Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
A gentle, quiet week all in all.
Frosty mornings but, aside from Thursday, mostly sunny days. Have made a few trips out but haven’t socialised or gone into Norwich or to any major town. No plans to do so just yet. Want to wait and see how the relaxation of lockdown affects infection rates and the general population. I did go to the local barber for a hair cut. Made an appointment on the day so there was no queue, no waiting around. Barber tried to make conversation but the masks and visors and whirr of the clippers makes it difficult to hear. It gets a little warm under the mask too - I feel for the staff who have to wear them for long shifts. I cannot imagine how trapped and claustrophobic the people on supermarket checkouts must feel.
From time to time, I volunteer with a local charity and this week spent two enjoyable days helping out to prepare the shop for reopening. I wore a mask of course but could stop at will and get a break in the fresh air or make a coffee. It was not at all uncomfortable. People have been very generously donating unwanted stuff all through the lockdown. In the shop and sorting room, there were rows and rows of black sacks containing old clothes, DVDs, CDs, books, toys, glasses and mugs - well, all manner of things. What we throw away tells as many stories as what we keep. In one bag I found a cuddly toy - a small teddy bear holding a huge read heart with the legend “I love you”. And there were photo albums too - donated with all original photographs intact - holiday snaps, wedding receptions, christenings, special birthday celebrations. I guess we use our mobile phones to capture such moments now.
In the garden, there’s lots of colour starting to show. The tulips are looking good and so too the blossom on the trees. My magnolia with white flowers has been affected by the frost but the dark pink-purple Magnolia Susan is just starting to unfold some super blooms. I have snakes-head fritillaries in flower too. These simple things mean a lot to me. We have had some April showers but in parts of the garden the soil is already dry. I wonder if we will get another hot summer? A friend from Florida sent me an “out-of-the-blue” present that contained some Caladium tubers. I’d not seen or heard of these before. Apparently in Florida they’re known as “Elephant’s Ears”. I guess I’ll have to try growing them indoors because of our climate but I’m looking forward to seeing if I can.
Anyhow, time to say cheerio for now. Stay safe and well xx
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
One of our contributors wondered last week why the UK had ordered 400 million vaccine doses, when perhaps 100m would be sufficient. The answer is that when the vaccines were being ordered the UK Government didn’t know if the vaccines would work; they didn’t know whether the vaccines would get regulatory approval; and they didn’t know whether the manufacturers would be able to produce the quantities ordered within the desired timelines. But by ordering large quantities of vaccines from 7 different manufacturers the government was spreading the risk and increasing the likelihood of there being at least some vaccines available within a reasonable timescale. And if all vaccine manufactures successfully deliver their orders, then the surplus will be donated to Covax. The risk of putting your eggs into too few baskets can be seen in the EU which ordered 300m vaccine doses from the French producer Sanofi in September. But then in December Sanofi announced that their initial clinical trials were not successful, and it now appears that their vaccine, even if it does gain approval, won’t be available until the autumn.
It was great this week to see the next stage of the UK’s reopening, though the devolved nations are each following slightly different timetables. The prospects for UK holidays now look pretty good, but it is disappointing that many European nations are making such a hash of their vaccination programmes that we are likely to be banned from holidaying in large parts of the continent this year.
I have settled back into my regular working pattern of Monday and Friday working from home and the middle of the week working at the factory. Each week presents new challenges, and alongside some very difficult IT issues this week, we have also been grappling with the next stage of the EU’s “noose tightening” on accepting imports of food products from the UK.
