speech and months of indoctrination with his false claims about the election. He said he would walk down Pennsylvania Avenue with them but instead he retreated to his office to watch events on television. It was reported that he was “borderline enthusiastic” about the riot he had caused. It is completely unbelievable that the authorities were unprepared for what happened as we've seen it coming for weeks. Yesterday he told the protestors he loved them. Today he has condemned the “heinous actions” of the mob and called for them to be prosecuted! Now there are calls for urgent action to be taken against him, such as invoking the 25th amendment, or a second impeachment. Unfortunately this would require the Republicans to step up in support, which is unlikely, and would take longer than the 13 days remaining of the presidency. We just have to hope Trump is now so isolated by the resignations of his staff and his banning from social media that he is rendered incapable of causing any more harm.

I wish the US media would stop mentioning that the last time the Capital was overrun was when the British attacked it, that was a long time ago.

I've started reading our journal's predecessor, Daniel Defoe's "A Journal of the Plague Year". I was struck by one similarity – in 1665 everyone who could afford to get out of London piled up their belongings on carts and escaped. They left in droves, just as people crowded onto trains to escape from the Tier 4 restrictions in London recently. The main difference is that in the meantime medicine has advanced and we have the hope of vaccines. Back then there was nothing to be done. The loss of life was staggering and far worse than we are suffering today, as bad as it is.


So, here we are. The world is a crazy place just now and I feel very blessed to be safe, warm, well fed and away from it all. Just a spectator watching history happen on a screen. 


It's still snowing. Not much chance of getting off the hill for quite some time. The pheasants are still boldly climbing onto the bird feeder to steal food from the robins and blue tits and the cows are munching away in the barns. Life goes on. We can hardly see across the valley. Take care everyone.


Plagues past and present

David Seddon, Brockdish South Norfolk

Plague in East Anglia: Harleston


In the mid-1620s, there were successive outbreaks of the plague across the eastern region. Cambridge suffered in 1625 from an outbreak said to have been brought from Yarmouth towards the end of June, although Candler comments that ‘the presence of the disease in the latter town is not recorded’. There was also an outbreak in Lynn at the end of 1625. There was a single incidence of the plague in Harleston in 1626, which was described in the section on ‘overseer’s accounts’ in Candler (pp. 105-109). 


The Middaye family was at the centre of the story. A ‘stranger’ - some-one from out of town - who was visiting the Middayes, was taken ill and died at their home in October. He was buried in a coffin, as a precaution, the normal practice at that time being to bury people in winding sheets. 

The father of the family was Richard Middaye. He was married to Mary. They had three surviving children at the time of the plague, two of whom died: Mary (bap: 02/07/1620, bur: 14/11/1626) – a victim of the bubonic plague; Richard (bap: 09/03/1622); and Anne (bap: 10/04/1626; bur: 14/11/1626) – a victim of the bubonic plague. Later, they had another Mary (bap: 13/07/1638). 

The family was immediately quarantined in a ‘watch-house’. A local man, Richard Buck(e), was employed to look after the family. The overseer’s accounts record several payments made to him. It also lists many other people who were paid to provide food and services for the Midday family up until the end of 1626. Candler notes that Buck(e) was paid 3s and 6d a week and the secluded Middaye family was ‘provided with food and drink, firing and all other necessaries’. In this way, the plague was confined to Middaye’s family and there were only three deaths in Harleston. The Middayes were ‘liberated’ at the end of December when the ‘watch house’ was cleaned, fresh daubed with clay and generally renovated’ (p. 105-106) . 


The overseer’s accounts note as items of expenditure by the parish over the month and a half of quarantine: ‘billets for the wood fire and candles, bread, beer, cheese, soup, meat (of various kinds including beef, mutton and pork), butter, salt, spices and pepper, small beer, and also ‘strong water’ and ‘dragon water’, honey and treacle’. Also paid for by the parish were boards or biers and coffins for the two young daughters who died, and the digging of their graves. The total paid by the 90 or so listed rate payers of Harleston was £6 13s, nearly half of which was paid by Lady Gawdy. 


Richard is referred to as ‘Goodman Bucke’ in the church accounts. ‘Goodman’ was once a polite term of address, used where Mister (Mr.) would be used today. A man addressed by this title was, however, of a lesser social rank than a man addressed as ‘Mister’. Richard’s wife Joan, whom he had married around 1590, died in 1620, and his surviving children (Alice, Mary, Joan and John) were grown up, so by the time he was involved in looking after the unfortunate plague victims in quarantine he was a 65 year-old widower with four adult children, who presumably would no longer have been dependent on him.

