Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Not much going on by Franklin Lewis Macrae


The shops reopened this week. We still must behave cautiously but it's nice that the public have a little more freedom. My sister and I wanted a day out in Brighton but our mum said it would be busy and there would be huge queues as everyone will head to Brighton shopping. We went to our local shops, early in the morning to avoid the queues. Mum and dad bought me new trainers and I used my Christmas book token to buy a book on fungi.  


We have been walking on the Downs and a few days ago we went to our secret cove, Beastie Cove. My sister and I went in for a dip but not for long as it was freezing although it was great fun.


My sister has been going to gymnastics camp which has made me kind of jealous. I'm also kind of glad because it was all girls and I didn't want to be the only boy. Also, everyone was under 11 so they were all younger than me. I have had some time at home to chill. I'm nearly finished 'The Woman in Black', mum says she'll watch it with me this weekend. I've been reading my book on Fungi, which is fascinating. I enjoy this series of books, mum has bought me Animalium and Planetarium a few years ago. She said she'll get Botanicum next as I'm interested in the powers of plants. Marli can read and draw for hours and hours but I'm not the same as her, I'm different and I like different books. The language in 'The Woman in Black' is sometimes too difficult. It's written in Victorian style but it's not an old, Victorian book. I really want to see the film. Anyway, the book is just starting to get good, I think it is a slow book though.We return to school on Monday and I'll be glad to see my friends. There isn't much to do and I'm not allowed on the computer all day.

Out and about by Marli Rose Macrae


On Monday the shops reopened and everyone was up early to get stuff, including us. Everyone wanted things so it was extremely busy. Mummy had an appointment to get her hair cut so we went with her and afterwards we went to Tiger, Waterstones and the Salvation Army charity shop. I bought two books, 'The White Tower' and 'Great Expectations' and I also bought myself a new pen. I don't like 'abridged' books and my copy of 'Great Expectations' is unabridged. Mummy says we will read it together as it is my first Charles Dickens unabridged.  


I've been to gymnastics camp this week and it's undoubtedly fun! We have been learning flips on trampolines and cartwheels and handstands on benches (which is immensely hard and I can't do it!). It's seriously tiring though. Franklin couldn't come because it's indoors and anyone over the age of 11 must wear a mask indoors. He comes with mummy to pick me up and asks me question after question about it and because I'm tired, I'm annoyed.


Franklin and I did have our first swim in the sea at the weekend and it was sooooooo cold! It looked and sounded so inviting, clear, glittering and making a gentle lapping noise but it was freezing and my body was numb afterwards. It was a warm day though and the rocks were warm so we lay on them afterwards and dried off. Beastie Cove is beautiful and it's so quiet there, you don't need to worry about Covid and social distancing.


Today was my turn for a haircut and mummy took me back to Leanne's salon. She and Franklin left and I stayed on my own and had a chat and a hot chocolate.My hair is much shorter, up to my shoulders like mummy's. She told me it makes me look French, which I like.Today is my last day at gymnastics camp and I'm rather sad about that however my ballet lessons restart tomorrow morning. I am glad that the shops have reopened, the town feels happier and mummy says when it calms down, we can go into Brighton, which will be great as I have lots of cash as I haven't been able to spend my pocket or birthday money.



Hello from Eastbourne

Shirley-Anne Macrae

Lockdown panic by Shirley-Anne Macrae


I had a mild sense of panic this week as we approached the lifting of some restrictions. In the first instance, I haven't baked a sourdough or anything like that, I haven't 'done' anything during the last year. I have of course been busy home schooling and looking after my family which may be in part why I haven't put the time to 'good' use. So I decided this week that I would set aside some time to do a linocut. I cannot draw for toffee and although I am frequently knee deep in creativity with the children, it is merely materials and supervision that I provide, I myself, never create.


I have in mind a set of small botanical prints for my back room, inspired by the garden and my son's Monstera Deliciosa prints. I know in my mind's eye what I'm after but it's going to take a little time to work out. I set about drawing a stylised plant, watched by both children and husband alike. I ignored questions like 'what are you doing?' and 'what is that supposed to be?' and carried on. It took me three evenings to carve it and by the second evening, they had given up poking their noses in. I produced my print on the third evening to their surprise and although I don't think it's one for the wall, I'm pleased I did it. If only so I have something to 'show' for Lockdown.


