Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

I've just looked at my diary to see what I wrote two years ago, when the pandemic was just beginning:


'17 March 2020
The virus is really beginning to have a major impact now. Museums, cinemas etc are closing; all societies have cancelled lectures, outings etc. No more ballet for the moment. Shops running out of flour, loo rolls, paracetamol (panic buying). The Government has announced emergency measures to protect businesses that have to close during the outbreak. People are being asked to work from home where possible. It looks as if many restaurants, pubs etc will soon close. So far fewer than 60 people in England have died from the virus, but many more deaths predicted. Elective operations being cancelled from 15 April to free beds and staff. There hasn’t been an emergency situation of this scale since the war. Some countries such as Italy (where the outbreak, which started in China, has been severe), and France and Spain, are making people stay in their homes. There is a great sense of unreality.'


Since then there have been almost 20 million cases of Covid in the UK, and the death total currently stands at 163,248. It is certainly not over yet. This morning we visited my aunt in her residential home. Here we still have to book a visit, take a lateral flow text, and wear protective clothing. She was on excellent form, but how do you explain to a very deaf 99-year old with short term memory loss why her visitors have to wear masks, aprons and blue latex gloves to play dominoes! 

Covid no longer dominates the news headlines. The horror caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the mass exodus of people to Poland and beyond, is now centre stage. One of the few good things to come out of the pandemic has been the way in which our street has come together to help people, organise activities etc. This now includes a Refugee Help group investigating possible community sponsorship of a person or family from Ukraine. There are many hoops to jump through. Sitting here on a peaceful sunny day it is impossible to imagine what it must be like to flee from your home, taking with you only a handful of possessions, perhaps never to return.


As this is the last edition of the Journal, it would be good to end on a positive note. For me it has been my birthday week, which has also meant a free bus pass and a state pension (at last!!). The sun is shining, and the garden is flourishing. The Journal has been a fascinating read. Thank you so much to everyone has contributed, and especially to Margaret and Sheila who made it happen. Love to you all xx



The Little Gingermen

Wren Pearson, Pownal, Maine USA

As I was re-reading the prior issue of The Plague Journal to remind myself of what folks had written about in their posts, I was surprised to find that this would be the final issue of the journal. How had I missed Margaret’s announcement in her post? I blame it on continuous partial attention (CPA), a term coined in 1998 by tech writer and consultant, Linda Stone. Stone describes it as the willingness to connect and stay connected, scanning and optimizing opportunities, activities and contacts in an effort to not miss anything that is going on.

Things haven’t changed much since 1998 where CPA is concerned, but really, how could it? Last night Russia invaded Ukraine. This morning gas and heating oil prices jumped uncomfortably. Yesterday the high temperature was 63, unheard of in Maine in February. Tomorrow we may get a foot of snow with temps around 20. There is apparently a skunk now living in the old groundhog hole and it’s regularly visiting the area beneath the bird feeders along the front porch with stinking fanfare on days/nights above freezing. One of the hens laid two pale pink eggs in the same day. A neighbor slipped on black ice and broke his leg in three places. The deadline for submitting this entry is thirteen hours away. Continuous. Partial. Attention. Crikey.


Thankfully, the Little Gingermen and I have many happy things to concentrate on during the day. The ginger men in question are the cats, Noddy & Pippin. They share the house/studio with me while Mr. Pearson is away at the comics shop, shipping vintage comic books to collectors around the globe who have bought them online from Sean and Ashley of Dot Com Comics. Spider-Man, Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America—they are all regulars at our house. I must admit, some days I wish they were real. 


Last week I completed my handmade patch for this year’s Mend and Make Friends patch swap that is the brain child of my neighbor, Erin, who is an eco-dyer and avid proponent of ‘visible mending’ and the slow-stitching movement. Four years ago, Erin put a post on Instagram to see if anyone wanted to swap patches to do some cool mending. She was surprised at the response and set up the swap by matching people as patch pals. This year she had over 400 people join. My patch pal this go-round is Misha, a midwife and dedicated mender who lives in Pittsburgh. My first patch pal was fiber artist Elin in Sweden. We still keep in touch. Then there was Joan in Oregon and Jen in Michigan, both of them exquisite quilters. Anyone who gets me for a pal gets saddled with a complete novice when it comes to sewing and stitchery, for which I apologize profusely. To compensate, I make hand painted patches instead and let the recipients adorn them with their superior needlework skills. It’s a fun event. If you are interested in participating next year, look for @gatherwhatspills on Instagram to find Erin. 