Perhaps he volunteered for this risky task? 


Richard Bucke was closely associated with Redenhall Parish Church – the Churchwarden Accounts for 1593 include the entry: ‘paid to Bucke for his wages and clerkship: 1s 6d’. Further payments were made over the next two decades to Richard for undertaking the very important job of Parish Clerk. Other family members, including Thomas Bucke (who was working as grave-digger in 1626) and John Bucke, carried out duties for the church, which, in 1624, included ‘keeping the clock for a whole year’. It is not clear if the Buckes were also among the bell-ringers who, according to the churchwarden’s accounts, received payment for ringing the bells on coronation day in 1626, presumably on 2 February which was when Charles I was crowned. 


The overseer’s records show that William Chapman (publican and one of the listed rate payers) was also the man who provided their beer. It is likely that this was actually brewed by his wife, Elizabeth and delivered by her. One of a housewife's duties was the production of beer for her family and servants. Elizabeth Chapman may also have been responsible for providing the ‘strong water’ and ‘dragon water’ that were delivered to the Middaye family as a remedies for the plague. 


Ale and beer were the staple drinks in the early sixteenth century in both England and Scotland. Water was not generally safe to drink, particularly in urban areas, and milk was only available around calving time. Ale or beer produced commercially was subject to inspection by the local ale-taster or ‘ale-conner’. Also, the premises had to be licensed by the magistrates, and the Church Overseer’s Accounts tell us that William Chapman was actually fined 20s on one occasion for ‘keeping an alehouse without a license’.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



They have a way with them,

so quiet as they arrive


yet hauntingly convivial

and glad to be together. 


We welcome them

to family occasions,


grateful for their blessing

on companionable delight.


This must be the day

they join us to remember


every happiness

that once they shared


and to join the memory

our future has in store


before they leave

as quietly as they came.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

The horrifying pictures of a mob entering the Capitol last night foreshadowed how difficult it is going to be for the next administration to rule in a deeply divided nation. That was the tip of the icberg among a lot of bad news. 


But not all is grim and grey - teaching online works well and I keep discovering new ways of using Teams. The students are willing to work but need a lot of reassurance, as some of them sit at home on their own all day and terribly miss their peers.


I try some nice recipes next to the usual fast prepared dishes, we enjoy listening to music in the evening and read quite a bit, and there has been some snowfall with a weather forecast of frost and snow for the weekend. So some long walks in nice landscape surrounding us should be possible on Saturday and Sunday.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Sitting contentedly writing my weekly missive, I really am surprised at my mood. With reasons for anxiety aplenty, my emotions are quiet and have been for some days. I suppose I am settling in to isolation now and it isn't really that horrible in itself. In the near future I think close contact with others will be limited. Even best beloved and myself are keeping a certain distance within our bubble, recognising that any contact may add to risk - at least until we are both fully vaccinated against plague. It was lovely though on Tuesday when she came to the bungalow for short time, and we both look forward to other brief visits.


I am feeling amazed at the goings on this week in 'crazytown' - apologies for thieving terminology from Chris Dell's interesting journalism. Many years ago I used to go to there on engineering business. It really is a beautiful city and I loved my time there. By pure chance I happened to be watching the debate in the Senate via US CNN (naughtily using VPN!) when I wondered why everyone was leaving the house all of a sudden. Of course it was the incursion happening live as I watched. The whole scene then opened up on my screen and viewers saw the mob break through the few cordons that were in place. Truthfully, I immediately thought of the storming of the Winter Palace in St Petersburg 103 years ago. It looked as if the mob would completely take over from democratic process in the self-styled world fount of democracy. Thank God of course that didn't happen (or it hasn't yet!), but there is clearly a great healing required in future years for a wonderful nation. It all makes me sad for all people caught up in this. I am sad not only for those with whom I would naturally agree, but for some supporters of the 'Dear Leader', who are suffering pain as the hopes he sowed are being demolished by those they see as enemies and traitors. There were many crying real tears in the mob and I feel for them as I do for all who hurt.


There are some signs of spring around. Yesterday I walked the pier again and noticed that Black Headed Gulls are beginning to get their black heads back again, as they do each year. Apart from the approach of spring there is other movement too with regard to plague, namely that friends and acquaintances are getting the vaccine. So this quiet corner (now with a bad infection rate) is receiving what we all need so urgently. Perhaps there is good to come with the change of seasons. I am quite optimistic on the whole.


