From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
When thinking about what to share about this past week my thoughts turned to Marli Rose Macrae and her lovely little handmade doll and the wonderful stories she writes. They are so delightful to read and I can just imagine Marli’s pleasure in creating them. I think she is so imaginative!
While I have never made a handmade doll, I do love to make doll clothes for the wooden reproduction Queen Anne dolls that I have. I wonder if Marli knows of the very treasured old Queen Anne dolls that are in the Victoria and Albert Museum ~ Lord and Lady Clapham. They belonged to descendants of Samuel Pepys and were, I believe, created sometime in the late 17th century. I saw them when I visited London years ago and fell in love with their charming personalities. They are not dolls made to look like children but grown ups of the period and so delightful and often very quirky.
Years later I discovered a Canadian woman who makes the most wonderful reproduction Queen Anne wooden dolls and I was determined to get one or two, which I have done. Rather than buy them clothed, I have gotten them with perhaps just a lovely pair of shoes, but I buy them ‘naked’ so I can have all the fun of researching what clothes they might have worn if they were some little girls doll which she might have dressed like herself or her momma. Sometimes a loving mother or grandmother might have helped to make a lovely assortment of frocks, cloaks, petticoats, stays, embroidered stomachers, bonnets and so on for a treasured doll.
My little Elspeth is only 16 inches tall, and so far she has had only her shift, a petticoat, and a new blue linen stay ~ so all last week and this week, whenever I could steal the time from the garden, the house and my engraving, I have been working on a little short gown of natural linen ~ embroidered with vegetable dyed wool with various little sprigs of flowers ~ It is almost finished and perhaps this weekend I will complete the last motif on the back of pretty strawberries ~ It is for no one else’s pleasure but my own and for that of my little wooden dolls ~ and is the perfect project for sitting in front of the fan on such hot summer days during the continuing pandemic.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Dissolution and Däim bars
It is the end of the week and Friday has done that thing that it does of sneaking up behind you, tapping you on the left shoulder, and as you whirl round, it whispers in your ear “ alcohol or chocolate?” “ Both” I reply to myself, “ but cheese first”. It goes like this:
Monday: Old English Mōnandæg meaning "Moon's day". Firm resolve to eschew all treats.
Tuesday: Old English Tīwesdæg meaning "Tiw's day". Tiw was a Norse one-handed god associated with single combat and pledges. (The main pledge was to avoid the fridge).
Wednesday: Old English Wōdnesdæg meaning the day of the Germanic god Woden and a prominent god of the Anglo-Saxons. (I am mighty and strong enough to avoid the fridge).
Thursday: Old English Þūnresdæg meaning 'Þunor's day'. Þunor means thunder or its personification, the Norse god known in Modern English as Thor. Do I hear thunder? What a miserable day. What is left in the fridge?
Friday: Old English Frīgedæg meaning the day of the Anglo-Saxon goddess Fríge. Do you see where this is going? FRIGE. Today almost certainly spelt “Fridge”.You couldn’t make it up.
The rest of the weekend is irrelevant, given over to disgusting hedonism and wilful abandonment until Monday crawls back, ashamed... I wish. Oh, and oven chips.
This weekend I am visiting my aged mother in Lichfield for the first time since lockdown. I had noticed that my eyes were rather sore, and decided to test them by driving myself and my wife three and a half hours across country. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a young child to take with us to make it a properly world beating scientific exercise.
There is nothing in my mother’s fridge that I think of as food related, and anyway, it is reserved for her “back of the fridge soup”, a tasty mélange of leftovers heated several times until they give up and merge together in a grey that would be called “Aunt’s toenail” in the Farrow and Ball paint chart... I no longer enjoy soup.
So who invented Däim chocolate bars? They used to be God’s reward to straight men who had been forced to wander like lost souls around Dante’s Ikea: turn left after the Limbö nifty little stools, in the next circle after the Purgatöriö trolley and bag collection area. Now Däim bars are to be found everywhere, especially on weekends, hiding under the Crunchie bars. I found myself awake in the middle of last night wondering how they made the middle honeycomb bit of Crunchie bars. Do they boil sugar until it bubbles and then plunge it into something cold? And can this be done at home? And what are the crumbly bits in Däim bars?
