Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
Hello 👋. I hope you’re staying safe and well.
Friday already! I’m in bed as I type this, drinking tea and looking out from the window on an innocent early morning. A touch of ground frost but - so far - just gentle blue sky and pink-tinged clouds. Some watery sunshine. Fingers crossed - it will stay dry. I’ve a couple of shrubs to plant - a tiny bay tree and an escallonia. Lots of preparation still to be completed in the greenhouse. Oh and a perennial problem - a mouse to be caught (probably more than one!). Evidently, he has already been nibbling and rooting around in there. Tell-tale signs. Alas - Micky or Minnie, you must go!
The TV news provides its daily dose of gloom without shame. Death and infection rates are alarming. The talk of vaccine roll-out is meant to be more uplifting but the announcer yesterday said that Suffolk is lagging behind other counties and is not vaccinating the over 80s in sufficient numbers. I watched the reports of terrible flooding in Yorkshire. How awful for those people having to leave their homes. And on top of it all - the lockdown and contending with virus restrictions. The news from America was much more positive though. The hopeful speeches and declarations at the presidential inauguration.
Here lockdown continues and not a lot changes. In March last year, there was so little traffic on the roads but this time, it seems there is no difference. Depending on where the daily walk takes us, we often hear the long low rhythmic grumble of vehicles on the main roads. Drums of war. Several long walks this week. I enjoy seeing the local flora and fauna and walking in the countryside. It feels safe and healthy. Helps me to justify some of the indulgences I allow myself. The best was last Sunday - a homemade cherry and almond steamed sponge pudding served with coconut ice cream.
Earlier mention of the vaccination program reminds me. Did anyone else see a very peculiar TV advert for holidays a fortnight or so ago? It had a shocking line in it - something about “Jab and Go”. What an insult! Were they being playful or sardonic? Does anyone seriously believe we can just be vaccinated and then reboot our lives into a pre-pandemic happy-ever-after? We have a long way to go before we can think about carefree leisure time and liberation from masks, social distancing and unrestricted living. Do I sound like a kill-joy? Sorry.
Ah but joyful sounds are coming from the kitchen now! The dogs are yapping for their breakfasts! Porridge is nearly ready. Another mug of tea, please.
I’ll walk green pastures by and by.
I will never forget...
Jayne R, Norfolk
March 2020 Watching the breaking news on Covid 19, the start of a national lockdown and hospitality businesses closing with immediate effect. My consultancy business based entirely around catering and hospitality was suddenly not viable.
Seeing an ad on my Facebook feed for catering team leaders at the NNUH made me apply not only to work, but like so many I have had the most incredible care from the NHS for myself and my children. I felt I could and wanted to give back, I have an extra respect for our healthcare system having lived and worked in the USA where things are very different.
My Mother in law was taken very ill with terminal cancer, at the end of February, so it was decided my husband would take the time to look after her at her home in London. I didn’t see him for 14 weeks, so actually it was good to be busy (My father also died of Covid in Spain at the same time, that is another story).
My first week on the wards I was terrified to see how ill people really where and standing outside CCU & ITU to see the full PPE clothed doctors, it was sobering & very scary to say the least. Having worked for ourselves for over 30 years, the other shock was so many procedures and rules, which once you understand them make perfects sense both for the safety of the patients and ourselves. Being trained by the long standing team members (some have worked at both the old and new hospital for 30 years plus) lead to interesting conversations from being called posh and a few other things I shouldn’t mention! On ward, one of my jobs is to take the orders for lunch and supper, meeting some real characters who are both funny and cheeky at the same time, one that springs to mind is the 85 year Gentleman who when I asked whether he would like cottage pie or omelette for dinner he replied as quick as a flash, can I have sex please! I replied very quickly it wasn’t on the menu on Mondays.
What you do realise is how important meal times are not only for nutrient but to relieve the boredom of being in bed all day and night. From working on the children’s ward, Alzheimer’s, cancer & stroke wards you really do get to meet all sorts of people some grumpy, some truly grateful for a quick chat. Today a lovely old man just asked me to hold his hand - it made him smile, the power of a human touch.
Working alongside the incredible nurses is a real bonus. They are unfailingly cheerful so hard working with the added big dose of black humour. Anyone who knows me also laughs as I am a fainter at the slightest medical intervention, fainting at every one of my antenatal classes gives you some idea of how wimpy I am. So to walk into some very invasive treatments sometimes is definitely a look up at the ceiling moment and deep breathing.
