Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

Tracie is five foot nothing and a force of nature. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm and it’s infectious! She had heart surgery a few years ago and that has not stopped her ‘can do, take no shit’ attitude. I get the impression she’s seen it all and is not intimidated by anyone. I really like her. She’s in charge of the community garden project I’ve recently volunteered for. She told me she’s managed to get a grant from the heritage fund of almost two million pounds! She’s got a big vision to restore the park, gardens and redesign the existing outbuildings for community use for workshops, art projects, a bigger cafe come function room etc. It’s a huge undertaking. She bakes cakes for us litter pickers every Saturday- no idea where she finds the time! I think I’ve had a successful day if I manage to do all the washing up AND put the recycling out!

Since litter picking in the park all I see now is litter! Soooo much plastic everywhere! Plastic bottles and drinks cans mainly. As the flower shop is back open to customers I am back to working on Saturdays, it’s been lovely and challenging in equal measure. Lovely to see so many familiar faces (albeit behind masks) and completely strange to have to serve actual people! It’s difficult to hear what customers are saying, most are desperate to browse round the shops, excited for a bit of retail therapy. On our first day open we had people-ache by 2pm. I’ve brushed up on my customer service skills since then and am slightly more ‘happy to help’ !!

My garden volunteering day is now Tuesday, helping in the cafe when it opens again soon. I’ve put in a request to sell ice creams in the Summer, I’ve got a brilliant name for an ice cream parlour, ‘Two Scoops’ inspired by Julie Walters in that old cafe sketch. Tracie was having none of it, I’m not giving up that easily though.

During the school Easter holidays I went with my friend and her two girls to Tatton Park in Cheshire which was great, so nice to go somewhere different, and because we had to book in advance it wasn’t as crowded as usual. I’ve also been to my local pub as the weather is warm and bright it’s pleasant to sit outside during the afternoon.

The train is getting busier now, more people must be back at work. Road traffic is an assault on the senses, drivers seem to have little patience, and I see so many motorists on their phones, which makes me swear at them in my mind.

My friend came to help me prepare a bed for the dahlias and my sweet pea seedlings are the best I’ve ever grown this year, looking forward to planting them out soon.

Hope you are all well xxxxxxxxxx



Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

On Tuesday evening we had our first meal out since 30th October. We visited the Hatton Arms, a pub a few miles from Warwick by the Grand Union Canal. We were seated at a covered outdoor terrace, with views down a line of locks on the canal. The pub had rigged up radiant heaters, and I was able to sit in shirt sleeves, despite the clear but chilly weather. The five of us, me, Sarah, daughter, son and girlfriend enjoyed an excellent pub meal, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary, and I particularly appreciated my first pint of draught bitter in a very long time. 


At work the board met this week to discuss what we are going to say when the government lifts its “work from home if you can” edict, which we expect to be confirmed in early June, to take effect from 21st June. Given how well the business has functioned with most of the office staff absent most or all of the time, we are minded to be bold and say that we will have no fixed rules. We will continue to write into job contracts that an employee’s place of work is Corby, but if someone can fulfil their role effectively whilst always working from home this will be allowed. The only exceptions are likely to be company gatherings, once or twice a year. Similarly, if an employee wishes to return full time to the office, that too will be OK. We suspect that quite a number of employees will opt for some sort of 3 & 2 mix. And once things start to settle down, we can reassess exactly how much office space and how many desks we need as business growth picks up.


In other news, I was able to get an appointment with my regular barber and on Thursday morning I got my hair cut. It was long overdue, and I now feel a different and lighter man, and won’t need to use a hair dryer in the morning. I have been taking Vitamin D supplements since the autumn, as I read somewhere of its supposed benefits in protecting against respiratory ailments. But I have also seen reference to Vitamin D as a stimulant for hair growth. So perhaps whilst attempting to protect myself against Covid19 I have been inadvertently encouraging my unruly hair!


When our Prime Minister unveiled the planned stages of releasing us from lockdown, he said he would be ruled by data not dates. Now that the data (deaths and infections) is so much better than anticipated, it is very frustrating to see that he is relying on dates not data, and therefore not at all minded to accelerate the unlocking of lockdown. A landlord of a pub in Bristol was filmed berating the Leader of the Opposition for not opposing the government, not asking the challenging questions, but instead going along with every illiberal edict they come up with. I have much sympathy for the angry landlord.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

No time to write much this week, as we both need to spend the next couple of days tidying up the manuscript, images, captions etc for our 'Shell' guide to East Yorkshire and York, to send off at the weekend. Shouldn't have to do any more work on it until we get the proofs, and then I'll have to do the index. We've done most of the photography as well as the text, but there are drawings too. Mark H has done us an amazing picture to include in the volume. It's not likely to be published until the Autumn, but that's the best time in terms of organizing a launch and for pre-Christmas sales! I'd like to be in the garden this afternoon, as the weather is so good, but I'll enjoy being out much more when there isn't a deadline looming.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Some snippets of human interaction observed this week... 