Secondly, the more serious panic has been brought on by my son, aged 12. He is insisting upon some more independence. This is something I have feared for some time and Lockdown has bought me some time (a year!) in delaying his urge to roam without me. As the date of April 12 approached, our conversations went along these lines:


Him: 'I might meet up with Thoby and Taleb in town this week'.


Me: 'Really? What for? What will you do?'


Him: 'Oh just hang out. Go to McDonald's. You know, hang out'.


Me: 'Where will you hang out? You can't just wander around the streets'.


Him: 'We'll probably hang out in the shopping centre, maybe go to the beach'.


Me: 'I haven't even met Thoby or Taleb yet! I haven't met their parents! If you are to go then I will need both their phone numbers and their parents' phone numbers. I will need to know where you are at all times. You will have to call me when you are making your way home and you'll have to answer the phone when I call. Can't you just ask Thoby and Taleb if they can come around here for lunch in the garden? I'll stay out of the way. There are a lot of horrible people walking around in town, it's not safe. And neither is that park!'


Him: 'I want to go out mum. I'm bored, I'm lonely'


To be fair, the poor boy is desperate to meet up with some lads and socialise. Just to feel free, independent, not hemmed in. This would have happened last year, his first year at secondary school and I did feel relieved that it was put on hold due to the Lockdowns. I still fret about him walking to school in his own, about road safety. The school compounded my anxieties when they sent a letter to parents from the police about county lines drug gangs operating in the local park. The park I've taken them both to since they were babies! I've never noticed these gangs before! This urge for independence though, there is no getting away from it. I have to find a way to manage my own anxieties otherwise they will both bolt to University at 18 to get away and explore the world, not come home in holidays and then graduate and travel the world before settling in Australia. I'd rather it hadn't happened but some of Lockdown has suited me. It's a big world out there and I've always had the children with me, it is worrying having to let them grow up.


Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

The rollout of vaccines has almost ground to a halt. 


Though we mainly blame the government for bad planning and incompetence, it turns out that Johnson & Johnson has been holding back delivery of 20 million doses of its vaccine. 


This is because it wants the government to publicly endorse its speculative dealings, euphemistically known as ‘investment’, with the local pharmaceutical industry. This was revealed to dismayed MPs by the health minister in Parliament a few days ago.


Pfizer has also issued terms for sending SA its vaccine, prompting the government to complain that it’s having to choose between losing lives or national sovereignty. I’m not sure what Pfizer’s conditions are for releasing doses of vaccine, but they seem to be to do with advancing its business interests in SA.


The rollout of vaccines is supposed to go according to phases, with the first of these aimed at giving jabs to all healthcare workers. There are over a million of them. So far a few hundred thousand have been vaccinated. Phase two, targeting older folk, people with comorbidities, and people whose jobs put them at risk of infection, was supposed to start about now.


This all plugs into a broader picture of rich countries sitting on vaccine stockpiles at the expense of poorer parts of the world. But that’s only part of the picture. India, which a major vaccine manufacturer, is experiencing a huge rise in Covid infections, and has now suspended exports of vaccines.


To worsen things, there’s also a lot of uncertainty about whether the various vaccines are effective enough and whether they carry the risk of dangerous side effects. There’s so little clarity on this, thanks in part to hopeless knee-jerk press coverage of the issue, that people, here at least, seem less perturbed by the stalling of the vaccine rollout plans than they might otherwise be. After all — and given that we’ve anyway got a more virulent variant of Covid here — why worry too much about the stalled vaccine rollout if the jabs available are not going to protect you?


The only thing to do is what we’ve anyway been doing for over a year now: to sit tight. Despite the general relaxation of lockdown regulations, I’ve tended to act as if only the most stringent rules still apply. I’m stuck with hard lockdown and won’t budge. My kids are generally on an easier lockdown level, as they attend school every other day. But when they’re home and we’re together, we’re generally back in our lockdown bubble. This has nothing to do with official instructions and advice. You just have to make it up as the situation seems to demand.


Next week, the schools break up for a short holiday. The school calendar is unfathomable. This would normally be the Easter holiday, but Easter was a few weeks ago and was treated as a long weekend. But because the schools started so late this year, the coming holiday will just be a week long, too short to do anything much.


In other news, there was a royal death here recently. King Goodwill Zwelithini, who had ruled over the Zulu ‘nation’ of what is now KwaZulu-Natal since 1968, succumbed to Covid and was buried amidst much pomp and wall-to-wall media coverage.


