Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
Weddings are back on! So we have been busy at the flower shop. It’s lovely to be doing flowers for happy occasions as well as funerals. Some of our brides are now on their third date for their nuptials. The paperwork is a bit of a nightmare! Although the shop has two floors we are still not open upstairs due to lack of space for social distancing.
Just when we thought it was safe to go out and mingle a bit more, there is a new Indian variant of the virus to be anxious about. As long as the world’s population is moving between countries, then the virus is going to move around. I’m not watching the news.
I’ve just planted out my sweet peas at the allotment, fingers crossed there will be no more frost. Some members of the committee are obsessed with how tidy the pathways and boundaries are kept. Three of them were there today walking around assessing and judging all the plots, one of them even carrying a clipboard. I’m expecting a letter or an email pointing out my untidiness any minute. One side of the boundary was a beautiful hedgerow, all entwined honeysuckle, clematis, and old roses, brambles etc. So full of bird life. Someone has taken a strimmer to it.
I’ve totally enjoyed being part of this journal and reading everyone’s contributions, especially first hand accounts of life in other countries, and seeing everyone’s creative projects. Thank you all for your company and to Margaret and Sheila for making it possible.
Wishing you all a lovely Summer with lots of great catch ups with family and friends. Sending you all love, hugs and flowers. All big! Xxxxxxxxxxxx.
Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden
Covid-19 cases in Sweden are dropping rapidly now and vaccination is increasing. Monday was a very stressful day when our (Uppsala University Hospital) team for vascular EDS was audited by the European Reference Network (ERN). Vascular EDS is a rare hereditary connective tissue disease which causes rupture of arteries, bowel, uterus, and other problems and we are the (informal) Swedish centre for the disease. This audit was preceded by the sending of all sorts of documentation. On Zoom, the audit lasted the whole day, except for lunch, and included a live tour of the hospital. Now we hope to be accepted as a member of the ERN and have monthly Zoom meetings with other European centres for vascular EDS to discuss difficult cases and research. After the audit I could again focus on patients which was good.
On Wednesday evening we had my nephew and niece for dinner. Now on Thursday and Friday I am taking a course online on tutoring. I can do this in the house in Västergötland, which makes it more tolerable. Wallpaper in the largest room is up and looks nice. I choses cherry blossom to match the plentiful wild cherry blossom outside in this area. When we retire it will be great to live here all the time, and to have time to make a proper garden here. I wish you all good health and happiness, and hope to meet in the future.
The runaway diaries
Sophie Austin, London
I am writing this while you doze peacefully on our story corner sofa. You have taken to snoozing where you can, much like a cat. But in reality, you are a two year old who is due to be three in August, and these afternoons naps have become a rare treat, so I’m making the most of this quiet time.
The wind is rushing through the trees and the clouds are thick and grey. I have my winter jumper on and am starting to believe that I slept through summer and autumn days are here again.
But the ping of a new email reminds me that it is still May and the world is wide awake, and like the wind, rushing and pushing me into action.
I launch my latest project on Saturday. Lore of the Wild: An audio storywalk which takes the listener on a transformative journey through the ancient woodland of Lesnes Abbey Woods.
My writing partner and I have been visiting the woods for the last six months; observing, listening, smelling and breathing in the different rhythms of life that exist. We’ve written stories, songs and made a beautiful map to illustrate the journey. It has been a life changing project: To get lost in the woods during these wild days has been an experience I will never forget. I really hope those who listen will have a similar experience. The stories can be listened to in the woods, in an armchair, on a dog walk and, I hope, are a calming antidote to the rushing feeling that unlocking brings.
On Sunday, Bernadette and I will be leading an 8am walk of the route with a small audience, there will be some live music to discover in amongst the trees and a hot coffee when the walk is over. It will be my first live event since 2019. As theatres and music venues begin to open, I feel for everyone taking to the stage after a long break, underneath the excitement, there will be some nerves I’m sure!
As well as preparing for the launch of Lore of the Wild, your dad and I have been preparing for the launch of our ‘Civilly Partnered Life’. We are due to attend the Southwark Registry office on the 14th June and are planning a lunch with 14 of our closest family and friends on the 12th. However small, and whatever you choose to call this particular life event, I am learning that it is always a minefield and despite best intentions someone, somewhere will get upset.
You are looking forward to it though and have agreed to be the ring bearer which you announce proudly and regularly to anyone who will listen. Along with your current favourite word: ‘Boobies’. This gets shouted in parks, playgrounds and on trains accompanied by a gleeful smile.