Now for the physical side, 12 hour shifts, 20.000 steps a day, I have not put on any covid pounds and lets not talk about my uniform and my green pork pie hat!
So would I do it again?
Yes probably - I am proud of how I have been a tiny wheel in the massive NHS cog, proud of mastering all the procedures, learning to stand up for myself and working for someone else again learning new skills at not such a young age. I have listened to so many life stories of my fellow workers, it must be something about me that people open up about their lives, children and family.
So as the hospitality businesses slowly opens up I guess I will find another avenue within the next few months, one thing is for sure I will never forget 2020.
Paul Lowden, Malaysia
“But are there many… Chinese?”
Oh, you start, momentarily distracted
Her crimson shellaced nails clacking
On the handbag’s clasp. A symbol you
Don’t quite recognise, interlocked.
Her shaven headed son squints
Piggy eyed and a mouthful of gum
Yawns. Chinese as in Korean, like
The chess player or Vietnamese, the twin
Ballet stars or perhaps the Arawak
Mathematician or the Indian artist
Or maybe she means Hong Kong
[Still independent] and the computer
Whizz. No? Or the kid from Kenya
Mother ‘something in the UN’ who read
Most of the canon [not much to do in the compound]
By the time she was ten. Maybe confused she actually
Means the ivory-fingered Thai pianist, concert level
Before he arrived, or the Malaysian botanist
Who pinned a poster of Attenborough
Above her bed. Or the lad from the
Maldives, astronomer and his Japanese
Pal writing his first novel. No? Ah,
The Indonesian who wants to be the third
Generation doctor [Imperial College] or the
Javanese inventor and her solar powered device.
It is these she is speaking of? Not exactly “Chinese”
But dismissively, conclusively, all “foreign”
As in “overseas”. “Little Jimmy’s an all rounder,”
She smiles or at least her lips move.
Of course he is, the middle class catch all
For useless, her desperation seeping through
Her perfumed racism. “And we’re keen he gets
An English education.” And the implication
That classes watered down by milky brown skins
Are not what one pays for. I sigh gently and reply:
“I shall waste no time on your application.”
Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden
My week started with the very great luck of receiving the first dose of Corona vaccine at work in Uppsala University Hospital. The rest of Monday, and also Tuesday was scheduled for research time but unfortunately most of the time went to trying to get computer problems fixed which are not yet fixed but some progress has been made.
Wednesday and Thursday was fully packed with patients, more phone calls than proper meetings.
Wednesday evening we spent in front of the TV watching CNN and the Biden inauguration ceremony, a bit worried about the lack of social distancing displayed but otherwise very very happy about the positive turn of events in America.
Friday is again for research but I am also scheduled to give a lecture to vascular surgeons via zoom on the subject of vascular connective tissue disorders and now, Thursday afternoon I have to prepare for the lecture. I will use this photo from IKEA when discussing the mechanical forces that the arterial system has to endure every minute and hour every day.
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
I had my Pfizer jab a week ago. I don't seem to have been transformed as the Antivaxers say I might be. I am not a new creature, alas neither younger nor immortal. Just as, when you eat a banana with all its DNA and RNA, you don't then turn into a banana. The nanoparticles of the jab don't capture 5G waves (Chinese spies won't be able to watch where I go). No more than do nanoparticles in nail polish, tooth paste, preserved food or M&M sweets.
I went to Tours for the jab. In Blois it seems the local hospital has had real difficulties in starting to vaccinate for various administrative reasons. The doctor who gave the green flag and the nurse who injected me were both in their seventies and volunteers. I will have the next jab on 10th February, and then I can go and meet all my vaccinated medical friends, if there is no new lockdown.
The government has treated retired carers, as well as those in active practice, with the jab as a priority. So, if it turns out that there are not enough people volunteering, the local Préfet will requisition nurses and doctors who are retired - actually I feel fairly proud about that. Do you know many jobs for which governments would bother to requisition you? Maybe they should also do it for poets to sing the praise of the carers since the clappers have stopped? God forbid, Rob interjects.
Are fishes happier in UK waters?