Before darkness set in tonight, we managed to get all the pre-storm jobs finished except for one: filling the pecker pole. I’ll just let you sit with that one for a minute…        

So it turns out that we have a family of pileated woodpeckers that live in our woods. The Pileated are the largest of the woodpeckers in North America, 16-19 inches long, about the size of a crow. Like their smaller cousins, the Pileated bore into wood in search of insects, but they are also very fond of suet in the winter when insects are harder to come by. We have several suet feeders on the front porch. They are four-inch square wire hanging baskets that hold a block or a chunk of suet. Some thrifty folks use an old mesh onion or citrus bag. All methods work fine until you have a foot and a half long Pileated woodpecker with a 30-inch wingspan trying to land, hold on, and eat, five feet in the air. The cats love watching from the kitchen table. In all honesty, it’s quite a sight… but quite a kerfuffle, too. That’s where our neighbor comes in. He peeled a cedar log, drilled a number of holes in it, nailed a perch on the top and a base to the bottom so it would stand up, and voila! The Pecker Pole was born. I cut up suet blocks into nine pieces and push the nuggets into the two-inch deep holes. The Pileated swoop in for a landing as if it were their favorite dead tree. One day all three of the big birds, whom we refer to as Biggins, were on the pole at once. It was magical to watch them. Last winter it was just the woodpeckers that used the pole - the Downy, the Hairy, the Red-Bellied, the Pileated. But over this winter, the crows, starlings, bluebirds and songbirds have all sorted out ways to get beakfuls of the precious suet. There was even a seagull one morning! If the Pileated don’t come soon after I’ve filled the holes, they are out of luck some days. Alas, though, for as I was checking my facts on the length of pileated woodpeckers, I discovered a news article telling us that Avian Flu has been found in a flock of backyard chickens here in Maine. Our hens are a good distance from our front porch wild bird population but the coop is in the forest and our short trail to it passes under an apple tree where birds often bring their sunflower seeds to eat. One more bit of uncertainty enters the picture. What days these are.


Many thanks to Margaret for the brilliant idea of a Plague Journal. What a wonderful project to connect people during the pandemic, offering a place to share the extremes of Covid and how each of us has found hopeful ways to see beyond and cope.  My best to you all in the days ahead.  



Plague Year 2020

K.H.M., an East Kent Village



It was by no means the worst of times in the Dickensian sense as far as I was concerned but COVID did make for loss in several ways. One of the few positives has been the growth of Zoom meetings (a great boom since I am now housebound). This has meant not only that I could listen to lectures that would once have involved a journey to London but an ability to at least see and hear funerals. At the age of 91 these do now crop up quite often. The most salutary benefit of all has been the reminder to be grateful for that which one has received then and now. 


I didn’t catch Covid despite being at risk from those who did have it. This I attribute to a lifetime of chronic sinusitis and the resistance that I might have built up to viruses of all shapes and sizes because of said sinuses being riddled with perforations. Whilst I took all precautions advised when going to long-delayed hospital appointments in London I didn’t do so at home. I always offered those visiting me their own choice of whether to remain masked or not.


I lost 2 friends to the virus, one in a care home kept completely free of it until an inmate was returned there from hospital with it. Two of my friends remain agoraphobic and two have decided to give up driving, having not done so during the pandemic.


My planned 90th birthday party was abandoned. Of interest is one of our local clergy’s opposition to announcing that memorial services would be held later. He thought this was a bad thing as by the time this would be possible relatives would be getting over their loss. On the other hand, when permitted, I gave a luncheon a year later for 30 in memory of one of the two friends who died and found everyone exceeding merry and bright.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

All news on Covid 19 is quiet as it carries on rampant while we wait for the next new variant whenever that will be. Whatever, we have to learn to live with it. I have also got to learn to live with my sciatica pain as it seems that my back is worn out due to my age. I have had treatment on the NHS for physio and a steroid injection and tried osteopathy - all to no avail.