You and I went to the Transport Museum and your dad took you to the Natural History museum this week – two museum visits in one week! And last weekend we went to see your Nana and your Grandpop at their homes in Norfolk. We intend to make the most of the culture on our doorstep and the opportunity to travel while we can, before we are locked down again which is looking grimly likely. We all loved seeing and hugging and catching up with your grandparents and exploring and playing in their country gardens and you relished the opportunity to drive the tube train and the bus and see the roaring T.Rex.
It's no wonder you’re fast asleep now, maybe I should be too. But just a few more things to prepare for Sunday and a nagging nervousness that won’t leave me be. If it all goes wrong in the woods I think I’ll just shout ‘boobies’ and run away…
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
How has Covid time changed us?
The question was raised for me when I read Gwyneth Paltrow's remark that she astonished herself during the pandemic by "feeling depressed and eating bread". How did each of us astonish ourselves?
Working less: I retired on 1 January 2021. I should have waited until September 2021 to reach the maximum of my pension rights but the difference was not significant. I still work 3 days a month (they are long days), to feel useful and to disconnect my brain gradually from work addiction. But there are many stories of people young and old reconsidering their professional lives.
Sudden exhaustion: The realisation that I had worked too much for forty-nine years, first studying medicine (always an intensive study), then working for my living as a doctor. A doctor's work is always overwork.
Restrictions of personal needs: despite two months of lockdown without pay and not being entitled to any national "free" income, I actually saved money, mainly because it was practically impossible to spend any except on basics: food, electricity and tax. And now, after lockdown, like many other people, I don't feel like spending much either.
Frustration: we missed going for an aperitif on Sunday on a sunny terrasse, going to the restaurant once or twice a month, going to see our daughter in Montpellier and our son in the US. No week-ends away to visit exhibitions or listen to concerts. No "brocante" (flea market) to find unexpected treasures or just to enjoy objects from the past. The main pleasure has been music on line, a fulfilling one and now well established in my life, I could not live without it. For the moment, on Arte Concert, it's Angela Hewitt and the Goldberg Variations, and polyphony by Josquin des Préz (it's the 500th anniversary of his death this year - he was a contemporary of Michel-Angelo and Leonardo, "prince of music" in his time and favorite composer of Luther). Music transforms my day and takes my mind into another world. I can listen and be happy.
Mental health: being naturally an optimist and hyperactive, I have been shaken by having to spend so much time at home, which I had never done before. Despite my having a lot of time on hand, the much-needed tidying up of the "chaos" room in the house has not been done. I hesitate between mild depression and the fact that I needed a long rest. Some researchers think that this and similar states might be the equivalent of a post-traumatic disorder. It can be seen as a kind of imprisonment at home, a brutal absence of social encounters, the invisible wires suddenly pulled out of the plug.
Weight: my sister and her daughter came to see us just the other day. Opening the front door, I noticed immediately that they had put a lot of weight on since we saw them last. My sister is a hospital department manager. Since March 2021, she has worked at least 12 hours a day, been on-call far more than usual, has had almost no break, and without quite knowing it is completely burnt-out. Her daughter, at an engineering school for 4 years, has been studying on line for more than a year, not seeing her friends, and her life consisting of just the driest part of her studies, though by nature she is an extremely outgoing person who needs company and action. No wonder she is depressed. I know the problem myself, having put on a lot of weight during the last twenty years. Since I retired, I have lost a stone and a half unintentionally, just because I don't have this permanent hunger and stress which was with me all those years. I feel on the path of a possible recovery. It's very enjoyable to feel lighter on one's feet.
During Covid time, it was difficult for obese people. In the newspapers it was a permanent subject of judgmental aggression: it was made to seem OK if they were dying more than people with a "normal" weight. After all, it was surely their fault if they were big: no discipline, no self-control, no courage, bad diet, not exercising enough, burden for the health system etc. etc... It's like saying that people with any serious illness are responsible for it - I saw that often with cancer, it's because they have done this or that... luckily, cancer doesn't show, so at least nobody feels like giving an opinion or needing to have one. There are many known factors of obesity, and a lot still to be understood. Family inheritance, social and economic issues, all play a part.
Shaping our future: we have had time to ask ourselves what we want for the future: what do we really need? what makes us happy? what's valuable for us? where do we want to live? is our situation today the one we want to continue for the years to come? All that, thanks to Gwyneth!
And here, for your green thoughts, are some lime trees by the Loire.