My mother, aged 95, is still managing well on her own. She takes no medicine, and still cooks for herself and others. She has her little list of jobs for me at every visit, and I am hoping for good weather today so that I can pull up the errant Violet plants whilst listening to the cricket. We also had a hug from our eldest son this week which brought tears to the eyes for both Ally and I, and we looked after our grandchildren for most of a day, delighting in their doings. They seem to have grown up hugely in the last few months. Hope that you are managing to pluck up courage to get out more, oh, and pass the Friggin’ chocolate would you?
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
The news this past week continues on it’s terrible trajectory. I find myself wanting more and more to play the apocryphal ostrich by pretending little is happening. No, my feelings are not those of depression, but of serene indifference for the most part. If that seems a hard position to take, at odds with my underlying Christian and socialist ideals, it is, but only because facing the world is simply too hard for my psyche to deal with at the moment. So let the world take its own path whilst I concentrate on my little and close compassed world - a world that includes those people and things which matter most directly. I can’t influence much more than that, so have surrendered - given up the fight as it were. I think I’ve moved a long way towards pragmatism as a way of life. Some might observe that it is just fiddling while Rome burns, and they could be right!
My own little sphere encompasses happiness and sadness. The people, places, animals and other things with which it is inhabited are so dear to me. They make my life, and I hope perhaps that I might in turn help theirs a little. So, I am grateful - to God and others perhaps - for their presence, for their lives, deaths and all that makes up existence. I am grateful because they make everything, including this small person, myself.
Oh dear, I read back like a pompous ass, or maybe introspective teenager, well don't I! Must be time to move on away from philosophising so much and work with reality (perceived or otherwise?). This past week has really been a continuation of the last - well of course it was - but in many ways my moods and activities have remained without much change. The lovely beach hut with best beloved and youngest daughter was very good. Music - or should it be called band now - practice happened on Thursday in the double garage hideaway. During the latter it amazes me how tolerant the neighbours seem to be. Perhaps they know that it will only last an hour at a time. It's got to be better than the incessant middle-class drone of hedge trimmers, wood chippers, lawn mowers and chain saws that seems to pervade my home during summer. Well, hasn't it?
I think I'm running out of steam for writing now. Continuing thanks to Margaret, Sheila and all journalistas for keeping me on a level track, sane or insane though it may be...
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Week 4, I believe. It’s all a bit of a blur now, you could tell me anything. A status quo, a sort of permanence of weirdness has settled about us, I’m beginning to hanker after The Old Days when you not only went out at a moment’s notice, you wouldn’t think twice about nipping out again for something forgotten the first time. Now, it’s all such a palava. The fear is of ‘spiking’ and local lockdowns. Next week we’re to wear masks when out and about, shopping or travelling - which will add a touch of Oriental surrealism. I have a couple of jaunty numbers run up by Sheila and have been practising the discipline required to remember having one about me by having one about me though unrequired. Sometimes I wear it, but at the mo it seems a bit of an affectation, and mainly it stays in my pocket. As I’m not noted for coughing, sneezing or spraying while talking, I don’t think I’m much of a threat, but of course I’ll conform.
650,000 UK job losses reported for the period this Journal has been in existence...
Prof Sarah Gilbert at Oxford still claims to be ahead of the vaccine game, hopeful to have one for release “by Xmas” (a little later than predicted) and it’s been revealed that amongst those volunteers trialing are her own triplets - which shows extraordinary faith and investment. In case you have visions of teary children being coaxed into being injected - as I did - they are 21. All of them.
If you can believe the News, the rascally Russians have been trying to hack into her research to get a vaccine without the inconvenience of doing their own research. Actually, I can believe it and think it should be assumed they (the Russians) and indeed pretty well everyone else constantly try to get access to everyones research into everything.
Had a bracing afternoon on Aldeburgh beach, fruitlessly casting worms and fragments of squid and mackerel, sometimes in combination, various distances off shore. I say fruitlessly... sometimes I just have to go, and while of course I’d like to have caught something it’s a recreation for me, in the fullest sense of the word. Though def not a perfect day weather-wise, Aldeburgh was heaving at the Town End, if lack of parking and the huge lunchtime queue outside the fish and chip shop was anything to go by. Down my chosen end near the Martello Tower things were much quieter and I was able to practise my casting in peace. That’s what it’s come to: casting practise with a purpose, not fishing per se. Backtracking a little, earlier in the week Sheila and I had an inaugural visit to The Lovely Sophie’s house in Beccles for lunch with her and our son John - who now has wisely cast his lot (as it were) with her and moved in. I go through Beccles sometimes on Aldeburgh trips, so may have convivial pub opportunities in later outings.