Had to get some cash from the machine, so took a wander around our local high street. Some empty shops with signs declaring ‘For Sale’ or ‘Leasehold Available’. Some still to re-open. Those that are open not looking busy. I decided to visit a charity shop. Same procedure as last year - mask on, open door, check if okay to enter, hand gel, follow the one way system marked by painted arrows, go to till or leave if nothing to purchase. Anyhow, while I was in the book section, the door opens and a woman with a basket on wheels enters. “Hold it right there”, announces the sales assistant. She then looks around the shop and with lots of vigorous nodding and stretching of her neck, counts the number of customers. I’m the only other person in the shop! 


She nods at the woman with the basket who is now on her way to the book section too. “Just a minute, please. Did you read the sign? It is there in large letters. Can you gel your hands, please?”. 


“Oh I will” says the woman and starts to wheel her basket back to the door. By the tone of their voices, I think there is going to be an altercation over the use of the words “can” and “will” but before there is time for such pedantry, the shop assistant has issued another order “No, no, no. Follow the arrows. You can’t just walk back the way you came in”. 


“Is that so?” says the woman with basket as she ignores the arrows, walks back to the door and leaves the shop. I look down and pretend to be interested in a book about “Scuba-diving on a Budget” or some such. The disgruntled sales assistant mutters something and then says “And they wonder why Covid is increasing”. She sprays what I presume is a cleaning agent in the general direction of the door and I think to myself ‘I must buy something’...


Next, I’m in a queue for the checkout at the local supermarket. There are only two tills open and the queue stretches back into the aisles. We are all standing on our marked-out social distancing spots. An older couple stands in front of me, and in front of them - a young woman with a baby and a toddler. The toddler is bored and keeps unfolding her hand from the young woman and trying to pull away. The queue doesn’t move for minutes so it feels that everyone is watching the woman who is trying to manage baby, child and shopping trolley. Much pulling away continues. Toddler is grizzly and baby looks to be near to wailing. Suddenly the young woman snaps “For Christ’s sake, Whitney, stop wriggling!” We all look at the wine or the packets of peanuts and crisps. The older man turns to his partner and says in a quiet voice “Whitby? Yorkshire?”. The partner shakes her head “No. After the singer. You know. Houston. Whitney Houston. I will always love you”. “And I will always love you too”, says the man. “Stop it, you fool”, says the woman,“You’re embarrassing me”. 


Not much news to report. Frosts almost every morning but good, sunny days. Some days very warm but very cold first thing and temperatures drop dramatically in the evenings. Garden looking jolly. Lots of blooms and blossoms. Keen to get more plants out of the greenhouse but not yet safe. 


See on the TV News that NHS waiting lists for surgery have massively extended over the last year. Unsurprising. Lots of people are turning to private health care providers for procedures like hip replacements. Thousands of pounds. I think of my mother and all the years my parents paid for private health care insurance. When mum developed Rheumatoid disease (in her fifties), her health insurers paid for just one consultation. After that, all her care and treatment had to be via the NHS. Chronic diseases were not covered. Interesting. Must always read the small print, eh? So many health problems are chronic - Obesity, Diabetes, Arthritis, Hypertension, Cardiovascular Disease... Blimey! Need to cheer up a bit or you’ll all be weeping, eh? 


Time for breakfast. Porridge, blueberries, strawberries - delicious and healthy too! Not sure about the cheese scones I made the week before last or the caraway seed cake I made last night! 


Take care and stay safe xx



Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

What a nice surprise to see the double page article in the Eastern Daily Press (Thursday) all about the Plague Journal with lovely photos of its founders, Margaret and Sheila. Just the encouragement I needed to write an entry this week.


Big U.K. news events this week started with the sensitive coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral service and on Wednesday the Queen marked her 95th birthday quietly at Windsor. Internationally there has been the murder conviction of a U.S. policeman for the death of George Floyd and desperate scenes in India as the pandemic rages out of control with a frightening shortage of oxygen.