All the news today is focused on Russia invading Ukraine, while Boris Johnson and the conservative government accepts donations to the party from the Russian oligarchs. I have never in my 83 years seen such hypocrisy. For years we have ignored what Israel has been doing to Palestine and all the other world atrocities of war that have been going on for years.  


WHY I ask myself are we embracing the Ukraine refugees while refugees from other countries have been left in dinghies to drown in the sea? or with nowhere to go. I can’t get my head or brain around it. I am not opposed to helping the Ukrainians I just cant help wondering why were other refugees left without help?


People in our own country are suffering the austerity of this government with the lack of decent wages while the Tories are hell bent on keeping themselves rich.


I am so pleased that I am nearing the end of my life as I am so worried for the children born today. It seems to me that the world leaders are hell bent on destroying the world while innocents die.

We are living in very scary times.



Thin air

 John Mole, St Albans


(Vita Sackville-West )


Shuffling through leaves

is not advisable


if they are wet

and you advanced in years


so pick up your feet 

then press them down


with steady purpose

to avoid a fall.


Dry leaves remain

another matter,


innocent and safe

as Startrite shoes


in that exclamation

of childhood pleasure


that a writer’s family

once made their own.


From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

Catching up from the South Downs


Having not written for the Plague Journal for a long time, I’m making a last dash contribution to the final issue about recent events.


Last week our daughter Francesca had her RCA 2020 graduation ceremony in the Royal Albert Hall, two years late. It was a lively and lovely event that marked a coming out of the pandemic triumphantly. Artist Lubaina Himid (currently showing at Tate Modern) was awarded an honorary degree and gave a very wise and interesting speech – apparently, she was called ‘a cultural terrorist’ when she was at the RCA years ago. She read a powerful extract by Alice Walker on her mother’s garden and the ability to grow plants in a stony patch. As a former university lecturer, I must have attended at least thirty graduations, and this one felt exceptionally joyous and positive despite or perhaps even because of all the difficulties the graduates had overcome in having had to leave the RCA studios early and make do with gardens and bedrooms to create their final shows in 2020.


Last spring 2021, my son’s band, Eat Your Own Head, a Norwich band, recorded their first album which is due out imminently. They’ve nobly kept going, practising whenever they could and despite Ben’s move to London. Their first headline gig was booked for a date during the first lockdown and had to be cancelled. Since then though, they’ve picked up the drumsticks and guitars again and have been performing all round the country with many gigs booked through the spring and summer. If you like metal, math rock, prog rock or jazz rock, they are the men for you. Look out particularly, of course, for the amazing drummer with the octopus arms. They get a lot of listens on Spotify – and I do feel they’ve been establishing a following well against the odds with so many stops and starts caused by Covid.


Before the pandemic, Ben began a Postgraduate Certificate in The Teaching Musician at Trinity Laban. The course was supposed to take two years part-time and involved stimulating weekends of presentations at the old Greenwich Naval College. Soon those weekends had to go online and sadly will always be online now. Ben’s course was also delayed by the need to take a placement module. As soon as he got one fixed up, there was another lockdown, and then another, so it’s ended up taking three years but yahoo! he’s completed it on top of working, moving to London and performing in the band. As with the RCA students, I can only admire the tenacity of the Trinity students in keeping going against the odds.


I’m in a small novel writing group of three. We meet once a month. Because one of us has to shield, we’ve had a few of our meetings in the winter in her garden in a big tent with an opening to the Downs. Sitting there with a hot coffee, talking about our reading and sharing our writing, while the birds sing, has been an unexpected high point of lockdowns. We used to meet in an old coffee house in Chichester, which is full of log fires, flowers on the table and has a flavour of eighteenth century coffee houses where writers met. We’re not quite ready to go back indoors but I hope when we do, the coffee house will still be open as so many shops in Chichester have closed since lockdown.


