Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
Competing for the Idiot of the Week award, I managed to delete my initial draft for this week’s contribution. According to the search engine, the file is irretrievable. Well done me. If anyone finds my brain, please could you return it.
Monday reported zero deaths in England. What a wonderful thing to be able to write. Is the worst of the pandemic behind us? Maybe not. By Thursday, SAGE had convened an emergency meeting to discuss the rise in cases, in parts of the UK, as a result of an increase in the Indian variant. This must surely be the perfect time for the UK, along with all wealthy nations, to invest in vaccines for less well-off countries. Watching cases rise in India to 400,000 daily maybe just the tip of the iceberg. There are many countries, with inadequate health care systems, which have yet to be fully hit by the pandemic. Unless the UK contributes to a vaccine programme for these countries, the virus is likely to continue to mutate and will be back on our shores once more. Like some macabre game set inside revolving doors.
I visited Barbara today who is feeling really lonely. After over a year of being shut away, Barbara has finally reached the end of her stoicism. As residents are allowed to have two visitors a week, I’ve been allowed special privileges to visit twice weekly. Really hoping I can take her out soon. Barbara reads in her daily newspaper about the world outside care homes where people are going out to shops and meeting with friends and wonders why she is not allowed to do the same. It is time for all care home residents to be set free. You’d think this was an incarceration for some terrible misdemeanour. The care home staff tell me that Public Health England are meeting today (Thursday) to discuss the matter. Then the care home providers will meet on May 22 to discuss what they’re going to do following any PHE decision. Then the insurance companies will meet to discuss their response to the care providers decisions… you get the picture. We must wait patiently.
After visiting Barbara, I collected mum’s shopping and took it over. Although mum at 92 still lives independently, she too has been shut away for a long time. Over the last few weeks, three of her neighbours and a friend have died. I can fully understand mum feeling desperate. But No. Highest on mums wish-list is to have the sitting room windows cleaned and the net curtains changed. I found the steps and started work.
Back at home I am drowning in packing boxes - photo shows some of the boxes on the landing. The actual moving date is yet to be decided. Why does house conveyancing take so long? Sorting through cupboards and sheds has taken on a liberating feel. No-longer-needed things are sold or recycled. One of the joys has been putting unwanted items outside my home with a ‘Free’ poster attached. As if by magic, they all disappear to new homes.
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
The third wave is upon us, as many predicted following all the hugging and partying that have been going on since Easter.
In February, we experienced the second wave of infections, which, as night is apparently succeeded by day, came hard on the heels of the Christmas-New Year festivities.
Between the waves of infections, when more stringent lockdown measures have been put in place, the numbers of new infections have dropped to a few hundred. Now they are about 3,000 each day and rising. Deaths are still at between 50 and 100 a day. They will probably start to increase in the next week or so.
Yesterday (Thursday) I read in the Guardian online that SA’s Covid death rate is far higher than reported. The article was about excess deaths. The official death toll from the pandemic is about 55 000. If you include excess deaths, which one of the big SA health organisations tracks, the number of likely Covid deaths is more than three times the official number.
What the report didn’t point out is that that discrepancy applies to all other countries. There are official Covid mortality figures and there are the probable true figures bearing in mind excess deaths. In the UK, it seems that it is only the Financial Times that has reported on this regularly and stubbornly, much to its credit.
So the Guardian article was really wholly without context and made it seem as if official Covid reporting in SA is singularly inaccurate.
There are no plans to tighten the very slight lockdown measures that are currently in place. The plan seems to be simply to increase the public announcements about the need to wear masks, keep to social distancing, washing your hands and so on.
On Monday, my daughter Gracey turns 13. I’m not sure how we’ll celebrate her birthday. She would like to go to a restaurant with about six of her friends and have me leave them there for a few hours and then return and pick up the bill... But I’m still wary about her going out in groups and the restaurants are not all that good about safety. Tightfistedness has nothing to do with it.
But I do want to arrange something for her. On her 12th birthday we were in tight lockdown. She saw no one and we didn’t go out.