I read about "floating factories as big as football pitches plundering our seas... mile-long trawler nets have monopolised the Channel". But we are informed that UK "Ministers rejected a bill in 2020 to stop the super-trawlers from harvesting fish from these protected areas which cover 40% of England's seas". Big boats can earn 500 000 GBP on a single trip, and financiers are investing in them. They kill a lot of protected sea mammals. Green Peace have some interesting and alarming articles on their website about the fishing industry in the UK and in the Channel. War vessels were ready to hunt EU fishing boats, they probably would not have gone after the super-trawlers - I have no proof of that, just a feeling.
The number of UK fishing vessels is less than 6,000, 12,000 fishermen (by comparison 823,000 jobs in automotive industry). 80% of vessels are 10m or under in length.
Boris Johnson promised British people a great quantity of fish. The British will have to want it, because the pollution of the seas means that it's not recommended to eat fish more than three times a week. It seems that the British eat Norwegian fish - cod - and export (or used to before 1st Jan.) 75% of British fish to the EU - especially mackerel.
My heart is broken. Apparently carrots and cauliflowers are running short in the UK and langoustines are rotting in Scotland. Believe me, I would happily swap your langoustines from Scotland for the whole boiling lot of vegetables in France and Spain. Go on, dear English friends: EAT UP YOUR LANGOUSTINES, they are GOOD FOR YOU.
The Scottish langoustines are a marvel from the sea and are an indispensable part of the French "plateau de fruits de mer"- a big tray you eat on special occasions, crowded with langoustines, oysters, crabs, small bay scallops, clams, shrimps, welks, sea urchins, cockles... if the tray is for six, it looks huge and it takes hours with a small fork and a nutcracker to see the end of the meal.
After passing my final exams to qualify as a radiologist in September 1984, I rented with six friends, for a week, a cottage in Bracara, near Mallaig, on Loch Morar. We used to get up late (we were all exhausted). This meant that by the time we arrived at the tiny village shop in Mallaig (now it's a larger Coop, I checked on Google map), nothing fresh was left from the daily delivery by the little train from Fort William. (Today this little train is a "must" in TripAdvisor, our daughter and Harry Potter both made the trip). By midday the only things for sale were woolen caps, oil, flour, milk, butter and eggs, nothing else eatable unless you count baked beans. But we didn't starve. We lived on crêpes, the Britany version of pancakes, at every meal. But it was crêpes and LANGOUSTINES. We discovered that when the fishermen came into harbour, they would sell us, for a ten pounds note, - they were pleased to have an extra bank note - as many langoustines, fresh and alive, just out of the sea, as the six of us could possibly eat. We would go every day to buy them. Sometimes our landlady, a penniless retired school teacher, would join us for the meal. She explained to us that everybody was poor in that part of Scotland, and that the rent of her own house in summer was the only way to make ends meet. She herself was living then in a tiny old caravan. Along the coast, an old couple in the smallest cottage imaginable, were making hay with a scythe in equally small walled meadows around their house. They were the last farmers that I have seen using a scythe by necessity.
If you don't eat langoustines for your country, eat them for me, out of compassion for seafood-deprived EU langoustines lovers, and for the seamen of Mallaig.
Don't waste good British food.
The langoustines in the Scottish fridges are no longer fresh enough for sushi. They are very easy to cook: put them 2 to 3 minutes in salted boiling water, drain them, let them cool, open a pot of mayonnaise, spread butter on your bread. That's it.
You don't know what to do to get their flesh out?
Look at the photos on: www.manger-la-mer.org/Langoustines-Comment-les-decortiquer
Then, it's bliss, you will not forget. A glass of fresh crispy white wine will open the doors of paradise even wider.
"Quand le vin est tiré il faut le boire"- a French proverb.
Meaning, "when the wine is drawn you must drink it". It applies to everything irreversible, not only wine. My lost British langoustines need to be eaten quickly by British people.
The light at the end of the tunnel...
In all this gloom and doom, in all this fear and anxiety, there is hope.
At a time where control feels to be constantly slipping through our fingers, we can control.
When the days are grey and oppressive, the nights dark and heavy, there is light.
We can bring hope into our lives by looking at the things we have achieved in this time, no matter how small. Early on in the first lockdown I read a great suggestion that has carried me through the tougher times...
No matter how your day is going, how overwhelmed you may feel, just focus on the achievable for five minutes.
Don't make huge lists.
Don't look too far into the future.