SA manages to mix ancient feudal royal tribalism with the newer republicanism of a one person-one-vote constitutional democracy, the latter just 27 years old. 


The traditional feudal structures of chiefs and their attendant extended family elites are fairly strong at a local level, especially in the former ‘bantustan’ areas of the apartheid era. 


They have much influence over how land is owned and used and they ensure that patriarchy, with all its oppressive conventions, remains stubbornly entrenched. They are also an often abrasive reminder that while on one level most South Africans are considered citizens, on another very many are treated as subjects.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

The week starts with me having a bit of a Miss Havisham donkey moment, in pj’s, outside in the sunny early Monday morning frost, screaming at squirrels spotted from the kitchen window. I was filling the kettle and there were three of them under the wheatfeeder, one swinging in an insouciant fashion from the spring itself, spraying wheat to its mates. It were right freezing out there.

Later, David (he from the black shed) had just finished the glazing of his new greenhouse so we celebrated Unlockdown Day in there with beer collected from our ‘local’ - Acle Bridge - and very lovely it was too. I think the last draught bitter I had was at lunch in a previous lockdown relaxation... was that last July? Anyway, Woodfordes evidently haven’t lost the recipe for ‘Wherry‘, thank goodness.

Moderna jabs are to be used throughout the UK now (instead of after a cautious month’s trial in Wales) for the 40-50’s as we move to inviting 45+. That’s three days ahead of Thursdays deadline, all 50+ having been seen to, or at least offered a seeing-to


The in-out shake it all about of vaccine acceptability takes a new turn with the American FDA suspending Johnson & Johnson’s use over there... the dreaded bloodclot thing again. We've ordered 30 million doses but haven’t got as far as loading it into the public yet, so (other than delayed choice) no harm done. The trial results in the US showed a very similar ‘one in a million‘ affected to those bedevilling OxfordAstra. 

Then Denmark stops using Ox/As altogether, saying risk of clots is unacceptable. 

Perhaps because of fractured supplies, we hear the first suggestions that it might actually be beneficial if injected with a different vaccine at second dose. Over 50’s are invited to join a study - 1050 are needed - but as results aren’t expected until July and I get called for mine in about a week, I think I’ll stick with Pfizer... there’s always the opportunity at the autumn booster to mix, if a cocktail really is the thing.

Increasing concern re travel in and out of the UK particularly in light of upcoming travel relaxations - will the right ‘traffic light’ coding be applied? As US, Canada and India are not ‘red listed’ at the mo though by common consent risky, fears are no-one is gripping this unpleasant reality.

And talking of unpleasant reality, this is inbound at Heathrow mid week. Not a lot of social awareness... what’ll happen when the holiday season really gets going?


It’s particularly relevant as we hear today that for the first time in six months, Norfolk has zero patients in critical care. We’ve done so well. Is it going to be sacrificed on the altar of European sun-worship?



Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

So how is life in Melbourne now? We are out and about, largely unmasked (except on public transport and in medical offices), and galleries, cinemas, shops, schools, and workplaces are open. Traffic is intense perhaps because fewer people are comfortable with public transport?  We are free to travel interstate: friends of mine have flown to Canberra, Tasmania and Queensland - and with the proposed Pacific Bubble, we might be able to travel to New Zealand. 


Our restrictions are otherwise:  Australians can't travel out of the country except upon application and for the following limited reasons.  As for Australians wanting to return, numbers are restricted and dependent on the numbers of quarantine places available..  The Australians I know who managed to return have found it no mean feat to get a ticket and - then not have the flight cancelled - and have all travelled business class. Followed by 14 days in a quarantine hotel which is also expensive.


With the very slow roll out of vaccinations, there is some talk about Australia being 'left behind' as other countries get their populations vaccinated and open up to travel. How will this all be managed? No answers as yet. The Prime Minister is maintaining his form of handballing the problem to the States. Which you could say is a good thing as the States managed to control the virus very affectively last year. The problem however remains that the purchase of vaccines falls to the Federal Government, leaving the States in a tricky situation. No matter how effective and efficient the States are, they are still relying on the Feds to supply the vaccines - and so far that has not worked well.