The new regulations will come into effect on 21st April, but no one (London, Brussels or individual EU nations) can yet explain some of their most basic aspects, like what language the new declarations have to be prepared in. Meanwhile we are starting to see the great opportunity that has been created for Northern Ireland (if they can stop rioting for a moment), which is to become Britain’s gateway to the EU. We are exploring the possibility of shipping all our EU exports through Belfast, which gets them entry into the Single Market, and from there onwards to the eventual EU destination. There will be additional freight costs, but at least the importer of record to the EU (sitting in Belfast) would be a UK business, applying Common Law common sense to the Napoleonic Law bureaucratic rules and regulations. I don’t understand why the UK government isn’t making more of this possibility, except that it would highlight the fact that Northern Ireland hasn't really left the EU.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
The easing of restrictions this week, welcomed by so many, left me a bit underwhelmed. The great day of opening of non-food shops, hairdressers and pubs (sitting outside only) did not see me rushing out. Many people (me included) have learnt to shop for so much more online and maybe this is a permanent change in how we live. Nonetheless, I did enjoy the photos of people sitting in a pub garden in sub-zero temperatures sipping their chilled beers.
As I collected mum’s food shopping, it was noticeable that there was less demand for the click and collect facility. More shoppers are going inside the stores. The re-opening of hairdressers seemed to be really popular. When I visited Barbara, before I had time to sit down, she was eager to tell me that her care home’s hairdresser is booking appointments. Mum was also delighted. Her home-hairdresser had cut her hair this week. My friend, M, sent me a ‘before’ photo of her lustrous shoulder length hair and then rushed out to have it cut back to its usual bob style. I thought she looked wonderful with the long hair. Even though my friend is in her mid-seventies, she has glossy auburn hair that has not changed colour in the fifty years we have known each other.
Finding a new home is proving to be challenging. More so if you wish to buy in a popular area. It’s not helped by a new development of house-buying which seems to be a variant of the 1980s gazumping. Here’s how it works. You view a house with a price tag attached. If you like it you go back to the agent and say I’d like to buy this house for the asking price. However, this is not the time to crack open the bubbly and start shopping for furniture. Other prospective buyers come along after you and say they’ll pay the asking price plus a bit more. After a number offers, all prospective buyers are then asked to submit their ‘best and final’ offer by a give date and time. The seller is given a run-down of your position. How quickly you can complete the sale. Have you sold or are you still in the process of selling. Will you be taking out a mortgage for all or part of the purchase? And then silliness breaks out and it seems that figures are plucked out of the air. You are out-bid. And you have to repeat the whole experience with the next house.
Whilst sorting some of R’s things, I came across an unusual item (see photo): a handmade box, painted with the inscription “Light and watch holder Mk II”. Intriguing. Did R make it? It is not his handwriting, although that in itself would not be unusual. R did not like his handwriting which, he would readily admit, was often illegible. In the days before the web, if something important had to be written or an official form completed, R would often ask me to do it. The second question I have is, Was there a Mark I? Questions that, alas, will never be answered.
R and I planted two fruit trees in our greenhouse some twenty years ago, a nectarine and an apricot. Over the years they have produced delicious, fragrant fruits. Recently however, fewer fruits have been setting on the apricot each Spring. Last autumn I gave it a hard prune. Et viola, baby fruits in abundance this year which will be ready to pick…after I’ve moved. Bother.
Nicky, Ithaca, NY.
Sorting out a home is physical labor. Each day I find I’ve walked about seven miles. And lifted whatever the equivalent is. In my good moments I fantasize I’ll be in great shape when this is over. In my not so good moments I think I’ll be crippled. I saved a set of crutches just in case.
I’m full of regrets about leaving Ithaca finally. I’ll miss the park at the end of Cayuga lake where the dog and I walk in the early mornings. And of course our friends. Roni. Linda and Sandy. Emily, who moved and sold her house in six weeks after prevaricating for two years. She’s happy in her new flat in the old high school building. Our next door neighbors who fed me soup most days when I had pneumonia and B. was in Israel. Their dog Ginger and our dog Gillie love each other, which means they co-exist on the lawn when they do see each other, but get loud and jump around with excitement at the thought of seeing each other. Rebecca who loves us and feeds us.
Rebecca will visit us wherever we are. Most no longer feel capable of long drives and public transportation isn’t one of the states’ strong suits. To put it mildly.