Congratulate yourself on managing to do something that makes you feel happy for just five minutes.
Your morning may have been hellish, but if you turn that around for five minutes, you have won a small victory and there is hope... next time it could be ten minutes...
We can't control the bigger picture but we can control how we approach our day.
We can control the food we put into our bodies, the movement around our homes, our gardens, our local neighbourhood. We can control what we think, turning off the news, putting on the music that fills our souls with joy. I enjoy a weekly kitchen disco, often alone as my children don't appreciate my dance moves!.
In controlling those things we control our wellbeing...
There is light. As soon as December the 21st, the wonderful Winter Solstice has passed, somewhere deep inside me feels relief. Despite the often grey January skies, the sun is still rising earlier and setting later every day.
The birds are singing earlier (I know this as I have a puppy who dutifully wakes me up to hear them), and if you stop and think deeply of something that has lifted your heart, really feel it, remember it and even taste it; There is light in the joy of remembering that time, as these times will come again.
A Poole-side View
Martin Richard Green, Ashley Cross, Poole
It is a damp grey morning when we join the line of damp grey octogenarians. Obediently spaced out, singly or in familial pairs, we wait patiently, leaning on our sticks, some on 3-wheeled "walkers"; others bring daughters or carers as a prop or drive themselves in electric wheelchairs or mobility scooters. We wait patiently, as 80 year-olds always do; no protest or indignation at the inaction - "they're having a coffee break", "they deserve it", we agree. The doors open. There is no stampede, no rush to be first. More of a shuffle as we follow the arrows into the waiting room, chairs meticulously spaced around the perimeter. The first customers are shown the way by blue-uniformed, name-tagged staff, posted at intervals along walls and corridors. Then it's our turn! We are ushered into our cell - a consulting-room in normal times, I suppose - and welcomed by more smiling blue uniforms. The first, with questionnaire and screen, confirms medical history - operations, allergies, current medication; she makes copious notes, even though it must all be on the screen in front of her, then passes me on to a taller, more angular colleague who gives me a brief history of the vaccine and details its possible side-effects, where to get help and when the second dose is likely. At last we've reached the point, what I've come for - the jab itself! A micro-second prick of hope and then the nurse is pressing elastoplast on my arm and handing me my card. In the corridor a voice calls "Next!" and we are steered towards a final sit-down in the waiting room.
Ten minutes later, back in the damp grey carpark, the day seems brighter.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
I was more than happy to read the Macrae children's report last Sunday. After all, home schooling obviously isn't such a dull experience and you seem to make the most of it!
This week lockdown was prolonged, and my students promptly got in a bad mood predominantly. I try my best to cheer them up...
The vaccinations are very slowly progressing, and it is more like trying to win the lottery if you want to get hold of an appointment for one. We managed to get an appointment for my mother-in-law who lives in a different state. Here in Lower Saxony there are no vaccinations available yet unless one is a resident in a nursing home. Therefore all people aged 80 and beyond living on their own have to wait although they are the ones who are supposed to be the first group eligible.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
This week has been the worst I have suffered in isolation due to Covid 19. I feel like I am going mad, climbing up the wall. We still can’t make plans to move forward. All I can do at the moment is look back as to why I am on my own.
There is another silent killer along with Covid lurking in the background, killing thousands and has been since the 1890s. Everyone knows about it, but its big business and still being produced all over the world. It’s a wonderful fire-resistant material. But deadly on the lungs and lays there slowly taking the patient by surprise sometimes 30 years later, too late to save the patient.
I watched a programme on TV recently of children in India playing with the dust of it on rubbish heaps. The tiny particles filling their lungs and I felt sick watching them. Knowing the terrible death, it causes later.
For 28 years, my husband worked as an engineer for the Davy group of manufacturers building rolling mills.
In 1961 he was sent to Durgapur, India for a year where the first rolling mill was being built. Parts of the material were clad in asbestos. The second rolling mill he was involved in was the one being built In Morocco. In 1983.
Davy McKee the factory building, he worked at in Sheffield is closed now and the building is going to be refurbished. It has now got to be cleared of the asbestos before they can refurbish it. Too late for my husband who along with four others who worked at Davy McKee passed away in 2019 with the terrible disease of mesothelioma (asbestosis). The rolling mills they built in other countries destroyed our own rolling mill industry, closing down our own manufacturer’s making lots of people redundant in Sheffield.