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
If I don’t write this at the breakfast table early Friday morning it won’t be written at all. I’ve had a busy week hunting down real estate leads and making contacts with more real estate agents. I also finally signed off on the Covid postponed medical appointments. This one was a breast scan. One of my sisters has had breast cancer (10 years clear this year). The Commonwealth Government do provide a free mobile service that you are entitled to access every two years. I choose to do it privately where you are examined by a doctor, then scanned, results looked at by a specialist radiologist and then back to the doctor for results. When I last attended in 2019 two women were “unlucky”, but were seen by a specialist breast oncologist on the same day. I feel it is worth the extra expense for the peace of mind. This year there was a full house of happy women. If I wasn’t driving home and I didn’t have an empty stomach and a poor dog waiting patiently after my seven hour absence I would have treated myself to a glass of something sparkling. Instead I had a glass of milk when I got home, a long walk with my four legged bestie and early dinner. Yesterday was back into town for a continuation of a laser in treatment on my face for this skin flare up. I look slightly the worse for wear this morning, but there should be a good outcome in the longer term.
I had a follow up call yesterday from a really fine local builder who has bought a large parcel of land to develop a few blocks away from where we currently live. He was very interested in beginning building one home to get the ball rolling on the remainder of his plans. I think the land size maybe a little smaller than we want but we will talk more next week. He plans to begin construction by the year’s end. If he builds on our own block (yet to be found) he won’t be able to start until the middle of next year. His first offer is appealing. Our local council has a reputation for being obstructive and difficult with planning applications, so hand balling it forward to someone experienced in dealing with their shenanigans is tempting. It would mean a compromise in garden size...
Beautiful autumn weather has returned after weeks of cold wintery winds. We had our first proper frost last night and now have clear blue skies and gorgeous sun. I must push on into the day. Pilates mid morning, shopping for supplies on my way home and then planting the last of my spring bulbs into pots. I’m doing something with duck and chilli and ginger for dinner. My lovely chap volunteered to save me a third trip into Melbourne and rose with the birds to take my car for a major service. He hasn't done a lot of driving with work this week so I was most appreciative.
If I’ve learnt one thing over the past year and that is the treasure of being with people to share food and drink. It is lovely to see you all being able to share this simple joy.
View from a town formerly known as crazy
Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.
As if in homage to the impending end of our journal project, Crazy is staging one last glorious outburst of jaw-dropping, forehead-slapping, what-was-he-thinking Nutso Life in the Time of Pandemic. And lest Your Intrepid Reporter stand accused of partisanship after lo these many weeks, he hastens to add this is full (political) spectrum nutso.
Things have gone from Crazy to Worse for Rep. Matt Gaetz, he of Florida Man fame. His alleged -- no, make that now-confessed -- partner in delicto has copped to six federal crimes, most of which seem to involve the good Congressman, drugs, and money changing hands with young ladies easily led from the paths of righteousness for a greenback or two. Were Matt a duly elected representative of any other state, his time on the taxpayers’ clock would probably be measured in minutes now. But, hey, it’s Florida, so Matt’s a shoe-in for re-election next year (provided he is not actually incarcerated yet).
Not content to leave the future course of GaetzGate to the good people of Florida, however, one of the titans of our age, a genuine Captain of Industry, has stepped forward to besmirch his own good name in service to We the People. I speak, of course, of Mr. Milquetoast, the original “no one in history ever thought it’d be him,” the guy who’s saving the world with his fortune one vaccine jab at a time, Bill Gates. Turns out the Founder of Everything has quite a reputation for being less than faithful to his vows and has long been known as a problem boss for his female employees. In a twist which (genuinely) defies belief, he also appears to have befriended Jeffrey Epstein, the fake-financier pervert who most recently appeared in headlines as the friend and reputed partner in delicto of Prince Andrew. More incredible still, this all took place after Epstein had been convicted of sex crimes against children (in Florida, natch), and despite Mrs. Gates’s firm view that Bill should not have any further association. Well, it’s all ended in tears, and as Jeff Bezos can attest, Captains of Industry who lose their direction tend to wind up aground on the rather expensive rocks of divorce. In so doing, Bill Gates has achieved a double first, knocking Matt Gaetz off the pinnacle of awful Gaetz-Gateses while simultaneously dethroning Bill Clinton from his place in the national psyche as The Terrible Bill.