Am I going to clap for the 'heroes' again. The answer is an emphatic 'No!', chiefly because the very term annoys me intensely. It seems to me that very few given that epithet in any context would welcome it. Health workers deserve much more than being clapped - good pay increases and working conditions would be a start. Going about their appointed tasks with good grace in general is a wonderful thing in these hard times. I applaud that quality of those who would serve humanity, but to describe them as heroes in my opinion is absurd and demeaning of their professionalism and dedication. Of course it isn't all only about health workers. People are in harms way in many differing fields of life at the moment. They all deserve maximum support from the government and their employers. It seems to me that many are not truly getting that. Rant over!


So to continue a quiet day with the sun shining outside my window...


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Faced with a very alarming surge in Covid cases, the government has quite understandably (and with the usual chaos and confusion) moved the country back into lockdown. We are now in a worrying race to see whether we will achieve collective immunity through vaccination or whether rampant infection will deliver immunity sooner. Delivery of the mass vaccination programme can’t come soon enough. 


At work we have returned to a “full work from home where possible” regime. We had experienced only one case in our workforce of 240 in the nine months to December, but we now have 5 staff off work with positive test results, two of whom are quite ill. Sales continue to grow, and so we are manufacturing apace, hoping that we don’t get any more serious outbreaks. Brexit has so far had very little impact on us, except that our parcel delivery service to Ireland and Northern Ireland is serviced from a warehouse in Germany. It sounds mad, but it works!


Outside of work, life is very quiet these days. Just the three of us at home. Occasional trips to the supermarket. Lots of delicious food and wine, of course. And time to read Christmas gift books. Sarah has polished off “Hamnet” and is now immersing herself in “The Mirror and the Light”. I am starting “Mussolini’s War” by the historian John Gooch, a detailed account of Italy’s brutal military adventures in Africa in the 1930s and its belated and ill-fated entry into the second world war: ill-equipped, badly led and doomed to fail. Since living in Italy in the late 1980s, that country’s history from unification to the modern day has been one of my favourite subjects of study. 


I have sometimes thought that a possible topic for an “alternative history” (like Robert Harris’s “Fatherland”) is what would have happened if the western powers, principally France and the UK, had made a serious effort to woo Mussolini and keep Italy out of the war. What if Italy had been a non-belligerent party, like Franco’s Spain? The allies would perhaps have had complete domination of the Mediterranean theatre; there would have been no North African campaign; the history of Greece and the Balkans would have been very different; and tens of thousands of Italian troops would not have frozen to death supporting Germany in the Battle of Stalingrad. The war could well have been significantly shorter.


In the real world of today's events, that will be studied in tomorrow's history lessons, the scenes of insurrection in Washington, incited by the President, were truly shocking. I have recently read a couple of articles pointing out that Trump wasn’t all bad. He made great progress in job creation, and boosting the incomes of the lowest paid, and has also delivered a major breakthrough in the Middle East peace process, with reconciliation between Israel and several Sunni Arab states. However, these will all be forgotten as the world contemplates the sheer recklessness and cavalier disregard for democratic norms that he demonstrated this week. The world and its small number of genuine democracies will breathe a sigh of relief when Sleepy Joe takes over in two week’s time.


Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

There are a lot of spaza shops around here. Spazas are a bit like the local newsagents or corner shops you get in the UK. They are mainly a township thing but have spread into the suburbs because the demographic of the suburbs has changed. Spazas are handy for buying basics when you can’t get to the big stores like Pick ’n’ Pay and Shoprite.


They’re often run from converted shipping containers, those rectangular blocks that are transported by the million with imported goods on cargo vessels from around the world to Durban, Cape Town and other ports. Most things are imported here, there’s not that much manufacturing. And there’s a brisk trade in old shipping containers, which are used as spazas, hair salons, phone and internet cafes, takeaway food outlets, and even homes in informal settlements.


People are using spazas a lot more than they did earlier, before the pandemic. Now that infections are spreading uncontrollably, people are less willing to go to big shops or malls, enclosed spaces where you line up and where there are crowds. You can’t trust the air you breathe. So you increasingly see people making quick shop-and-run forays outdoors to spazas to get what they need. The spazas are doing well, at least I guess they are. 


There aren’t a lot of queues because there are so many of them dotted about the place. If one looks busy you just go to the next. Some of them are walk-in spaces but usually you just stand at the entrance and point out what you need. Some of them stock a massive range of goods. The other day I bought a set of screwdrivers, a bottle of lemon juice, bread, washing powder and a memory card for my camera all from one small spaza.


My kids like them because they usually stock tons of different kinds of sweets, funny colourful packets of chews, gums, toffees, crisps, sherbets, mints that have been sold for generations. 


