Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Pressure increases on Williamson over the weekend to close all schools in the South - not just Primaries - for at least two weeks and maybe close Primaries elsewhere too, but he’s let off the U-turn hook by something altogether more monumental:
Monday evening - the inevitable settles about us. Faced with Covid hospitalisation increasing from 18,000 on Boxing Day to 26,000, Boris addresses the Nation, overturning all declared policy from recent days. It’s to be nationwide lockdown or Tier5, much like the original restrictions from March last year. Stay at home, work from home, all schools and unis closed - except to the kids of key workers - until mid Feb. Mid Feb takes on another significance as for the first time we get some insight to the vaccine programme: by mid Feb it’s ‘hoped’, ‘all being well’ etc etc everyone over 70, those clinically at risk, NHS staff, Care Home inmates and Care Home staff will have been inoculated.
For the sixth day in a row new infections are 50,000+ per day, 60,916 in the 24 hrs to Tuesday evening, when BJ appears again, to ease us into Tier5, which starts tonight. As if to sweeten things, he lets the Chancellor loose during the day with more furloughing and grants, bringing Covid support to apparently something like £300,000,000,000.
Flanked by Whitty and Valance he starts, rambles on - and despite interest I immediately fall asleep, to be wakened by the clarion call to the Six c’clock News. What he doesn’t address is this curious anomaly: despite a shortage of vaccinators, High Street pharmacies, already inoculating against flu, are not to be invited to join in the CovJabFest. There’s 14,000 of them, confident they could see 1,000,000 a week. Got to be good, surely? Overnight the call increases for their employment, and come Questions in Parliament Wednesday lunchtime, sure enough there’s a fleeting ref to the importance of harnessing them.
Thursday dawns, no further news about Pharmacies other than mention of “a trial” - which given it’s newsworthy to mention “strong doubts we’ll meet the mid February deadline for vaccinations” seems unambitious, to say the least. This attached to the very welcome news the first of the ‘Oxford’ jabs are to be deployed today.
There’s more: two drugs previously used for other things are found to boost survival in intensive care, adding to treatment possibilities. Then, Friday we hear a third vaccine has been approved and ordered in from the US - Moderna. We’ve 10million doses, due to arrive in a couple of months, bringing the total doses bought to 367m.
We bust through to the hideous 1000+ deaths in 24 hours. 1162 to be properly, respectfully, correct. It’s probably appropriately for the Chronicle I reproduce this week’s BBC graphic, a moment in time, New Year 2021 - dismal though it is.
Norwich Jane’s piece last week and ‘A crow in a crowd...’ reminds me of another succinct country ‘saw’, this regarding juvenile help around the farm and a law of diminishing usefulness due to distraction: ‘a boy’s a boy, two boys is half a boy, three boys is no boy at all’
St Just Jane: sorry to hear about Smokey. Three years on and I still get choked thinking about ‘mine’ - they have a way of getting their claws in, in the nicest possible way: Lu, The Cat That Came In From The Cold.
There’s been some bad publicity re open fires and woodburners - despite the old saw that much goes up the chimney, it seems enough... what? Particles? Woody atoms? Soot? Ectoplasm? comes out into the room and it’s unhealthy.
Now, I have to declare an interest here: for years I’ve complained the otherwise cheery woodburner can on occasions make me feel ill unless the main door into the ‘snug’ is left open to secure good air feed. It’s an old house, but I’ve spent years designing the leakiness out. In the good old days the fire would draw its requirement through the windowframes. As the sofa next to the door is Sheila’s perch, she gets the draught and a little light domestic conflict ensues. We’d just this winter developed an accord: I get the fire good and hot in the late afternoon and by the time we take our positions for the evening, I can let it run closed and gradually diminishing as the more sanitary central heating takes over and we seal ourselves in. Now we feel we should avoid lighting it, and I must say I miss it.
By their masks shall you know them:
Time for a change, I thought. For 2 years I’d resisted having a haircut while experimenting with beard shapes. I rather like a beard, though Sheila hates it. She didn’t mind the Biblical flowing locks, even to the extent of giving me a jaunty plait, now and then - but grumbled I didn’t ‘maintain’ properly. Too economic on the grooming product, lack of brush application, etc.
So, a New Year compromise: I let her loose with the scissors and have been skilfully shorn while retaining most of the beard. In case we should meet around Town I attach a useful new pic, wearing usual stuff plus current fave gingham. Less Mr Darcy - more Bill Sikes, but do say Hello.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
How much I appreciate Margaret’s reminders. And what a week. I watched with concern as the new virus variant started to spread and then the U.K. shut down again. Sensible but so hard, I’m sure. Thinking of you all, fellow writers, and hoping you are safe.