Between then and now she has started on all the changes a young girl faces at that age, and is now in the throes of a tough and painful adolescence. It’s a lot to embark on at a time of plague, restriction and fear, not least when you’ve an elderly father who is scared of poking his hare-eyed head over the parapet.
I’ll have to think of something to try to give her a good time.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
Everything seems to be changing and so quickly! I have to admit that last week's announcement caught me unawares, but I completely understand the reasons, and in my view they are good. It's sad, but all part of what I call the 'desert experience' of life. Everything has its time and place. Hopefully this marks an end to the direct effect of plague on all our lives, not forgetting those for whom it will continue into the future.
Best beloved and I are looking forward to the party. Meeting together with other journalistas should be a delight and a privilege. There are a few ifs and buts concerning our getting to Norfolk. However, it should be something we can manage alright.
This past week has been quite busy for us, mainly with tidying up the beach hut. Best beloved has finished work on the interior paint and general tidying, whilst I am still in the throes of painting the rear wall, which I replaced last year. Next parts for attention are the doors, sadly damaged by vandals. Hopefully security will be improved, and appearance as well.
An aspect of change that I am trying to deal with in myself is that of human contact. I find that I am habituated to not getting close to others. Best beloved is the only person I have met indoors for a very long time. I have been thinking that I would let myself very gently deal with this issue over the next few months as imposed restrictions are eased. I was a bit shocked yesterday (Thursday) to receive a message from two very dear friends saying they had booked a table for lunch in a favourite eating place next Wednesday lunchtime, and they really hope I will join them. Oh dear, I am nowhere near ready for that! The restaurant is quite cramped too, with no outside facilities. I feel most embarrassed, but need to turn down the invitation. The best way I'm sure will be to come clean over my feelings and thoughts. Not easy!
On the subject of meetings, tomorrow I should meet my daughter Kate from Bristol for the first time in over a year. She is driving to Southsea, and I will catch the hovercraft (a public transport first since Covid for me). It will be so good to see her again - we've missed one another. So far we have no plans as to what we will do, but that doesn't matter a jot. I'm sure food will be involved somewhere, but of course it will be eaten in the open.
I am horrified by the happenings in Israel/Palestine. Human folly never ends does it.
Keep well my friends - for that's how I think of you all...
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
Notwithstanding Sheila's quite understandable reasons why we need to bring this journal to a close, it is perhaps time to consider our country's plague at an end. Less than 1% of the beds in NHS hospitals are occupied by Covid victims. The unlocking of lockdown is proceeding according to plan. The economy is recovering strongly. Vaccinations are continuing to be delivered with impressive speed. And last but not least, Man City have won the Premier League and have secured a place in the Champions League final in two week's time. We true blue Mancunians are a very happy bunch at the moment.
But whilst things are looking up in our very wet island, outside the UK there are storm clouds gathering.
In India the pandemic is unfolding with devastating effect. In France, the apparently moderate politician Michel Barnier, (he of Brexit notoriety), has called for a moratorium on immigration from outside the EU for 3 to 5 years - the sort of xenophobia he accused Brexiteers of showing. And in the Middle East, that region's only functioning democracy is facing an onslaught of terrorist rocket attacks and responding in its characteristically brutal and unforgiving manner. So tragic; so unnecessary.
Hello from Eastbourne
No clean pants, by Shirley-Anne Macrae
I am writing this in haste from the Charleston carpark. I accepted the job offer and embarked upon a vigorous training programme. Initially, I thought it would be dull, I would know everything, fire drills, collection security, etc but alas no: these are COVID times and most of my training has been about how to re-open Charleston safely.
So, in haste, because I start work in ten minutes, much has changed. Numbers in the House have been reduced for example, to allow for social distancing. Similarly, numbers in the galleries at any given time have been restricted. Booking is now essential, no more jumping in the car for a day out and buying tickets on the spot. But we're all committed to making it work, to keeping everyone safe and welcoming people back to this wonderful place.