In 2018 my husband found out he had only six months to a year to live when he was diagnosed suffering from mesothelioma. He was a big trade union man and he signed his own compensation forms when he found out he was suffering from the asbestos disease. He died 8 months later in May 2019.
The speed of it shattered my daughters and I.
After his death we had to go to the hearing of the results of the Post Mortem to the coroner’s court. There were only my three daughters and I who attended the court. The coroner was a very compassionate young woman. She said it was the first time she had been served with forms the dead person had signed himself. It was for us both a sad and amusing meeting, she wanted us to tell her what sort of person he was and it made us all relax into a lovely discussion about Leslie my husband. And the verdict was that he had passed away with mesothelioma.
2021 and were still awaiting the outcome of compensation.
On a much lighter note, January is Seville Oranges season and my daughter brought me 20 Seville oranges and six pounds of sugar to make some marmalade. That should take my mind off boredom, it took me two whole days to produce 23 jars of marmalade that will last me until next January. I was quite shattered afterwards.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
Relieved to see Joe Biden’s inauguration went smoothly. It was amusing seeing the former First Lady stepping off the plane in Florida wearing a long beach dress in place of the black suit, having changed on the plane. She was obviously relieved to have left Washington! I’m tempted to write to Nicola S and suggest she puts a compulsory purchase order on Trump’s golf courses in Scotland so they can be used to build housing for minority groups.
D has his vaccine next week, at the local racecourse. Not sure how long it will be before I get mine. We walked through the empty town centre the other evening, and noticed the Christmas lights are still on. I think it must have been a conscious decision to make the streets look more cheerful, with so many shops temporarily closed. Close to home workmen are busy fitting out a new restaurant, a leap of faith in these uncertain times. Figures for Covid deaths have been pretty awful this week. Don’t think we are heading for an end to lockdown anytime soon. Congratulations on the TV role, David. It’s nice to hear some good news!
Nicky, Vermont, USA
Well, this morning speaks to how much I depend on Margaret’s reminders. Totally forgot about the journal in a flurry of busyness. Not going anywhere mind you, unless you count zoom as going somewhere which I don’t. So this is a quickie.
Inauguration? I spent the whole day and evening on the couch, very bad for my body but very good for my spirits. What a relief! Huge. It went well, the young poet was inspiring, really everything was inspiring. Lots of pomp and circumstance and patriotism. Not my thing usually, but somehow it set well on this day.
And then the joy of the executive orders including several to change and stall Trump’s immigration orders. A sixty day moratorium on deportations. Phew. The organization I’m fundraising for with the March Arts Marathon has a man we’ve being trying to get out of detention for a long time and he’s been under threat of deportation even though he would face certain torture and then death in his home country in Africa. His compatriots in detention were all deported. Now there is a window in which to get him out of detention and on the path to asylum. But all the executive orders were important. Rejoining WHO, the Paris Climate Accord. And dealing with COVID.
The next morning I automatically looked on line to see the latest news about what awful thing Trump was doing or saying and miracle of miracles there was no Trump news. Bless Twitter for finally banning him. Plus he no longer directly has power, so he isn’t newsworthy, at least not to my news sources. So B. and I are walking around much lighter in spirits. The dog is completely indifferent, just annoyed because the temperature has been so cold, about -15 C, that I haven’t been inspired to take him for long walks.
And the Sumi-e painting is proceeding apace. I now have also painted some leaves, along with a few straight lines. The progress is astounding! (I’m being sarcastic.) I am enjoying it though.
Well, all I have time for but hello to everyone and stay safe. I’m glad you all are staying home. To hell with the dentist!
David Horovitch, Twickenham
The Anaesthetic of Arithmetic
All day I count and monitor
Hoping number will numb -
How many sonnets recorded?
How many still to come?
Steps on the pedometer?
Nights passed without a pill?
Weeks since I changed the sheets on the bed
Or hugged my dear friend Jill?
How many months since I met with a mate
Or stood in the rush hour throng?
How long since the Beardsley at The Tate?
How long, oh Lord, how long?
And on Channel 4 they number the dead -
Twelve hundred and twenty today -
But when they close on one sorrowful head
I switch off and turn away.
For her single sob brings Arithmetic's fall
And the failure of sums to atone
And I count for nothing after all
And it's dark and I'm here alone.