Then watching the Georgia Senate election unfold. I hadn’t realized I was dreading Biden’s time in office with Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, thwarting every effort to improve matters, whether it be the virus, the economy, immigration, climate change, voting rights, or civil rights. In no particular order. All important. McConnell has left bills sitting for years refusing to bring them up for debate or vote. I had had no hope that the Democrats would win the senate seats in Georgia despite postcard writing and sending money to organizations in Georgia working to get the vote out. And the lovely irony that Trump helped get the Democrat senators elected by discrediting the election so many of his supporters stayed home. And then the pleasure of knowing the two Democratic candidates are colleagues and friends and work together, planned their bids for election together. They will be effective. So there was great pleasure in watching the election results unfold, and being surprised by something good happening in the political realm, which has not been a common experience in the last four years. Other than Biden getting elected, of course.
And then, as the representatives and senators were getting ready to symbolically count those electoral college votes, the demonstration turned into a mob overrunning the senate. I’m sure you have all seen the images. I have had people tell me they are shocked, frightened, disturbed, upset. I know people who keep bursting into tears. B. was very shaky as we obsessively watched the television for hours. And continues to be very anxious about what is going to happen, what Trump will do next, what these militias will do.
Truth to tell I had not caught the significance of what the Congress was doing in what is usually a pro forma ritual, but the significance of Trump and his son and his lawyer egging on the crowd and the demonstration turning into a mob trying to prevent what was happening inside quickly became clear even to me. Sedition. Treason. I was not so shocked by what happened because Trump had been saying this was going to happen, he had put his people in the top at the Pentagon in the last couple of weeks so they would be slow to respond, and I wasn’t shocked because these heavily armed far right terrorist militia groups have been crawling out and growing since he got elected. And becoming more and more visible. Respectable almost. Or at least, we were getting used to hearing about them. But I was horrified because the police so unprepared even though everyone knew this was a dangerous demonstration with weapon carrying violent people. The representatives were frightened before the demonstration. Or maybe the police were willfully unprepared. Hard not to create my own conspiracy theories.
And I’m also horrified at everyone’s inability to do anything about it afterwards. Clearly almost everyone has come to understand that Trump should not be president, not for the next 13 days even, but they don’t seem to be able to organize themselves to remove him. Or do anything about the senators and representatives who gave credence to the lies Trump has been telling and did their part in making this happen. And continued to do that even after the attack on the Capital.
It all does seem Shakespearean. Which, I suppose, is to say, human.
Not a boring week!
I hold onto the joy of the Georgia election results, and remind myself that I have no control over what happens or doesn’t happen in response to the attack on the Capital. Or whatever on whatever will happen next.
In the meantime the March Arts Marathon fundraiser I helped organize went live a few days ago, live meaning that people could go on the website and sign up. People are signing up! The word is getting out. We’re up to thirteen participants, but I know several more artists and writers planning to sign up and the event itself won’t happen for another another two months. We had said we’d like to enroll about twenty people, and we’ll easily be able to do that. What a relief. So I spend my days in e mail communication with artists and writers, and that is a pleasure.
And all the while my daughter is visiting and it is sweet to have her with us. Together we watched the Netflix Headspace videos which are charming cartoons and did the guided meditations sitting on the couch, feeling silly and doing it anyway.
A new list of things I’m grateful for given covid: a couch, and with reclining seats too. We’d bought it for when one of us had to sleep upright and it’s ugly (it was the only one in the store and we needed it in a hurry!) and not that comfortable but infinitely better than no couch, which was how we lived for twelve years before we bought it. Can’t think of anything more to add to the grateful list right now.
Be well. Thank you as always for your writings. Still hoping for a better year.
Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
I’m wishing I had made the effort to go for a sunny walk yesterday as today is foggy, damp and depressing. I was too busy making raw butternut squash and cashew nut soup to boost my immune system. I expect the sunshine would have been just as good. Then I made banana and walnut muffins which are delicious and used up my over-ripe bananas. This week I also made mega amounts of cheese straws and sent them to all the kids. So lots of baking. I also made more masks as it looks as if we will need them for a long time. There was some good news this week. Number 4 son’s partner received her birthday present sent over a month ago. Even better, the book I sent her she hadn’t read. I had intended to order Girl, Woman, Other but by mistake clicked on a different book by the same author. She was very pleased as she had already read Girl, Woman, Other!