On the ground, I started to decant zillions of books in the bedroom so I can get a plasterer in to fill some cracks in the plaster behind the bookshelves and elsewhere.  This is one of the trials of living in Hawthorn, a Melbourne suburb - periods of drought mean inevitable subsidence and some awesome cracks. Our apartment  block looked into various ways of solving the problem but in the end, the advice was so varied and inconclusive, we decided not to undertake any reblocking program and just patch up the plaster and paint. Being in a small apartment makes moving books and furniture a logical puzzle, but having done if before I know it is possible! Out of curiosity  and after reading about other Journal writers moving their books   I checked to see if any of my books had increased in value! Imagine! A first edition paperback of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's ...of the Mind, purchased in 1959 is now coming up for $500 on Abebooks. Doesn't matter cause I'm not selling it but it is interesting. Ferlinghetti was my first taste and love of the Beats  a formative read since it suggested there was life outside of Michigan beckoning. I thought I'd end up in NYC but it turned outLondon and Melbourne won out.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just

I’m writing this to the sound of shrieks, as next-door-but-one’s two children and a couple of friends attempt to get past my gate without my noticing: I don’t think they’ll make spies until someone explains that they need to be silent as well as (mostly) invisible, and that the tops of their heads are higher than their eyes. I can also see the town’s cricket team out practising – possibly the first time people have been using the pitch for about 18 months. And the sun is out.


All these things are very welcome. So too being able to walk into a shop and buy some gesso and Prussian Blue without a keyboard being involved. But Penzance yesterday did feel odd, half open and half shut, with huge pressure on cafes that were able to put chairs out in half-inviting locations and a lot of people perched on stones here and there eating pasties and wondering where the nearest loo might be, while others went by in face-masks. It wasn’t very busy, but felt busier because the only place to sit and talk, or sit and eat, was the pavement.  


Strange too that, although term is about to start, most students won’t be back till mid-May, so that what we’d all assumed would be a semi-normal if masked term clearly won’t be. There’s an exception for practically-based courses, which turn out to include ‘material text’. This means I’ll be giving a single class on the Vernon manuscript (which notoriously takes more than one person to lift) in the Weston Library, in a mask, to a group of masked students, with one of the Special Collections librarians in attendance to turn the pages. We’re going to be looking at the Paternoster diagram, which is something like a design an early-day Faustus might have come up with before it all went wrong, and at some blow-holes on folio 147 (or 172; I forget). I feel this should be the subject of a painting like The Anatomy Lesson.


Or I may just give up and do it online. One of the saddest things is that it no longer feels worth planning anything. Though the organisers of a conference in Switzerland that I was meant to be going to in mid-May still seem to think they may be able to get everyone together in person, blithely ignoring that it’s illegal either to leave the UK or to enter Switzerland from the UK. I don’t quite see it. 


There’s a rather lovely rainbow sign in one of the windows on the way into Penzance saying ‘Keep safe. This will pass.’ But of course it was painted last spring, when the problem was the virus rather than the government. If current Cabinet thinking had been matched in 1918, the whole world would have been put into a permanent state of lockdown in case of… either something or nothing. Which I suppose would have been one way of avoiding World War II (or fighting it on different grounds – INVASION OF POLAND BREAKS QUARANTINE RULES – and exclusively with Spitfires). 


As perhaps you can tell, I've been watching quite a bit of Foyle's War.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

The highlight of the week for me was a visit to Shufflebottom’s fabric warehouse to buy curtain linings. I have only just discovered Shufflebottom’s and it was my first visit to this wonderful place. We arrived just after it opened. I was expecting to have to queue as I presumed there would be many desperate needle workers, keen for new materials and the experience of choosing and handling the fabrics they were buying.  However, apart from waiting briefly at the door to be let in, it was straight in and friendly greetings. Masks all round and hand sanitiser, obviously. “Is there anything I can help you with or do you just want to browse?”

“Yes please, I really need some help.” After explaining what I needed the different linings and interlinings were brought out and discussed. Then I was given a detailed method for constructing the curtain. This involved mostly hand sewing which was a bit of a shock! I was also told about a very useful YouTube video and was invited to give them a call if I needed any more help. I’m sure I appreciated the whole social experience so much more as I have been so deprived of this day to day connection with people. I did browse briefly but I have never seen so much fabric before and was rather overwhelmed. I bought a few offcuts of Macclesfield silk which will make lovely waistcoat backs. I also came away with some samples of linen and nettle fabric for a summer dyeing project with Mary.  