Personally, I'm rather tired. I've been here all week. The cat is in a huff with me. And this morning Marli growled "I don't like you working. I have no clean pants today".
Thank goodness for the weekend, I can catch my breath before we reopen, cuddle the cat and put a load in the machine.
From rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
Yesterday a vaccinated friend I hadn’t seen in almost a year when we met in a secluded old graveyard for a distanced masked picnic came for a good long unmasked visit, lunch in the garden, and even a hug on arrival and to say good-bye. Life felt almost normal again and me with it. I was very aware of how different seeing her made me feel after feeling so isolated and how much I missed being with my friends.
I think the chance of frost has passed ~ the days are in the 60’s and 70’s, and the garden is lovely to be out in poking about, with lots of things that call to me to do, the roses are dug in with peat and bone meal and a few annuals are in pots already... two girl friends are coming next weekend for a couple of nights and we’ve made plans of going about nursery and antique shopping. What to cook? I made a lovely Greek lamb stew with carrots, onion, tomato, orzo and crumbled feta cheese for lunch yesterday which was surprisingly delicious ~ red wine and a stick of cinnamon gave it a lovely fragrance.
My dream life has become so strange ~ with activities and people I could never imagine in my waking hours, some even frightening and sometimes funny when I find I wake laughing. I wonder what that’s all about and have had to turn on the radio a few times to distract my unconscious or is it subconscious mind from pondering these strange nocturnal ‘events’.
I did end up buying a wonderful Melvyn Evans linocut which is on it’s way. I know just where it will go and I am so looking forward to it’s presence. There seem to be so many English printmakers whose work I am drawn to and not very many American artists who have a similar appeal.
With just a few more weeks to keep up with the journal I contemplate how much I will miss everyone as our lives slowly begin to re-enter the worlds we were accustomed to. It has been such an important anchor for me over this strange past year and I will miss you all. Special gratitude to Margaret for asking me to participate and her gentle encouraging reminders, and to Sheila for all her wonderful abilities to pull it all together every week. Thank you everyone ~
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
I have started to listen to music again and this week Radio 3 has championed Mental Health Awareness Week.
Coincidentally, on Monday, I had a meeting at the bookshop and remembered that I wanted to read Herman Melville’s short story Bartleby which, together with Moby Dick, had influenced Georges Perec. I was delighted to find a copy and on Monday evening after a lovely hot bath climbed into bed with my new treasure. It is a beautifully told parable but with a very terrible ending and reminded me of William Saroyan's short story, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. Both are incredible and both could not have been more appropriate reading. I shudder to think that there, but for the Grace of God, go I.
I have been glad of a week of solitude to reflect on so many things - not least my feelings about the future of this Journal. As I write there is acoustically lovely twittering in the porch where birdies are nesting. I have an homage to the hedgerow on the table in front of me together with a steaming pot of Rose Pouching tea and a piece of lemon and almond cake delivered by a friend who happened to be passing. Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing the energy and sense of achievement in my husband’s voice as he announced that he caught not one but two decent sized salmon before lunch!
I am truly grateful for all of this and articulating it for the Journal adds another level of recall and appreciation. I have never succeeded in writing a journal before and know that without this incentive my dedication will atrophy but nature abhors a vacuum! Mental Health Awareness Week has indeed been meaningful... and incidentally much of the music has been sublime!
Jane, just south of Norwich
Yes, life is becoming busier, at last, and the Country File calendar I keep on the kitchen cupboard is beginning to fill with entries again. We were lucky enough to be offered a friend’s cottage in Sheringham for a few days last week. It was exciting to be going away, albeit only an hour from home, and to see the wonderful North Sea again. We had some lovely walks, called into Annabel’s very tempting shop in Holt to have a little chat and on the Sunday, which was very warm after a very wet Saturday, we walked to Cromer and had coffee and chocolate orange brownies on the beach.