I am incensed by Gavin Williamson’s latest request that parents should report schools to Ofsted if they fail to provide adequate online learning. This comes after threatening schools with legal action if they didn’t re-open after the Christmas break and then telling them to close one day later. Yes let’s put teachers under more pressure so more will go off sick with stress related illnesses. Then there will be fewer teachers to provide the online learning at the same time as going into school to teach the vulnerable children and those of key workers. How can the teachers provide adequate online teaching to those children who do not have access to computers?
Number 4 son’s partner has volunteered to teach online maths to our grandchildren ranging in age from 4 to 12. She is a keen mathematician and the children love her. That will be a relief to some of their parents. In the first lockdown number 3 son spent over an hour trying to get his 6 year old to complete a task which took him less than ten minutes once he had accepted the fact that he wasn’t going to be allowed to do anything else until he had completed it. I suspect most children react better to someone other than their parents trying to teach them.
I have just spent a lovely hour doing a craft activity on Zoom with Margot age 4 so I need to get this sent quickly as it is nearly 3pm. We made butterfly pictures and she has such imaginative ideas for extending the theme – when she is in the right mood that is!
I really enjoyed Stephanie’s poem. I could picture all of those precious babies in such different circumstances – some very sad. Thank you.
Rosemary, Rodborough Common
Edward Jenner, the pioneer of the smallpox vaccination and father of immunology grew up and lived within the shadow of Berkeley Castle. A castle built during the Norman period, close to the River Severn, and as the crow flies not far from our own Cotswold escarpment.
Smallpox was a terrible scourge accounting for one third of child deaths, and an average of one in eleven of all deaths during the 18th century.
One of his patients, a local milkmaid became infected with cowpox via contact with one of her cows, a cow she called Blossom. Dr. Jenner decided to extract liquid from the pustule on her arm and then carried out his first vaccination on an 8 year old local boy, which happily proved to be successful.
He had a little hut in his garden which he aptly named his Temple to Vaccinia, where, on certain days, the poor of the district were vaccinated free of charge. The queues of people would stretch all around the town.
I mention this story because here in this area of Gloucestershire the doctors are very well aware of Jenner's heritage and legacy, and have already started to make huge inroads into getting the newly available vaccines against Covid-19 into everyones arms.
We have both received notification for our vaccine appointments this coming weekend which indicates to us that the over 80 year olds in this area have now already been dealt with. Good news is something that all of us really need. Has the government finally got its act together re: vaccinations? Hopefully you too will soon be hearing from your GP.
Sit tight, stay calm, and be safe.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
It is said that bad luck is sent to us in threes so I am now wondering what else is coming my way...
Firstly, on Monday evening, leaving the supermarket with a couple of bags containing milk, a bottle of wine and other groceries, I tripped on a kerb and fell flat onto my face - CRASH, BANG, WALLOP. It was dark and I was hurrying. Oh and it hurt. It all happened in seconds but there was that “slow-motion” sensation as I could feel myself starting to lose my feet but also trying to right myself. Of course I was unsuccessful. Down I fell.
Afterwards, I scrabbled about on the ground, feeling shaky, sorry for myself, stunned. No major injuries. Pride mostly. Both knees and wrists hurt and the palm of my right hand was grazed. A person called out from across the car park - “Are you ok?” and I replied that I was. I gathered myself together and collected up my shopping (remarkably undamaged), deposited it in the car and then went back into the store to wash the dirt from my hands. In the mirror in the Gents, under the harsh fluorescent light, I could see that I’d wiped blood down my face from a tiny cut on my finger. With my mask on, I’m surprised security didn’t stop me as a potential rioter. I looked decidedly dodgy. WAR PAINT. Blood, mud and wet knees on my jeans. Torn clothes. Drove home very slowly, chiding myself for rushing. Bruised and battered but lived to tell the tale.
Second strike at me - last evening, same supermarket car park. Got into the car with yet more shopping (no wine this time) and would-you-believe-it, car wouldn’t start. Deep breath. Groan. Expletives. Speak nicely to car. Offer up prayer to Saint Christopher. Battery flat. Ok. This is why we pay for insurance. Ring through to car rescue service:
“Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, we have changed the way we work.
You no longer need to speak directly to our staff.
Go to Google Play or Apple Store and download the Rescue Me app.
Click on Rescue Me and we’ll be with you in no time”.
Ahhhhh more cursing!