So the spazas are a thin silver lining to these days clouded by uncertainty and worry. And they’re also one area of the vast informal economy here that has not been decimated by the economic fallout of nearly a year of various states of lockdown.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Congratulations fellow Journalists for such a good end of year edition. So interesting to read the different accounts of Christmas and the run up to New Year, and reflections on 2020. There were some lovely photographs too. What a shame about your wedding, Sophie, but how cheering to see that Marli Rose’s favourite present was a peg doll. Thank you so much Jane for sorting out the rooks from the crows! I’m mortified that I referred to the EU as the EEC (brain fog) and apologies to Marie Christine for the UK being such a pain to our fellow Europeans. It was a sad day for so many of us when the ‘divorce’ came through. 


Last week I wrote that no-one in the family had been seriously ill with Covid. On New Year’s Day one of my brothers-in-law (D’s sister’s husband), who has serious ongoing health issues, was admitted to the John Radcliffe in Oxford, and tested positive for Covid.  Grim news. Yesterday I was told that another resident in my aunt’ nursing home has Covid. The statistics this week are frightening.  What a start to 2021, not to mention the shocking scenes from America this week. Unbelievable.


I’ve just packed away the Christmas five candle light that sits in the tiny upstairs window facing down the street from which I can watch the world go by. I was reluctant to take it down. One of my friends has decided to keep her outdoor Christmas tree lit up until she has had her vaccine. Perhaps I’ll put the candles back up when we’ve both had ours.


Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

It’s worth reminding ourselves that we are only one week into 2021. Yet, it feels as if we’ve been through a lifetime of experiences during the last seven days.  


The new strain of coronavirus rampages across the UK and a third lockdown is authorised. Albert Einstein is often misattributed defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The madness here is that there is no choice but to lock down again. The NHS is at tipping point of running out of capacity. According to some NHS staff, we have already reached that point in some hospitals. One thousand people are dying each day from the virus. One thousand lives lost and families changed forever. Visits are barred at Barbara’s care home. We await a visitors meeting with the manager to discuss future plans. A niece, her family and a nephew, who is a paramedic, have the virus. All are between 19 and 45. All are extremely ill. Two friends have cancer. Both had late diagnosis as neither wanted to ‘burden’ an already overloaded NHS. As if I wasn’t already fearful, now I am really scared.  


Meanwhile, President Trump incites his supporters to demonstrate at the Capitol in Washington DC during the formal electoral registering of the next President. His purpose is “to save our democracy”. Anarchy reigns as supporters, some armed, take over the Capitol. Four people die. Trump tells the rioters “We had an election stolen from us” and that “We love you”. The world is agog. And shocked. A sad day for the USA. By any other name, this is an attempted coup by an outgoing President. His continued rhetoric serves to keep a fault-line going across the USA, which will exist long after he leaves office. Shuddering at the thought that something similar might have happened in the UK during the Brexit election or subsequent negotiations. Thank goodness we don’t allow our citizens to carry arms.


According to a recent survey, ninety two percent of head teachers think that Gavin Williamson, Minister of Education, should resign. Daughter-in-law’s Head is probably one of them. On the last day of term, Williamson instructed all secondary schools to set up a rapid testing centre by January 4th. Head and staff (including daughter-in-law) spent Christmas planning and organising a new testing centre that is longer required. I am only amazed that eight percent of Heads actually think Williamson is doing a good job.


It seems that the taking down of Christmas decorations on twelfth night is a nineteenth century invention. English Heritage suggests that Candlemas, a church festival held on February 2nd, should be the more relevant time to remove decorations. In pre-Christian times, Candlemas was known as the Festival of Lights. It’s probably a bit too late for many folk who have packed everything away until next December but I decide to retrieve a few festive lights to brighten up and bring more light into my home. This winter I’ve also taken to burning more candles. For this I am influenced by Margaret’s photographs posted on Plague20. Soft evening pictures of Peter or a sleeping cat. It seems particularly relevant to keep extra lights brightening our homes this year whilst we are in such a dark period.


In spite of the fact that it feels as if the world is on fire, I find room for a moment of embarrassment this week when my recycling bin is emptied into the collecting lorry. The noise of breaking glass is loud enough to carry down the whole road. Some of the glass is from ramekin dishes which held posh puddings bought for festive treats. And there are lots of non-alcoholic drink bottles. And a broken glass measuring jug. I think this is called clutching at straws. If I had any doubt, the smell emitting from the emptied bin is enough to tell me I might need to cut down on gin and wine. And then I wonder, why be even harder on myself? So, some more wine gets added to the next click-and-collect order.