These brownies are quite special as they are made by our daughter Alison – I will give her a little plug. She started up a home baking business a few years ago, baking in her spare time while holding down a full time job. She has now been able to reduce her day job to two days a week and spends the rest of her time baking. Big Time Brownies really took off during lockdown as people posted out boxes of brownies to friends and family they couldn’t visit or as presents when they couldn’t get to the shops. She now also supplies North Sea Coffee Co on Marine Parade, Cromer and Buoy Coffee House at Blakeney.
We popped into Cromer town to buy a sandwich for our return walk back to Sheringham and found it very busy – uncomfortably so - with people (or so it seemed to me) too relaxed about the lifting of restrictions and wandering all over the place. We were glad to be back on the relatively quiet coastal path and enjoyed our lunch on Incleborough Hill with its wonderful views of the coast and sea. It was peaceful there with just the sound of birdsong but we remembered the time we were there a few years ago when the Red Arrows flew directly overhead during Cromer Carnival Week, quite a spectacle. No Carnival this year, but hopefully next…
I have made arrangements to visit my dear Dad at last and the train tickets arrived yesterday in the post – a trip on the train will feel quite an adventure after all this time. I will still walk between the main line stations in London though, avoiding the tube. It will be interesting to see if London is any busier this time round. It was eerily quiet when I last made the journey. I have also arranged to meet my friend for lunch at Wimbledon on my way down – what a wonderful, normal thing to do!
It is Friday morning and after listening to the last few news bulletins a worrying niggle has crept into my proposed plans, the Indian variant is causing concern and infection rates are rising. I fervently hope this is dealt with decisively and we can all move forward as hoped.
I am a late comer to contributing to the journal but fully appreciate the work that Margaret and Sheila must do to put it together each week. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing my piece and feeling a small part of something that will document the strange times we have witnessed.
Good wishes to you all.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
It’s been an eventful week.
We invited my husband’s cousin and her husband over for supper. It was a lovely evening. I have been feeling more and more anxious about the garden. I had bought two trees that were unwise choices and felt so silly when I got home. The garden was meant to be a fun project and I was treating it like an exam subject.
My friend in Singapore had suggested I ask for help from the Ålesund Gardening Society on Facebook. So I loaded a picture of my latest garden plan and asked for suggestions of plants and trees that would thrive here. In Norwegian. I got three replies. Two were businesses offering to a) plan my garden (already done) and b) sell plants. The third reply was a very kind comment on the plan and suggesting colour schemes. On Saturday evening I got a message from an acquaintance in a garden nursery asking if she could come for lunch on Sunday and look at my garden. Imagine my surprise and delight. No one has invited themselves to lunch in three years. Yippee! And help with the garden? Well!!!
Mailén came at 11 and stayed till 7 pm. We walked around and made some decisions in between cups of coffee, lunch, cake, ice cream and waffles. I asked what had suddenly prompted her visit. Her sister was the sweet woman who had replied to my Facebook post and had told Mailén about it. A small world.
On Wednesday, I took the fastboat to Ålesund. There were three sixthformers without masks on the boat. I was so tempted to walk over and give them masks and tell them off. My cousins in India are surrounded by Death and inadequate medical care that it upsets me to see the disdain that some of these youngsters have. The Norwegian prime minister just declared that 18-24 year olds will get priority in being vaccinated together with the 40-44 year olds because the former were the ones getting the most infections. Clearly these kids don’t watch the news.
Yesterday was Kristihimmelfartsdag or Ascension Day, a public holiday. My husband and I planted a Hjertetre, a Victoria Plum, transplanted four lilacs; planted a row of Philadelphus Finn (a Swedish variety) that I’m going to use as an internal hedge and a few Deutzia ‘Strawberry Fields’ in front of the Viburnum that we had planted last Autumn. I have put some thyme on the ground in front. So far, I’ve lost one Iceberg climber in the front garden. It’s been a long, hard winter and I planted it perhaps too late in the fall. For the non-gardeners the last paragraph was Greek. Like it was for me this time last year.
God helg! I just spoke with Annabel and we shall miss this community from June. But Thank Goodness for a lack of feedback and comments. I can’t deal with trolls. Only nice people. The world is hard enough without added negativity. Hugs, My Friends.