Over the years, sadly, I’ve known a number of people (including students) who have died by suicide. Due to isolation caused by the pandemic, the Samaritans were apparently overwhelmed. I’ve wanted to fundraise for the Samaritans for some time, so I thought my best way would be to ask for sponsorship to write poems at £10 per line (a very high rate for the poetry pound!) with the aim of raising £1000. I’ve raised £1010 and written seven poems exceeding 102 lines as a total. I hadn’t predicted the huge thrill of pleasure I’d get when donations came in – fundraising could get addictive. If anyone here would still like to give, here is the link to my JustGiving site. https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/stephanie-norgate1. But understandably many now will prefer to give their support to the Ukrainian people. 


In Midhurst last week, £60,000 was raised in just a few days for Ukraine Aid Sunflower. On Sunday night, there were prayers in the town square for Ukraine. The vicar prayed too for the drivers of twelve vans who set out from Midhurst packed with supplies for Ukrainian refugees. They’ve made it to the Ukrainian border, unpacked and are nearly home again – 

I’ve been watching their progress on Instagram. They say they are going again soon, as the huge warehouse of supplies they showed on film will be empty within two days such is the need.


A couple of old friends have signed up to take in a Ukrainian family. I feel we should too, but our house is pretty small. Instead, I think of offering to help in other ways such as asking Ukrainians round for supper or helping with form-filling or letter writing. No doubt when they get through the home office barriers, there will still be bureaucracy to encounter in another language. After years of university teaching, I have developed a transferable skill! I seem to be good at forms and letters – so that will be my chosen area of help if needed. 


I grew up hearing about the war all the time, and as a child used to be thankful there was no war and would worry about nuclear war. It seems strange that after a pandemic in which so many have died that any country would wilfully seek to massacre its neighbours. We know some young Russians in London who are devastated by this war and have been protesting against it. I hope younger Russians abroad who are just trying to get the truth out there won’t be penalised for Putin’s actions. Meanwhile everyday, I think of the Ukrainians and the children on the move. It’s so terrible. I’ve always been a pacifist but it’s hard to watch people being slaughtered like this and hard to comprehend how the news in Russian can be so distorted. I wonder what the young soldiers are thinking when they shoot at people in a bread queue or in a hospital. I found myself thinking it wrong not to fight this and defend the Ukrainian people, but I wouldn’t want my son or daughter to have to go to war – so there is the conundrum.


In the news, the war has understandably driven Covid off the front pages, but Covid is still around. I’ve done a little work through the Royal Literary Fund Social Sector projects with some NHS staff on Covid Tales. Coventry and Warwick University Hospitals will be bringing out an anthology of Covid Tales in the late spring. The accounts of the pandemic are fascinating and moving. The telling of the staff’s own stories should make for a powerful social document and record, as this journal does.


Thank you so much Margaret and Sheila for creating this journal and working so hard on it. I always think editorial work is very generous – providing a space and forum for others through personal regular concerted work. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 




From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

One of my first contributions to the journal included quotations from Dickens so my last will be no different. The opening of “A Tale of Two Cities” is well known but the next part of the opening sentence, less often quoted, has much more to say about the times in which we live:

“it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” 


Life has a habit of throwing unexpected spanners in the works, just when you think that things are going reasonably smoothly. We have all adapted to life in the age of covid; we’ve had our vaccines and our boosters, we’ve worn our masks in public and we’ve been cautious about whom we meet. We have listened with incredulity to the antics of our political masters when the rest of us were isolated from our families and even if we don’t forgive them for their indiscretions we would rather just move on.

We now have the twin perils of price inflation and war in Europe. Some of us are in the fortunate position of being able to cope with the former but who knows what the outcome of the tragedy in Ukraine will be. In one way or another we may all have to step up to the mark.  


On top of all the other goings on in the world the particular spanner in the works in this household was a big one! When a keyhole surgical procedure which should be straight forward is followed by catastrophic consequences and months in hospital it changes one’s outlook and one’s relationship with the rest of the world. Emotions and faith in human nature are tested, the ability to reason can veer off track and the inevitable questions of “what if” keep running around in one’s head.


Enough of this melancholia. Pessimism is the enemy of progress and the spring equinox has passed. With the help of our wonderful family and friends around the world we have found inner strengths to cope with critical illness, uncertainty and a long period of rehabilitation. We are optimistic about the future though we know that things will never be quite the same. We are continually adapting to new circumstances in ways that we never imagined and we have to ensure that every day we look forward and not back. We thank all the caring people who have gone the extra mile to give help and support.