Yurt visits continue - we have #4 in there at the moment who arrived on Wednesday for four nights. This is their third year and they’ve chosen us for their mini-break to celebrate their engagement, a lovely endorsement and one marked by a complimentary bottle of fizz in the fridge for them, courtesy of The Management. All is not perfect - we’ve hit a run of dull, rather chilly days, but hey! that’s camping - and all that Glamping can offer in addition is a full size bed, duvets and a woodburning stove. Should be enough...
Susan, Country Victoria, Australia
This week has outwardly been like any other. I cook (a lot), I bake bread, I do my Pilates classes (more classes than I should), I walk with Meg and take a route where I am guaranteed of meeting fewest people and I garden for a couple of hours most days, & at 11ish I watch the news conference of the Victorian Premier, the Health Minister and the Chief Medical Officer. I know at the beginning of the week that each day the numbers will grow of the people with the illness, and the people who die from it. I hope next Monday that we see better news. I heard a commentator say this morning that we need to keep it in “perspective” and remember that we are about 100 times better off than England. It isn’t something that I take great comfort from.
Maggie, my one year old great niece was cared for by a childcare worker whose Grandmother lived in one of the tower blocks. In caring for them both she has contracted the virus and unwittingly passed it on. Hearing daily reports of a much loved child being very unwell have been dreadful. The headaches worried me more than the respiratory symptoms. Both parents have returned negative results, but have symptoms of flu. My great nephew Jack appears to be in rude health and in spite of the maelstrom swirling around him is super excited about his friendless 5th birthday party next week, a parcel that arrives from his grandparents that isn’t even part of his birthday present. I don’t suppose his parents have told him that they’ll be all having an outing to the drive through testing centre at the Royal Children’s on his birthday morning. Maggie improved yesterday, but has severe diarrhoea today. Our once great public hospital system has served the family well. Each day a consultation by phone and when they have been very concerned, the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) contacts them again in the evening.
My other niece Anna (with lupus) and her children have also tested negative, but will present for testing again in four days, given their contact with Maggie. Fingers crossed there.
Deaths are just one part of the very sad story of this virus. I hate hearing that recovery for people will take weeks or months, and that no one knows if the effects will manifest themselves in yet unknown health outcomes. For my dear, sweet niece I hope not.
I feel like you Jean, that our Premier and his Chief Medical Officer are doing a great job. Mistakes have been made and they are owning that. Unfortunately I know the girls are receiving mixed messages from the Department of Health vs the RCH. They are lucky that their Mother is a recently retired nursing sister, so good advice is in abundance. Not everyone struggling with this illness has this, and unless the Health Department delivers the best practice advice regarding re-testing (which is recommended at each of the Health Officer’s press conferences), we will really be chasing our tales indefinitely.
From The Black Shed
David E, Pitlochry, Perthshire
It's amazing how quickly one settles into a different way of life when moving to another place. We have caught up with family and friends and every day is filled with gardening, maintenance jobs, walks and generally pleasurable activities. I've been finishing off the restoration of our Victorian greenhouse, originally heated by enormous hot water pipes and used primarily for growing grape vines. Two years ago it was in a sorry state and we had to decide whether to let it fall down or tackle the restoration. Thank goodness we made the right decision. I've planted new vines but they will take a long time to flourish.
Pitlochry is known as a holiday destination or as a stopping off point while traveling North on the A9. Visitors like to see the hydroelectric dam and fish ladder but the area is also interesting for lesser known contributions to human development.
A few miles due West is Schiehallion, a regular shaped mountain, used by Nevil Maskelyne in 1774 to calculate the mass of the earth. (His result was close.) A side effect of this experiment was the development of map contour lines, used universally today.