What I’m learning from packing up? It’s as if I grew up in the depression, though perhaps post war England was like that too, for the less fortunate. I pick up anything that might be useful or that I find beautiful, and hold on to it. Everything in our house reminds me of its origin or a story or a person. A glass jar with a diamond pattern, a Pictionary game B. and I used to have fun playing. A geriatric fam. And it almost all has to go. The movers charge by weight. And they charge a lot.
We have an ugly sofa, it’s like a first class airline seat, with a table that goes down between to the two recliner seats at the ends. It was the only sofa in the furniture store that B. and I both found comfortable. I want to keep it. And then we have one piece of furniture that gives much pleasure to look at. It’s from B’s parents’ house and there’s probably a name for it. The top lets down to be a desk with lots of tiny wooden drawers. It has pillars carved on each side, and smooth drawers. I hope to keep it. Is it bad to want to keep items that give one pleasure?
Today I’m going to take pictures of furniture that has to go. A particle board book case that a friend gave us, the really heavy dining room table I bought at a yard sale, and the most uncomfortable ugly futon couch. Gillie the dog finds it very comfortable. Then there’s the pine table I picked up on the side of the road that has always wobbled, even though our handy person drilled several screws into it.
More and more items. And do we need them? No we don’t. So I’m trying to turn into someone who only has what she needs, and doesn’t hold onto things because perhaps she will need them at some point. So far it’s an awkward fit, this new identity of mine, and I go in and out of remembering I’m becoming a different person. I like collecting stuff and holding on to it. I like having just what I need, even if the thing itself has been waiting twenty five years to be needed. But the movers arrive April 26.
I was very happy to discover about a hundred marbles in the basement, including big ones. And the wool socks my mother knitted years ago. I washed those and rigged up a clothes line on the back deck. I took the woollen socks with holes in them to the benefit shop, even though they were the pretty ones. I’ll keep the marbles but get rid of the beautiful glass jars that I could keep the marbles in on a window sill so the light shines through the twisting colors. I’ll put the jars into boxes that I’ll carry down the stairs and then lug to the Re-use center today. Building those muscles. Building that new self.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Lockdown has apparently led to a shortage of garden gnomes! My mother has a stone one playing the violin. She calls him Metro Gnome and has promised to bring him to live here when she does! For the moment we are more than happy talking to the birds! Those on nests and now those on wires!
Speaking of kitsch I have been spring cleaning the Sacred Grove... brush and rake. It’s looking good and yesterday evening was used for the first time when our neighbours appeared with a bottle of champagne to celebrate their return to Norfolk. They arrived on Monday looking absolutely wrecked but yesterday went swimming in the sea and feel Norfolk returning to their bones. We each sat on a log. Who knew last year that when placing the logs I was taking social distance into account.
Celebration time for Husband! He learned yesterday that all being well he will indeed be able to fish in Scotland in May... Bert came to the house for the first time yesterday to cut his hair... he has proposed doing it in the Sacred Grove going forward! Kenny too came on Monday to give the grass it’s first mow of the season and Judith continues her diluted white vinegar reinvigoration of our home.
I confess to still feeling somewhat reclusive.
Jane, just south of Norwich
On Monday lockdown restrictions began to ease in England. Chris and I haven’t rushed to the shops or to the pub, preferring to wait for the crowds to subside in the case of the shops and the weather to warm up before we sit in a pub garden!
But on Tuesday we did welcome our lovely mobile hairdresser, Julie, with socially distanced open arms. As I swept up all our hair, I wondered just how much hair will be swept from floors across the country this week. Our Prime Minister has evidently had a haircut too but done with blunt kitchen scissors one assumes!
The news for the early part of this week has been dominated by tributes to Prince Philip and there were complaints to the BBC about their blanket coverage of the event to the exclusion of programmes such as Gardeners’ World. Prince Philip had a full and notable life and was a hugely intelligent and gifted man but I think even he would have liked some light relief from all the tributes by 9pm in the evening and welcomed a visit to the restful acres of Monty’s garden.