I always thought hat Delacroix’s enormous painting, “Liberty Leading the People”, commemorated the French Revolution, (the subject of Tale of Two Cities), but I’ve discovered that I was wrong. Nevertheless at times like this the sentiments it depicts help us to remember the most important things in life.


Best wishes to all who have contributed to the journal and huge thanks to Margaret and Sheila.



A small blackbird

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

I had written for Plague 20, a good long time every week and then every month and then stopped, in September 2021. I must say it was a important support mainly at the beginning of the lockdown. Thank you for the brilliant idea.


Medical review

In September last year, I went for a CT scan for a pain in my left leg. My colleague diagnosed a serious cancer advanced in the abdomen and pelvis. My daughter's colleague, a geneticist of cancer, found me a rather quick appointment in the hospital in Montpellier.

We migrated south.

The treatments started with 4 chemo for the last term of 2021. In a way, it was a good time, I was feeling much better, no pain, energy back, a daily trip on the beach nearby. 

And then on the 19 January, 12 hours surgery, 3 weeks in hospital, no real food. I was feeling so weak. And I am not back into shape, I am working at it.

The worst thing in the hospital was the solitude. 

For the Covid regulation, no visit. Luckily, I was in the Intensive Care and then the Gynecology Department, those two wards allowed visitors an hour a day and just one person. Rob came to visit me very faithfully. Very patient, so much affection. He was providing some food: lovely yoghourts and biscuits. The "natural" food in hospital is absolutely awful. So, I was fed by bottles of 250ml Clinutren Vanilla, 400kcal, Health Science Nestlé (I love it). And I am still having two a day.

My second disease was a stroke on the second week after the operation. Luckly, I was in the corridor of the unit, walking with a nurse. I lost consciousness, and was taken immediately to the vascular-radiology unit who took the clot away. The problem is that I can't drive. Even if I am almost "normal" brain power, some is gone, and getting better with a weekly help from a speech therapist. 

Hélas, the 4-5 cm first tumor is not removable. Let's hope that it could be "controlled" for a time. 


New home

We are buying a 70 m2 flat in Montpellier and selling our house 170 m2 in Blois, it's very exciting. We are reducing the number of furniture, leaving the ones too big for the new owners. I have done a good "pruning" of my personal things. Rob will have more difficulties, his possessions are books, and many. He is doing it for the moment, and in good spirit.  


Care and affection

Our two children are each of them in different ways are helping us a lot with so much care and affection. That what's count. My two sisters came for few days, a lot of love and peace in my heart. Some of my friends come and visit me from the Touraine. So generous. 


That what's is important, the thousands of proofs of love.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

The 24th of February changed all – the Cold War is back and turned into a hot one. The war in Ukraine is horrendous, unbelievable, causing millions to have to flee and going to have effects worldwide. My nation committed the worst atrocities beyond imagination in the twentieth century, now we are partly financing a dictator`s mad military activities as we are heavily dependent on Russian oil and gas. 


There is a wave of solidarity with all the refugees, there are the sanctions against Russia. My students went to a huge demonstration for peace, we teachers donated, there is not much more possible than trying to welcome the people and give them shelter.


Corona does not fade out, we have now got the highest incidences ever (1607 on average), with BA.2 sharply on the rise. Despite that and the relatively low vaccination rate (75,7%), almost all restrictions are supposed to be lifted after Sunday, March 20th. Only masks shall remain mandatory, but just on public transport and in hospitals as well as nursing homes. Regular testing and masks in schools are supposed to slowly be abolished in April and May.


Ole and I had a holiday last week. We visited our mothers, went to an open air museum, to a Zoo and on a treetop trail (see photo) in the forest – the sunny and cold weather was very good for outdoor activities. We also met close friends and played with them and their children. Now we are back at our desks, I am preparing lessons for next week, Ole has by now been working from home for half a year and will not be back in his office until May. 


I wish everyone participating in this wonderful project peace, good health and all the best, especially Margaret and Sheila – thank you very much for launching this journal and encouraging us all to write during the last two years!