Just to the North is the village of Blair Atholl, ancestral home of the Dukes of Atholl and on who's estate resides the only private army in the land. To the northeast of Blair castle lies Glen Tilt, a beautiful glen reaching miles towards Braemar. It was here in 1847 that three botany students from Edinburgh were confronted by George Murray, 6th Duke, who refused them passage and demanded their return to Braemar. The three students claimed a right of passage which went all the way to the high court and resulted in the Right to Roam, enshrined in Scottish law. Where would we be without them?
Robjn Cantus, Cambridge
It is a sad fact that histories are penned by the winners, or the people left to write it. In the case of the Great Bardfield artists that history was left to Olive Cook. When the Fry Art Gallery was set up in 1986 she wrote the history of the local artists and for about 10 years that version of the truth was printed and reprinted. It has now thankfully been corrected now but with more time on my hands I went back to the original copies of their visitors guides and found she had erased Stanley Clifford-Smith totally. It might have been due to the Fry Art Gallery not owning any of his work at the time they opened. But history can be uncovered and re-penned (and as I mentioned, has been). This happened to some lengths when Stanley's son, Silas Clifford-Smith wrote 'Under moon-light' a biography his of father and his mother Joan Glass.
Stanley Clifford-Smith, known mostly as Clifford, was three years younger than Bawden and had four children by the time he moved to Great Bardfield. When young, Stanley was partly raised and schooled in Paris as his father was working there. As a child he had seen Debussy perform Clair de Lune and the composer came to their home for dinner. He had served in the Navy during the war as a navigation officer and lived in various properties in East Anglia, focusing on painting and designing textiles with his wife. Joan Clifford-Smith (née Glass) worked under her maiden name. She had studied at Chelsea Polytechnic under Graham Sutherland and one of the life models was Quentin Crisp. At Chelsea she started designing textiles and selling designs to carpet manufacturers. During the war she joined the Wrens and worked in the BBC Canteen.
Joan and Stanley married in Newmarket in 1946, and in 1952 they moved to Buck House, Great Bardfield and later the Old Bakery opposite Edward Bawden's Brick House. Unlike the artists in St Ives that tended to influence each other, these Essex artists all had different styles and influences. John Aldridge being a traditional painter, Bawden more comic and print based, Rothenstein taking abstraction to it’s limits and becoming more like Britains Picasso, and then George Chapman who’s modernist welsh pictures looked rather alien in the East of England and also favoured etchings. Clifford was the most experimental painter of the village (Rothenstein being the most experimental printmaker) and his style was inspired by French painters and Expressionism, but like all the artists, translated it into his style.
This small Essex village in the 1950s and 60s became a refuge for artists who had moved out of London when looking to start a family, but where still working in the city, mostly as art teachers and found it easy to commute back and forth. Having so many artists in a small location, the village applied for a money to have an art exhibition as part of the 1951 Festival of Britain arts grant. They got the money, had the exhibition and found it to be so successful that they wanted to do one again in 1954, and these became known as the Great Bardfield Open House exhibitions. Other Open house exhibitions were in 1954, 1955 and a touring exhibition was in 1957 and 1958.
It was Stanley Clifford-Smith who helped set up these open-house days in Great Bardfield and exhibited with the other artists of the village. They would turn their houses into art galleries and thousands of people came into their homes to view the work.
In the 1960s the artists with larger families all started to move away from Great Bardfiled and Clifford Smith moved to London. By the 70s very few artists were left and John Aldridge was the only artist to stay until his death in 1983.
John Mole, St Albans
A MORNING WALK
I take small steps
but many of them
at a steady pace.
Their beat is metrical,
my default gait a spondee
which becomes trochaic
when I start to tire.
I think of Wordsworth
walking in the wild,
rhythmic and grounded,
a buoyant stride
as it has today for me
who found this poem ready
when I got back home
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I am writing this entry from a tiny cottage on the Shotley peninsular in Suffolk. The bedroom window looks out across the countryside to where I can see in the distance the tops of the giant container cranes at Felixstowe docks and a North Sea ferry manoeuvring into Harwich. This reminds me of a journey I took in 1983 during the Easter vacation of my final year at university. I caught the boat train from Manchester to Harwich to catch the overnight ferry to Hook of Holland and then travelled by train via Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen and overnight again to Stockholm and beyond to stay with my eldest sister who was teaching English in a small town in rural Sweden. I slept much better last night in this cottage than I did on the ferry or on the trains on that journey.