In our local paper there have been some interesting letters from readers recounting their meetings with Prince Philip. One reader, involved with the Design Council Awards in the 1970s which included the Prince Philip design award, remembers that on factory visits the Prince would always insist on using the workers’ toilet facilities (usually in a dreadful state) rather than the newly painted and specially prepared directors’ toilet. “He then berated the directors in front of everyone in not very royal language”.
Being a knitter I also appreciated the knitted Prince Philip placed as a tribute on top of a post box at Hopton on Sea in Norfolk (Pictured- Credit Karen Pruce). I shall be watching the funeral on Saturday and hoping that the Queen can feel the warmth from a nation wanting to support her in her sadness.
I’ve found a quiet spot each day this week to catch up on BBC Sounds with the serialisation on Radio 4 of the book ‘Meet Me at the Museum” by Anne Youngson. It is about the relationship that grows and deepens between a farmer’s wife in Bury St Edmunds and a Danish museum curator. It is beautifully ready by Tamsin Greig and the late Paul Ritter, a heart-warming 14 minutes for 10 episodes.
As this week ends, I notice the beginning of shoots from my dahlia tubers still safely sheltering in the greenhouse, a sign of good things to come.
Good wishes to all.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
This week now restrictions are lifted a little I am looking forward to a visiting my favorite place in South Yorkshire,
Wortley Hall the Workers Stately Home, Wortley, Sheffield.
I have been a visitor member there joining in with all the activities over a period of 58years since 1963. I have joined craft fairs the South Yorkshire festival held once a year, Drama groups, Music festivals, Xmas Dinners, Burns suppers, Garden Plants sales, Educational Schools and Lectures. They are opening again this week with sandwiches and teas in the gardens. Later the hall will be open for meals and the bar for drinks.
South Yorkshires Wortley Hall has a rich history originating from the early 1800's. It began as the ancestral home of the Earl of Wharncliffe. The Lord of the Manor, Edward Wortley commissioned the present building in 1800.
During the 1939-45 war parts of the hall were occupied by the army. After the war it fell into disrepair. In 1950 the Wharncliffe family gave up the hall and it became available to lease. Vin Williams addressed a meeting of trade unionists, labour movement activists and The Cooperative movement to discuss the potential of it being owned by the workers and run for the workers’ benefit.
On 5th May 1951 Wortley Hall was opened as an Educational and holiday center for the trade union, labour and cooperative movement. It was in a semi derelict state of repair. The workers of South Yorkshire and surrounding areas carried out the repairs and restoration voluntary. Blanche Flannery, a friend of mine and wife of the labour MP Martin Flannery in the 1960s, remembers going there in the 1950s with all the women with mops and buckets to clean the place to start with on many a very cold freezing night sleeping wherever they could lay their heads down before the restoration could begin. During the workers restoration they managed to restore many of the original features of the hall, including the painted ceiling, ornamental and wood carvings. A mammoth task.
The hall has been run successfully ever since. I became a member in 1963. Wortley Hall 26 acre garden and woodland is a joy to behold. James Stewart and Lady Caroline are the original owners credited as the driving force of these magnificent gardens in the 1800`s with a walled kitchen garden with heated walls. There are wonderful Rhododendrons, various varieties of trees and shrubs, a pond that was used for freezing in days gone by. Wonderful bird life and wild flowers. 2021 it is still a member of the cooperative union and has had further restoration done to a magnificent up to date standards of Historic England.
View from the top of the hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
We've had a very busy week with the book sale, it officially started on Monday the 5th but it really got going the minute Abe Books sent out their email to customers on the 8th. We know when the email has gone out because my inbox instantly floods with lists of orders, over half of which declare noisily that they are for MULTIPLE TITLES, which is always exciting and never happens outside of the sales. I make long lists of the books which have sold and organise them into numerical order by box number so that I can find them without having to move the same boxes more than once. By the time I have staggered down from the stock room with dozens of volumes, there is a new list of orders in my inbox and I start again. The orders have to be processed online, weighed and packaged and postage organised. All weekend we were packaging into the night and unfortunately had to cancel a visit to my daughter on Sunday just to keep up. By Monday I had four heavy bags of parcels to take to the post and a satisfying pile of parcels for the courier.