Our eldest son and family are only thirty minutes from Macclesfield so we then called in on them and played in the garden with our granddaughters. I had sent for some NHS Covid tests and we had both taken one in the morning before we left home. It was the first time for me and I found it really difficult to do without constantly gagging. I remember reading Shirley-Anne’s description of children having to test themselves in school and really feeling for them, now I know what it’s like! At least now they can do it in the privacy of their own homes but I do wonder how rigorously they are testing themselves. 


I heard my first cuckoo this week. We had the windows open so Fruitcake could hear the birds on the bird table and both looked at each other – “was that a cuckoo?” so presumably it was.  Fruitcake, the budgie, is staying with us while his family are on holiday. My granddaughter has given me detailed instructions of his needs so I am working hard to fulfil them. He has Classic FM played during the day, though, which I’m sure isn’t his usual music.


The hard frosts this week have destroyed the magnolia flowers. From beautiful white silky blossoms to wake up to ugly brown ones was very sad. We are trying to save the greengage which was planted over ten years ago and has given us about ten plums over that time. This year we have a plan. We decided that as it produces blossom very early there can be no other suitable trees in blossom at the same time to pollinate it. It doesn’t self-pollinate. So pollen is being brought in – some sent through the post from London – and this is being applied to the blossom via a paintbrush. Also, every night, the tree is being covered to protect it from frost. I am fully expecting a bumper crop of greengages and as they are my favourite plum I will be very pleased. If anyone has any better ideas please let me know! 

I hope you are all managing to find some highlights in your week.  


Update:  A Covid swab from a lateral flow test makes a perfect transfer medium for pollen - from a negative test and having been through the dishwasher obviously!


Tropical thoughts Part 2

Paul Lowden, Malaysia



To pack

To leave behind 

Each decision 

An indecision

And revision


A casting off


When packing for a holiday:

Baggy shorts, that T shirt-again-

More footwear, swimwear, creams than

Seems decent or useful.


The schoolbag likewise

Demands certain items

Some of which [preps, texts, files, notes] he’d like to

Forget, back home.


College brings assorted essentials

Viz kitchenware and more than two of everything, just,

Like glasses, cutlery, bedding, cupboards of tins, posters

And things parents off-load as “useful” like old hammers, slightly bent screwdrivers.


Briefly, hedonistically, backpacking:

One set of clothes, diary, sunglasses, toothbrush




The container of life unloads all manner of previously unknown items

Including mortgage, cots, twirly toys, endless arrays of clothing

For winter/spring/summer/autumn days, platoons of shoes,

Multi-hued bottles, balls, bats, pens, scribbles and such.


Now we ponder more about what we’ll leave behind

Not what to take, how little we need.

Luggage labelled

“Not required on the voyage.”


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk UK

People who know him would not think there's any link between my husband Chris and the Duke of Edinburgh.
And they would be right in most respects, but 'the funeral' arrangements for today suggest to me that Chris and Philip may have liked each other.


Chris has inherited his parents 'respect' for money, and the 'creative recycling attitude' that has been a constant feature of his, our - and their lives.

This story starts in 1996 when a dear friend, Sue, was passing a nearby shed on her way back home after walking her numerous dogs.

It went something like this...

S: Oh, hi Chris, what are you doing here?

C: I'm making a box

S: What for?

C: It's for my Dad

S: What does he want such a big box for?

C: I'm making his coffin!

On regular trips to visit his parents home during his Dad Charles's last years, they had talked a lot about the "scandal" of expensive funerals. C had done extensive research on behalf of his parents and visited a Crematorium to discover that you can 'do a funeral yourself' for a fraction of the cost. In fact he found the proprietors of the Crem very helpful and informative - C discovered all the information required to 'do-it-himself'. Having total agreement (and indeed much discussion) with his parents, a plan was hatched.

On the fateful day, Chris went to the hospital mortuary and with the help of the staff there, dressed his father in clothes selected by Marian (his Mum) and placed a bunch of violets in his hands as instructed by her. With the help of the mortuary assistant C gently placed his father's body into the home-made-box and transported his Dad in the back of our estate car to our house.


On funeral day, the box was carefully placed in the back of our elderly Land Rover by the appointed family members and C drove the Land Rover to the Crematorium.


All very personal and dignified and we know for certain that Charles approved because it was all pre-planned. 


Resonances indeed with what we're hearing of the plans for today - probably not the home-made-box though!


Chris's Mum and Dad - Marian and Charles Gates - on their first 'date'.