We have come to this part of Suffolk for a “family history” holiday. My late father in law, Arthur Clifford Parkin, was born on 18th July 1920 in Capel St Mary, and we are visiting one of S’s cousins who lives in the house where he was born. Arthur started work as a mechanic in a local garage after leaving school, and then joined the Royal Navy in September 1939, where he served for nearly 20 years. As a member of the Fleet Air Arm he spent a lot of the war on aircraft carriers, maintaining and repairing planes like the Sea Hurricane. He was injured during the 1942 Malta convoy “Operation Pedestal” when the carrier Indomitable was attacked, but after a period of hospitalisation in Gibraltar returned to active service. Over the course of his navy career he sailed to places as far distant as Sri Lanka, South Africa and Norfolk, Virginia. He was also based in Malta for nearly three years after the war, and we visited a number of sites associated with his time there when we holidayed Malta a few years ago. The naval base where he was stationed, HMS Falcon, is now an industrial park, housing among other businesses an enormous factory producing Playmobil. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Some of Arthur’s relatives were publicans, so whilst we are here we will endeavour to visit all the pubs with which his family was connected, demonstrating the lengths I am prepared to go to in support of my wife’s research into family history! Based on our experience yesterday we suspect that at each pub we will have to study carefully the different rules for ordering and being served, as each venue struggles to adapt social distance guidelines to its own particular layout and location.
I have left behind me at work an ongoing debate about face masks and the guidance for staff returning to work in the offices. The factory has its own rules, which are logical, consistent and understood by all. But for the offices some are suggesting face masks should be worn when going between departments, as this will provide reassurance, whilst others think that rather than reassure, this approach may cause alarm, and others still think masks may create a false sense of security. The debate is more about psychology than hard science and it would be helpful to receive some clear guidance from the powers that be.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
I hear a faint drumbeat of purpose in the air. People are beginning to find their mojo, their raison d’être. The mood is still invisible, marching up behind the hill, but the distant drums herald its approach. For some, there are setbacks, but for others there is a stirring of life-defining activity, remembering who and what they were Before.
For me, the end of months of Js and weeks of tradesmen drifting in and out has meant the proper start of moving in and settling down in my new home. In the end, the drawbridge did not come up all at once, but gradually, over a few days, as I took in my new freedom.
In clearing the decks, I tried to have a box-bonfire, but it went slightly wrong, causing fears of setting fire to the fence, and I am left with almost as many boxes (back in the garage) as I lobbed over those walls in the first place, plus a nasty brown stain on the garden slabs. Good thing they’re coming up at some point.
I discovered that Harlequin ladybirds, over which J2 had been cooing, practising his paternal tenderness, bite. Quite hard. Vicious little invaders. I also discovered the extent of youth’s delight at its imminent ‘liberation’ the next day, Saturday: sounds of an almighty rave blanketed the local area, emanating seemingly from at least two parks at once. Still, they were happy sounds, which is no bad thing, even if it’s made in ignorance of possible consequences: that’s youth.
By chance I found that a Covid testing centre has opened 12 miles from here - better than some 50 miles, as previously. Useful information to store away against the coming winter. Meanwhile, I decided to expand my collection of masks, which so far are home made - but I keep losing them, heaven knows where. So on Monday I did some research and drove to a chemist which I thought was out of the way and so less likely to be crowded. Wrong! It is actually bang in the middle of a huge Sainsbury’s. As it was for Chris, it was not my favourite experience. The next day I had, unavoidably, to walk into town. While there, bought another kind of mask, for comparison. Was unnerved by checkout girl who wore hers as chin guard, although others wore none at all, despite high infection rate amongst shop floor staff. All getting too much, nightmarish, Lewis Carrollish, and I couldn’t get out fast enough. Lost my bearings, couldn’t think how to get out of the Arndale and felt slightly panicky, drowning in maelstrom of people swirling about in all directions over one-way arrows. Nerves further jangled in the evening when all at once I saw a police car draw up, two officers jump out and one stride purposefully up my front path. Omg. It’s always J1 when that happens. Accident! I thought, and went to the door, ready for the worst. Instead of bell ringing, though, paper was pushed through the letterbox - a police questionnaire. They started with me because mine is the first house. Phew, and slightly miffed that they had frightened me so.