The pandemic is a symptom of Climate Change and Thursday was Earth Day when President Joe Biden launched a virtual Climate Summit committing the U.S. to cut emissions 50% by 2030. We have been watching the BBC documentary about Greta Thunberg ‘A Year to Change the World’ who is testifying at this Climate Summit. She seems such a tiny person, looks more like 13 than 18 but her measured statements, reasoned arguments and impressive intellect pack a powerful punch. One can only hope that together with President Biden, other world leaders will start to take her and this crisis seriously.


Life here is a little less anxious as numbers remain reassuringly low but the future is unsure and there still seems to be plenty to worry about during those small dark hours.


On a local level, I was sorry to read that the Norwich Tourist Information Office is to remain closed. I feel this is a short sighted move to save money by the Council who justify their action by saying people can find everything they need online. The Tourist Information Office is usually our first visit in a new City, here or abroad, where you can guarantee a friendly welcome from helpful staff and can access everything from maps to restaurant recommendations. 


During daylight hours this week I have taken pleasure and comfort in small things - seeing yellow wagtails dipping and diving above a nearby mill stream, wild bees busy in a hollow tree trunk and evidence in various places around the garden that we still have a hedgehog living in the log pile. This morning on my Nordic walk at Dunston I saw a thrush, a bird now sadly missing from our garden. I have kept busy by planting up some runner beans, rubbing down our old garden table and because of the prolonged spell of dry weather, doing a lot of pot watering.


Good wishes to all.


Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

On Saturday, working in Uppsala I had responsibility for a Covid-19 ward. I had been worrying about this work shift, since I do not have so much experience of Covid care and this particular ward takes care of more severe Covid-19 cases. They do not need ventilators but need high-flow-oxygen apparatus and abdominal position and cardiac monitoring. As it turned out, only one patient worsened quickly and had to go to intensive care, and no patient died.

Now in Bollnäs we have only few Covid patients, and we keep sending the Covid patients who need intensive care to the two other hospitals. I was very happy to again get fresh Rainbow trout from a kind Greek colleague who often goes fishing in the many small forrest lakes surrounding Bollnäs.

Very different from normal Bollnäs weeks on Wednesday I went home to Uppsala after work. G and I had dinner and wine with much discussion about politics and philosophy (we both severely dislike the pretentious Michel Foucault and I appreciate David Hume more than G does), a very pleasant evening. Very early Thursday morning it was snowing and was very windy when I walked to hospital for a needle biopsy after a mammography screening which had showed some thing. They were very considerate and claimed that it is more likely benign than malignant so I shall wait to panic until biopsy results, which will take 1-2 weeks. Traveling back to Bollnäs by train I had to switch to bus and then again back to train because of some work on the railway. The wintery weather was most intense during the bus ride and I was a bit worried about walking the last part to the hospital in lots of snow with only ordinary shoes but during the journey it changed from snow to rain, and in Bollnäs there was no longer snow on the ground. I was back to work before 12 and managed to catch up with patient work. Now there is no trace of snow and it is sunny and warm and not too much work.



From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

I have to admit to being somewhat at sixes and sevens this morning. It all started well, with the sun shining and a happy phone call from best beloved. So far so good!


Now I am worrying, almost certainly without real reason, about a missing letter to which I should have responded. It's from a team in the Church of England who bear the responsibility for setting up a database to be known as the National Register of Clergy. I think this not before time and will bring us in line with other professional groups. It will mainly serve a useful role in safeguarding. Anyway, supposedly a letter was sent me in January about getting my name registered. I have no recollection of receiving said missive, and have thus sent off an email to the 'powers that be' in the hope of gaining some sort of access. So all should be well, but I am feeling stressed and that will take a while to fade. I must say I find it annoying how my hormones cause a physical response to things that don't really matter a jot. I suppose that happens to all of us from time to time.


OK - so how has the past week been in this neck o' the woods? Well, things have been good in general. The sun has been shining a lot, and best beloved and I have been together several times - always lovely.I have been walking a good deal and have done a certain amount of work on my cars. Things are looking good for Talullah, the American Austin, which should return to the road soon. That would be good apart from the fact that she is really horrible to drive. I suppose the biggest problem for me is that I hardly fit in her, and have to drive with my knees almost touching the dash. Otherwise, she is a pretty little miniature gangster car, ideal for Bugsy Malone I suppose. I just need to shrink a lot and own a Thompson machine gun!

It has been a good week for music and singing. For the first time in many years I was invited to perform in a Zoom gig. That was great, and seemed to go down well, although I couldn't help feeling my musical style was a bit out of kilter with most of the folk who were there, who were clearly celebrating St George. I sang a cowboy song! Really, I think St George, if he ever existed, might have liked it. There was applause too!