I was sorry to hear of the death of Prince Philip on Friday. Of course the inevitable result for me was that I sold one book about his life twice on Saturday and had to reject one of the orders, then because I wasn't quick enough at changing the online listings I also sold “Elizabeth and Philip” twice overnight and again had to cancel one. Personally we were more upset by the loss of Shirley Williams, for whom we have always had admiration and fondness. We didn't have any books by or about her and had recently sold almost everything by and about Vera Brittain. Bookselling seems to produce a dark sense of humour, as whenever a death is announced I have to go straight to the database to see what books I have. I realised this very early on, as when Michael Jackson died I immediately sold a paperback biography about him to a customer in the USA. Sadly, it's like being a literary ambulance chaser.
Brexit appears to be causing problems. Well, we never saw that coming, did we Boris? The advice to “throw the paperwork in the bin” was somewhat reckless, I think. I currently have a customer in Sweden whose biography of Paul Newman is still languishing in customs waiting for her to pay a ridiculous amount of import duty and UPS deliveries from the UK to Europe have been on and off for weeks. Now there are problems in Northern Ireland and the promise of “no border in the Irish Sea” sounds like a fairy story, or a tale told by an idiot.
The lifting of restrictions has started to take effect, assisted by the (sometimes) lovely spring weather. The caravan sites are starting to fill up and we have had groups of walkers coming through the farmyard. Yesterday was a big day – we welcomed our first visitor into the garden for afternoon tea. We hadn't seen our friend for so long that we spent the first quarter of an hour exchanging Christmas and birthday presents! Richard had made a crumble and soft fruit cake for the occasion, which was a great treat but not great for our diets. I'm happy to say that Richard and I both lost quite a lot of weight in the months leading up to Christmas, although the diets did go out of the window when the turkey and mince pies arrived and Richard has now discovered a talent for baking bread and cakes!
We are now in a lull on the book sale, waiting for Abe Books to send out their next email. It's amazing what an effect it has, as though the whole book buying public sits around waiting for news of bargains and then has a manic period of grabbing everything at once. I suppose it's like the Boxing Day sales used to be, back in the day, with people elbowing one another out of the way to get to the bargains first. Another feature of the sales is that people seem to like to buy several heavy books at once, so packaging becomes a logistical challenge and I have become somewhat adept at making boxes to fit. This time I had a rush on architecture and one poor customer had to be disappointed when two of the books he ordered had just sold to another buyer. Books on Frank Lloyd Wright, which had been sitting in boxes for years, were suddenly in great demand. I said, surely he hasn't just died? No but guess what, it was the anniversary of his death, 9th April 1959. I rest my case.
Talking of cases, we have been closely following the Derek Chauvin trial which is showing live on Sky every day. We have acquired an interest in the legal process over the years and welcome the opportunity to compare the British and US systems. The incompetent defence attorney has given us the chance to vent our outrage at the spurious excuses being given for this unnecessary and cruel crime. The last witness for the defence, who came up with “carbon monoxide poisoning” as a possible cause of George Floyd's death, turns out to be accused himself of giving misleading evidence in a previous and alarmingly similar case, while attempting to cover up the guilt of another police officer. Unsurprisingly, the defendant has announced he will not speak in his own defence. My guess is he assumes he will get off, however compelling the evidence against him and however inept his counsel, purely because he is white and his victim was black. Shameful doesn't come close to describing the situation and the news of two more police shootings while the trial continues compounds the evidence that some US police have become a trigger happy mob. I can't see a way out of this for America. Too many guns out there and people will fight to the death for the right to keep them.