That day I heard a plane fly overhead. I noticed because it was the first since I moved here. The town is the point at which Gatwick-bound planes, coming from the east, turn inland; I have looked out of a banking plane’s window and wished I could hop out.
Although I was celebrating everything finally coming right, I couldn’t understand why I was feeling more and more unwell, not less. Surely a cold would have gone by now? Then the answer came: on Tuesday night I went to bed with raging toothache (impacted wisdom, rather like my cerebral version - still waiting to fully emerge). So the following morning I drove to my dentist in my previous town (not giving him up - he’s lovely) for antibiotics. I was most surprised to see, in the high street there, almost everyone in masks. Unlike here, that is not a university town - more of an East End overspill. I guess it will take a lemming effect to get everyone to wear them: perhaps that has already happened there. Certainly not here. It crossed my mind the other day that masks, although a potent element in reducing infection, must make life difficult for those who rely on lip-reading. And lo and behold, there it was a day or two later, in the news. Every change is hard for someone, somewhere.
The Js have been having trouble with their new flat, which was not as promised by the agent. Luckily I have a lettings agent pal who was able to give invaluable advice, and J1 has, thus armed, bent the agent to her will. Things will now be sorted - so they say. In the evening the Js came here for their regular shower; now that the procession of tradesmen is gone and the house sanitised yet again, I said they must come in masks. To my surprise they agreed without a murmur, and stuck to it where practicable. I forgot to ask them, though, to use the hand sanitiser I had carefully propped up by the front door. All these new habits take time to learn. They had even thought to bring their own mugs for tea and cake in the garden, wrapped up against the wind (us, not the mugs). J2 told me he had heard there is now an outbreak of bubonic plague in China. I hope he’s wrong. J1 has had a proper haircut; apparently I ‘hadn’t done too badly’ with my attempt. Unsurprisingly, the chap is doing a lot of remedial cuts at the moment. It must break his heart, but he’s not short of business. I’m waiting until there’s anything to cut on my head, so short was it left by J1.
Unfortunately that same day I had taken a sledgehammer to a dental nut and swallowed a double dose of aforementioned antibiotics to get things going. I’ve done it before, with no ill effects, but this time I came over all dizzy and nauseous. Still slightly reeling, but on the mend. Certainly no need for any fancy cooking, all the same.
The highlight of my Sunday was reading John’s elderflower champagne incident. I laughed and laughed, until my eyes leaked. Thank you, John. Harris asks how others feel about restrictions being eased. I understand why they have to be, but I feel that so many people don’t understand that it is only an easing: things are absolutely not back to normal. Care and consideration still need to be the watchwords, and I don’t think that message has got through yet, to many people. In this area, Covid deaths recently dipped, more than in England as a whole, below the seasonal average; however, the graph is now swinging upwards again. Meanwhile, I am still practising speaking with my eyes, à la Marie-Christine. I loved Nicky’s heavenly new caravan: how lovely that something went so well and satisfyingly. Also thanks to the journal this week’s new words learned are ‘utch’ and ‘reiver’. Who knew? Not me, obviously. I learned about author Tim Pears, psychologist Dan Ariely (he of half a beard) and St Paul’s letter about love and charity. Had just read an article about a man who has spent most of his life in an iron lung (remember them?), who radiated both. Learned about artist Cerith Wyn Evans, but couldn’t find anything about Fred Dewbury. Still enjoying Once Upon a Quarantine and the occasional sonnet.
‘Jaw-dropping fertility rate crash expected’. Not before time: Nature knows best how to correct imbalances in her world. Why would people be shocked at the prospect? The bald fact is that there are far too many of us. But I’m glad the Franklins and Marli Roses of the world are already here. Franklin, I hope you had a lovely birthday. I wish you were my children, grumpy moments and all.
I decided to google all the places in which journalers admit to living. It was really interesting, and it seems you have all ended up in beautiful places. Who wouldn’t be tempted by Vermont, amongst others?
Yesterday, Thursday, I had a long phone chat with J2’s mother, with whom I get on well. We shared Covid ‘freaking out’ stories, which made us laugh.