I'm trying to work out who to vote for in the upcoming local elections. Finding someone whom I think will properly serve the interests of the community is proving quite hard for me. I suppose I will put my 'X' in various places and hope for the best.


I've just heard that the unjust convictions of many Post Office workers have been quashed! Thank God for that. I hate injustice!


Nothing much going on with my local natural history. Squirrels have not been noticeable. The only thing that has been quite entertaining is a starling that is clearly mimicking a male blackbird! He (or she) does it really badly, but is good enough to annoy the resident blackbirds. I love that kind of thing!


Keep well and happy dear friends...


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

Spring is progressing with more and more flowers and green outdoors, but we had a lot of cold wind during the week, too. My mother turned 80 yesterday and we paid a visit, one of our gifts was a personalised memory game with photos of her entire life and she was especially pleased with it. We also spent a lot of time outside admiring her magnolia in bloom and the tiny chicks of my sister-in-law who lives close by.


We are now both eligible to a vaccination and registered ourselves on the local waiting list yesterday. The process has on the whole become quicker and this is fine.


My students would love to return to real classrooms, but this is unfortunately not an option at the moment. I often talk with them individually and try to support them.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Why so many vaccines?  

Thank you, MFS, for explaining why there were so many vaccines ordered. The fact that all the extra jabs are being given away is the best possible news for poorer countries. 

This choice, made by Kate Bingham as vaccination mastermind, was clearly a wise one. For once a medical choice has been made by someone with a business background which doesn't go against the interests of patients. As I have observed for years, governments can frequently take the wrong decisions against the needs of ill people, other reasons having prevailed.  


Reading about Prince Philip

As Rob says, it takes a good republican to love royalty. I have been reading a lot of articles about Prince Philip. It was an opportunity to learn new words that I don't remember seeing before. The ones I liked the best: CANTANKEROUS (French: irritable) and ADAMANT (French: intransigent). Probably the concepts have disappeared, one should not be intransigent nor irritable today. 

One day twenty years ago we were having lunch at my mother-in-law's in Geldeston. My brother-in-law with his wife and two daughters aged ten and seven, us with our two children the same age, and Grandmama. The older niece refused to eat her fish, which I had bought and cooked. I said "You should eat at least half of it". She answered "Why?" I said "To try and be polite, and anyway it's COMPULSORY". The French take eating and table manners seriously, whatever the social background, and training starts at a very early age. She asked " What does compulsory mean?" Her mother explained the meaning to her. The girl seemed shocked and disgusted. She asked "Are there compulsory things?" I said "Yes, in France, if you ask for food you empty your plate". Not only did she not understand the word, she did not have any idea of the concept and was revolted by such an idea. Grandmama and our children were very amused. 

A journalist asked the Prince, "Do you have fun?" He answered "I don't think much about fun. Do you think much about fun?" He was a bit older than my father. Their generation was happy enough if there was no big trouble. And I must say, I don't believe in "Fun" either, a question of generation probably. Just as my niece didn't believe in "Compulsory", I am not too interested in the Fun concept.

In the same interview, he said "I've kept myself busy. I tried to make myself useful. I hope I've helped keep the show on the road. That's about it really".

"Vive la Loire Libre" (Journal du Centre, 11 April 2021)

Prince Philip, a francophile President of WWF International, and in his own phrase "a European mongrel", would be called an environmental activist today. There was much of a Greta Thunberg in him. We have a lot to thank him for in France. He prevented the construction of four dams along the course of the river Loire. On 15 October 1988 he paid a visit to the Loire, near Nevers at the Bec d'Allier where the river Allier meets the Loire. On that occasion he launched an appeal for a wild Loire: "Long live a wild Loire !" (parodying General De Gaulle's " Vive le Quebec libre"). This was in Cuffy, a lovely little village with a bridge canal where the Canal Latéral à la Loire passes over the Allier just before the confluence, a heaven for bird-watchers. Cuffy is also the place from which "la Loire à vélo " starts. This bicycle route runs right the way down to the Loire estuary in the Atlantic ocean. The purpose of Prince Philip's visit was to understand the threat that the planned construction of several dams would pose to the river's fragile eco-system. As a consequence of the campaign to which he gave his valuable support, the only "wild" river in Europe has been preserved to this day. (The same cannot be said for the Rhine, Danube and Rhône, which have been partially transformed into canals). Thank you, Prince Philip. He is fondly remembered in Loire country. 


Here is a picture of the Loire at Blois, just at the end of our street.