Ten minutes of fumbling with phone. It’s dark in the car park. Outside it starting to rain. It is freezing cold. Is that sleet? Thumb still painful from fall on Monday. Cursing. Foul language.
Ah ha! Success. Downloaded the app. Clicked on Rescue Me. Oh no... here we go...
“Please set up your account...
No, that password does not meet our guidelines
Uppercase, lower case, include numbers...
No, that password does not match the one we have on our records”
Ahhhh! Air blue. I’m cold, annoyed, rattled. Got to keep trying. Be calm. Be calm.
“Do you wish to try again or reset your password?”
Click try again.
“Mother’s maiden name
Name of first pet
Name of first school teacher
Click yes to have a new password sent to you via email...
(Why me? Why? What did I ever do that was so bad?)
I persevere. I will not be beaten. I will not let an app defeat me. Screams. Blood curdling screams. Manic clicking of keys. Frantic and frustrated bargaining. Please God. Please someone. Save me. Rescue me.
Joy. Wonder. Hallelujah. Praise be! My account is set up.
“Click Rescue Me and we will be with you in no time”
“Just a few more details...
Insurance policy number... (I’d already thought of that)
Nature of problem... (Flat battery)
Location of vehicle...”
“Sorry, that location does not exist. Please try again”
Yes it does! You auto-completed it yourself, App. Of course it exists. Don’t be illogical. You’re just an app. You cannot get it wrong.
“Sorry you have been logged out...”
I guess it has happened to most of us. Modern life, eh? Thirty minutes or more it takes me to set up everything and then after just a few minutes - a call back. Yes, a human. A wonderful human being. With a kind and understanding voice. It disarms me. I’m appeased. I’m already exhausted. I’ll accept anything. I think I love you.
“Our trusty mechanic will be with you within 3 hours”
Three hours? Three hours?!... arrrrrggggh!
Ok - so two pieces of bad luck have befallen me this week. Please no more! As a by-the-by, the mechanic arrived after two hours and all was fixed within minutes. Home to thaw out. Fish and chips and indigestion but home nonetheless.
Everything seems bleak sometimes. This past week has been especially miserable for people. Here it feels like the “bleak mid winter”. Grey weather. Rain. Cold. Sleet. Fog. Lockdown. The news so grim. America. Oh America.
But... in a corner of my garden, (more like a quagmire just now), I’ve seen a hopeful little patch of aconites getting ready to bloom...
From the Editor
Too much news...
When Annabel emailed to say she was taking the weekend off (very well deserved but we miss her!) from writing for the journal, she added the words ‘too much news’.
Exactly. Just what I feel... pandemic fatigue... the world seems to be falling apart, and every hour brings more bad news , whether about COVID in the U.K., or the political chaos in America. I feel frazzled, exhausted, flattened... and I’m only watching from the periphery. What must it be like to be at the centre? Well, I watched several TV reports from ICU units. Chilling stuff. Even our own Norfolk and Norwich hospital. That brings it closer to home.
Yet people still behave so carelessly. We went out this morning to collect two much needed Calor gas cylinders from a local garden tool centre. None of the assistants in the shop were wearing masks, and they were crowded together in a small cubicle drinking tea. All lovely people but didn’t they realise the danger? To themselves mainly... I was heavily masked and hatted.
Marie Christine made the point a couple of months ago that mask wearing isn’t that difficult, nurses and doctors wear them all day. Hardly as difficult as gas masks in the 1940s. And they come in all colours and patterns now. One of the doctors / scientists said masks should be mandatory when we leave our homes. Good idea. But I don’t suppose it will happen.
There still seems to be far too much movement, far too much traffic. I haven’t noticed people staying at home. Why are football matches still being played? Why are schools being forced to take on more pupils than they can manage? Why are nurseries still open? It’s nothing like the first strict lockdown and yet numbers of cases and deaths were fewer then and the virus less contagious. That doesn’t make sense.
And so many people are in denial...
So, too much news. One must take time out. It’s a lovely sunny blue sky sort of day here after a frosty start. I’m going into the garden, then for a walk. Clear my head.
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Hello everyone! Did you notice we're in 2021!
I've done a small design update, changed the colours a bit to celebrate the occasion, and put 2021 in the navigation. I fancied a bit of a change - and change is a good thing I reckon, get's a bit of energy moving.
You can still go back and see all our past publications by using the links on the home page, but I decided to start again with the new year.
If we can get to 23rd March, we will have been doing this for a whole year! What an amazing achievement that is and we could not have done any of this without you.
So thank you all very much x