Ah well, on a happier note, the UK vaccination programme goes ahead full speed, despite the worries about blood clots in the Astra Zenica and now the J & J vaccines, despite the arguments between the have and have not countries about supply and despite the anti-vax campaigns. I have my appointment for the 2nd jab next week and I'm looking forward to it. Trying not to worry of course and trying not to see it as a huge green light to go anywhere and do anything. We must remain cautious, it's not over yet.
Rosemary, Rodborough Common
For the first time in months I feel more positive. I do, however, realise that the journey is far from over, and that we still have a long way to travel. However, there does now appear to be that promised chink of light at the end of the tunnel.
Every day I am grateful to learn about the drastic decrease in our death rates - the toll on those affected has been devastating.
We have had our happiest week for such a long time, and my diary has finally been in use. A haircut has been achieved, and a really good reading light found and purchased. In her email Margaret asked if any of us have eaten out? We have, but our eating out has been two picnics enjoyed in beautiful, but remote surroundings. No, we have not been to a pub, unlike many, but we have been foraging for wild garlic leaves to make pesto; we have watched the River Wye snaking its way through the Herefordshire countryside in wonderful sunshine, and enjoyed being in a beautiful Oxfordshire garden with our youngest son and his wife whom we had not seen for over four months.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Trying to stay awake to write my piece as am back in the shop now terrorising customers.
It was my first day back this morning and I was a bit rough around the edges. I explained to a customer this morning as I jumped when she came in that my customer service skills weren’t brilliant at the best of times and this was my first day back. I then really tried to be nice and helpful. When she left I jokingly said were the customer services OK and she said NO. A bit harsh I thought and this was me making an effort.
Later on a nice girl who was a retired ballet dancer was buying some little presents for her teenage students. She said Thankyou, you have been very helpful. I said my customer service skills had been criticised earlier and she said, NO you were brilliant!!! Really helpful. Marmite springs to mind.
It’s very difficult as people interpret you in completely different ways and never quite know when I’m being shy or dry...
Have had a busy week. Been to the dentist for more torture. Been to the hairdresser and look greatly improved. Nipped into Norwich as have another bedroom to do.
Yesterday Louisa and I went to Newark Antiques Fair in a massive van that she had hired.
I had to get up at 3am which is when I’m usually going to sleep and only got 2 hours sleep. We got there around 6.30 in the morning and walked miles and miles around the show ground looking for stuff to buy. In the afternoon you have to drive around to all the stall holders to pick it up. There was a bit of a panic trying to remember where it all was and worrying that they were shutting up shop and the stuff would disappear. One stall holder had put the the table back on their van! Sneaky we thought.
We had to go and unload it all at her flat in Holt and she dropped me back at home at 7.30. I got in the car to go and get Earnie and realised by the pub next door that my tyre was flat as a pancake. Bridget’s boyfriend brought Ernie home. This morning the garage came and switched the tyre which was beyond hope.
It was quite quiet at Newark as lots of regular stall holders weren’t there. No French sellers or Polish or Hungarian. There was one huge Dutch lorry but normally it is full of foreign dealers. This is the reality of Brexit, its a bloody nightmare!
The news all week has been about the funeral of HRH Prince Philip which is this afternoon. On the radio this morning there was a hymn which brought tears to my eyes and then I realised it was the old sailors hymn, For those in Peril on the Sea. My father and step father were in the Royal and Merchant Navy and it was played at Fred’s funeral and probably at my dad’s as well.
The other news has been all about Lex Greensill and David Cameron’s lobbying. He hasn’t broken any laws but people ask “Does it pass the sniff test?”
Local elections are soon. Our local Tory representative is called Smellie!
The pub next door opened today. Drunk men talking repetitive rubbish and getting louder and louder as the evening went on. It’s going to be a noisy summer.
A nice husband has been sent into buy the tablecloth on the table which meant moving everything off the table. At the same time, separate friends that all knew each other swung by to say hello. First Jane, then Harriet, then Mary and someone else who I’ve forgotten. It was like a party on the doorstep.
RIP HRH The Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh who is being taken away shortly in his converted Landrover.
Got to go
Love Annabel xxx