While the gaze of the masses has been firmly fixed upon these antics, Your I.R. has not failed to keep at least one eye on the ever amusing goings-on of the Trumpublican Party. Last week the Trumpublicans in Congress expelled Liz Cheney from her leadership position for having the audacity to tell the truth. Now, to be fair, the Trumpublicans aren’t opposed to truth (that is, as long as it conforms to their alternative facts and alternative reality), but Lizzie committed the Original Act of Truth-Telling For Which There is No Forgiveness. I refer, of course, to her failure to defend alternative facts on behalf of Dear Leader. Congresswoman Cheney insists that the events which took place in the Capitol on 6 January amounted to insurrection and a betrayal of the Constitution. If this were allowed to stand unchallenged, it would not be good for Dear Leader’s brand, and thus she must be expunged. Lizzie could have avoided her fate had she simply followed the courageous example of Rep. Andrew Clyde (Trumpublican of Georgia) who said the events of that day could easily have been mistaken for an ordinary group of tourists strolling the halls of Congress. (He has yet to respond to queries regarding photos from that fateful day showing him flattened against a wall, screaming in fear and helping to pile furniture against the door of the House chamber, but we assume this can all be explained away as nothing more than part of the show provided to ordinary tourists for the price of admission.) The leaders of the Trumpublicans in the House and Senate, Kevin McCarthy and Moscow Mitch McConnell, have both rejected the formation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the events of that day. Instead, they are reportedly developing a plan to let the Mar-a-Largo Tourist Board assume control of all ordinary tours of Congress henceforth.
Life in these States is slowly returning to normal: Rudy G. is still under investigation and fulminating loudly that it’s a set up; Javanka have settled comfortably back into life amid the toxic waste dumps of North Jersey; no one has seen Mrs. Dear Leader since 20 January; audits, re-audits, re-re-audits of the November vote continue apace wherever Trumpublicans are in power; baseball is once again being played on the sparkling green fields of spring, and God is in his (Christians-only) heaven. And in the clearest sign yet that we’re getting back to business as usual and approaching the end of our pandemic era, the Center for Disease Control announced that all fully vaccinated adults can now go mask free. Of course, since ‘Muricans oppose any form of government I.D. as an unconstitutional restraint on “ma’ rights,” the USG will provide no documentary evidence of who has actually been vaccinated. We’re told instead to rely on the honor system. It’s a funny thing, hard to explain to anyone not steeped in the ways of Crazy, but those proclaiming their fealty to an honor-based system are also those who most loudly insist that no one in this great land can be allowed to vote without a least two forms of government I.D., at least one of which has to be issued by the Mar-a-Largo Tourist Board and countersigned by Dear Leader Himself.
And, so, Gentle Reader, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the Crazy.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
What an exciting week!
Monday was syttende mai, Norway’s Constitution Day , celebrating the Constitution of Norway created in 1814 whilst Norway was still a vassal state of Sweden. Norway was ‘given’ by Denmark to Sweden as spoils of the Napoleonic War after Denmark had backed the wrong side. Norway’s celebration of syttende mai as an independant country was almost a hundred years later in 1905. It was forbidden for the five years of Nazi Occupation and last year, the celebration was cancelled for the first time since 1944. This year it resumed with a "biltog", a car procession rather than the procession of children and families in traditional dress. Never a show of might and power with marching soldiers, flypasts, guns and tanks. It’s focused on children waving flags, children playing in brass bands or children showing off their gymnastic skills. Sheer Joy.
Syttende mai is central in Norwegian life and Covid didn’t dampen the sense of patriotism. It is tradition to don the "Bunad", each one different depending the area one comes from. The picture is of my beautiful step-daughter in her Sunnmørsbunad, with a hand-embroidered long wool dress and embroidered white cotton shirt. These outfits are terribly expensive and take months to finish. Norwegian «haute couture». Pinned with silver brooches and with an embroidered purse tucked at the waist. There is a cape for cold days. There was a lovely drive past all the homes on our island by the islanders, including the postman, and volunteer fire service. The children leant out of the cars with wildflowers garlands in their hair, waving flags and shouting "Gratulerer"!!!
We went for a walk around the island and I took a photo of one of the volunteer firemen, handsome in his Bunad. We were invited for coffee and cake in the garden, by a couple we know. We ended up at home and celebrated with cake, champagne, waffles and a huge dinner. We were invited for drinks and cake to a cousin’s house after their daughter’s family had left but just could not face stirring from the sofa.
The following day was our wedding anniversary, and coincidentally, Margaret’s birthday. We had a delightful visit from a hedgehog. It’s been a while since we’ve seen one. My husband ran out with dry cat biscuits and water in shallow containers. The hedgehog (pinnsvin)rewarded us with a grin.
As a result of moving two yews from the entrance of the Secret Garden, which is more aptly called the Waterlogged Garden, to a drier site... both husband and I put out our backs. We took the ferry and drove back to Ålesund for a visit with the chiropractor. I had to take the fast boat and go back twice more to get manipulated. I’ve had a bad back for thirty years and I gave up on orthopaedic surgeons a long time ago. Bless them, invaluable for surgical problems but I didn’t find pain killers, muscle relaxants and steroid injections into the back a good solution. Chiropractors have been wonderful for my back coupled with pilates, magnesium and vitamin D tablets. And avoidance of lugging large yews.
The world is filled with bad news. The terrible troubles in the Gaza, Harry’s verbal diarrhoea, the BBC and Bashir and the "Indian" mutation of the Covid virus. In Singapore, a Chinese man attacked an Indian woman and it merited mention by PM Lee and several ministers. Singapore walks a tightrope keeping racial problems in check and there is no such thing as freedom of speech regarding race and religion. The lack of a synapse between the brain and the mouth creates problems in interpersonal relations, not to mention racial, political and religious issues. They live in the midst of a powder keg and unfortunately control is necessary. The Straits Times in Singapore is trying to refer to the Indian variant as B. 1. 617. instead. Political correctness.
I think I am in avoidance. Trying to observe a news fast and read about flowers for happiness and peace of mind. We have just potted a Pinky Winky paniculata hydrangea in a old copper pot filled with holes. I sort of like that name. Lots of my Indian friends have nicknames like Pinky, Sweetie, Dimple, and Winky!!!
Sofus wishes you "god helg" from his favourite perch on top of the bedroom cupboard.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
The penultimate journal entry so what news have I got to report?
England is unlocking its doors and this week I have eaten out in a cafe for the first time in months. There is something very comforting about afternoon tea - this one was lovely too. Tea and scones and a view of the near empty midweek high street. We were the only customers in the cafe so it felt very safe. One masked waitress stood on sentry duty at the door. “Do you have the track and trace app?” she enquired as we arrived and then showed us to the table. Then, another waitress appeared - mask, visor, blue gloves and a disposable apron. “What d’ya think of our new uniform?” she mused merrily as she delivered the disposable menus. We were very impressed. Organised, jolly and attentive staff, great tea and super scones! This is the England that I know and love. A bit old-fashioned. Quaint. It’s not all “Dick Barton and the mystery of the disappearing tea cake” but it is nice and kind and polite and safe and good.
The news on the wireless has been much less chirpy. Investigations are ongoing into the way contracts for the production of PPE were awarded at the start of the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money were wasted it seems. Recriminations. Allegations of corruption and sleaze. People getting rich on the back of others’ suffering. More fears about the rising numbers of cases of the new variant - will this affect the “unlocking process”? Will we have to backtrack? And then the harrowing reports from India and elsewhere across the globe. The terrible death toll. Grim. Oh and the images on the TV of people pulled to safety after hours under the rubble of concrete in war torn cities. Unthinkable. Photos of volunteers in blue, disposable gowns carrying the coffins of people who have died from Covid. I sit in the late spring sunshine sipping my tea or lemonade. Vaccinated. Comfortable. Unmoved? No. Powerless? Perhaps.
There was a storm here last evening. I think it was the second this week. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain - albeit briefly. My Jack Russell is terrified of the thunder. He dives for a lap and tries to hide his head under a cushion or a sweater. Lucy, the new pup seemed oblivious. I loved the story of the rescued Milo from last week’s journal. And the photo - the adorable face of the kitten. Sometimes there is such trust in the eyes of animals. It is a lovely reminder of the goodness of others.
No plans for the next few days. Perhaps a walk today. A proper walk. I need to shift some weight. Tucking in to too many cakes and sweets I guess. Comfort eating.
Stay safe and well, folks x
John Mole, St Albans
Our conversational circuit
of a local park,
and with an eloquence
was to experience once more
the counterpoint of friendship.
Of course this took at first
some getting used to
as the unfamiliar
animation of our mouths
in joyous argument
before they settled down
to match a steadying pace.
Mary’s projects mostly
Mary Hildyard, Devon
Risk assessment - I can’t get my head around it. Right here, right now in England, what is risky? What is safe? How safe? Can anyone be safe?
Am I ready to entertain friends and family in our home? Am I ready to sit on a bus or a train; visit a theatre or a cinema; a museum or a gallery? If not now, when?
Fifteen months of caution and isolation and social distancing; such a long time with minimal social interaction. I don’t want to throw it away and become infected. I’ve lost too much of my life already. But, how great is the risk? I have lost the ability to calculate it.
My sisters in America are flying everywhere - one from Florida to Hawaii to visit her son and his partner; one from California to Ohio to visit a nature reserve with other photographers; one from Michigan to California to visit her daughter and granddaughters. They are fully vaccinated and embracing their freedom.
I am fully vaccinated and am still in a mask accepting grocery deliveries from a masked driver. How do you make the first step?