Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden


Yes, it is really strange times. Covid-19 is still an issue here: we have 42 patients in our Corona wards at Uppsala University Hospital, and 4 Covid-patients in ICU. Our youngest daughter Clara tested positive on Tuesday and takes lots of paracetamol to be able to continue studying. The last days have been cold but no snow.

The picture is from 3 weeks ago from the street where we live. On that day, a patient who had been discharged from my ward was again brought back to hospital because her driver said they had received order not to drive to the village where she lived! Fortunatly, there was a room available at the patient hotel, since her hospital bed had already been taken. One of our best friends went to Kiev to support her old sickly parents who live in central Kiev. It is hard to believe that we have a war again in Europe.



From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

I could never have imagined that this journal would go on as it has for two years. It has been such an anchor, a comfort, a mirror into many lives all touched and shaped by a frightening virus. And while things are getting better here in upstate Hudson Valley New York, there are still people dying of Covid ~ my son’s 66 year old unvaccinated brother-in-law for one, who lived with his wife in Tennessee passed away after a short illness just a few weeks ago. Good kind people who are evangelical, voted for Trump and perhaps still think the whole epidemic is just a conspiracy and untrue. Many friends of mine have families who are divided about being vaccinated. Even though it is no longer mandated, I always wear a mask when I go inside any public space, still haven’t eaten out in a restaurant and still pretty much stay at home rather than go visiting or exploring the little towns I usually enjoy. I know if I am exposed to someone who is positive, I most likely would only have mild symptoms and recover in a relatively short time, but I am still not quite ready to risk it.


I am grateful that spring is slowly approaching this part of the country and looking forward to being in the garden again. My new book is almost finished being bound and I am enjoying delightful anticipation now that all the planning and work on my part is behind me.  


But now, when it appears that the pandemic is easing, we have such worries for Ukraine and for the wonderful people with their rich culture and history, and heartache for all those who have been forced to defend themselves and risk their lives as this conflict continues. I do not understand it, nor why it seems so difficult for people to live side by side in peace ~ not just on a large scale, but in my own country where people are still divided and feeling very angry over numerous issues.


Saying good-bye to everyone and our wonderful editors, Margaret and Sheila is not easy ~ I wish everyone well, old and young alike, and want to thank you for sharing your lives. It has been a wonderful project to be a part of and I will most certainly miss you all.


Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

Writing my piece for the Plague Journal has always been, for me, a moment of reflection. But what to say in one’s last journal entry? A kind of summing up in needed I suppose but I find myself rather mournful when I reflect on these two long years. In so many ways they are lost years. I feel somewhat starved of adventures; so many plans have been cancelled. There has been so little interaction with others - in person. So little time with my family and friends and most particularly my grandchildren.


I try to console myself with memories of our good times during two years of Covid - the long walks in Bristol; using zoom for Book Club and the Art History course, for play reading and Weaving courses. The week of indigo dyeing was so satisfying when it finally happened. Earlier this month Dianne and Jeremy were able to visit again and we had a wonderfully sociable week - a delayed welcome to the new year and a celebration of Jeremy’s 70th birthday. We walked by the sea, ate fish and chips, played a variety of board games and just laughed and talked. I come from a large family that talks a lot and descends to laughter easily. Laughter - I need it and have missed it.


I am generally optimistic and the positive part of me tries to make the best of what we do have. Last week my three sisters got together in Florida. I would normally fly over to join them but my planned visit for 2020 was of course cancelled and this year I still wasn’t ready to risk it. So instead, we all got together on zoom twice during last week. Lots of laughs, but not the same. I have to remind myself to “ embrace what is possible”.


Looking ahead I would like to envisage a return to normal life. But it is unlikely. Case numbers are high. Simon is still at risk. Will the need to isolate and live cautiously continue - our world still diminished? Yes, probably. I wish I were more hopeful.


But I don’t want to finish this last entry without a tremendous thank you to Margaret and Sheila. We all know what a remarkable achievement it has been for them to gather so many voices under one banner to allow us to chronicle two extraordinary years. And now we hear that the British Library has also realised what a significant contribution to national life, to social history, the Plague Journal has been, and is. Thank you.


Bristol Calling

Simon Davies, Bristol

This week I was back in Bristol where two years ago I experienced the first lockdown but at least we knew then that it would only be thirteen weeks. 


What has been very tantalising was to have my favourite actor, Mark Rylance, in my favourite theatre, The Bristol Old Vic, in a well received play, Dr Semmelweis. The Guardian called it “a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions”. The nineteenth century Jewish doctor works out that the reason the labour ward run by doctors has many more deaths than the ward run by midwives is because the doctors have carried infection from their other patients. The tragedy is that he is ignored. To have a play just now about the importance of washing your hands seems particularly apt.


The theatre is just about to put on “Sorry You’re Not a Winner” by Samuel Bailey. It is about the tension that may arise between your education and your background. We had planned to see his first play, “Shook”, which won several awards but we were just a few Covid days too late.


I tried to get a picture of the inside of the theatre which is the only original part but they were rehearsing so I had to content myself with the new entrance which I do think is quite exciting and different.


I find it so hard to achieve the balance between sensible Covid precautions and longed for normal life.I listened to Radio 4’s Inside Health this week in which people who had Long Covid were interviewed a year on. It sounded ghastly. So I look at the case figures when they are coming down and tell myself I only need to wait a few more weeks and meeting people will be acceptably safe. This was my position when I chose not to join Mary when Jean, our friend from Melbourne, and her daughter were in Bristol. I was really sorry to miss out on that. Now the cases are going up again so it turns out to have been a window missed that I could have clambered through.


We have been out of circulation for so long that some of the films we failed to see two years ago are coming on Freeview television. Thus we were able to enjoy The Souvenir directed by Joanna Hogg. When one of the characters dies they quote Christina Rossetti. A couple of lines seemed to me gloriously accepting. I felt that they could equally apply to the end of a journal.


      And if thou wilt, remember 

      And if thou wilt, forget.



Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

Today Covid gets little mention on media platforms as, rightfully, the war perpetrated by Russia on Ukraine is dominating the news. Instead of a life overshadowed by a deadly virus our thoughts are with the Ukrainian people and how we can help or host refugees fleeing bombed out homes… as and when our government enables us to help. 


The Plague 20 journal is focused on our reflections of living life during the Covid-19 pandemic. So, I’d like to finish on a subject that has exercised and saddened me throughout the last two years, namely, life in UK care homes since March 2020; although I can only write about my aunt’s and my experiences. In March 2020, the government ordered the mass discharge of hospital patients who no longer needed nursing care, so called bed blockers. These patients were decanted into care homes. Many arrived with hospital-acquired Covid. The result was that almost 50,000 people died from the virus in care homes. Ever since then the government has tried to deflect the focus from care home deaths and re-write itself as chief protector of care home residents. In actuality it has imprisoned residents like Barbara for two years and there is no end in sight.


In these last two years, Barbara and I endured window visits, garden visits, pod visits and, most popular, no visits. Yet, restrictive government regulations have not prevented Covid being brought into care homes by staff or sometimes by visitors. At a time when the virus was affecting one third of care homes, the government decided there would be no limit on the number of visits to residents in care homes from February 2022. The result is that currently 25 residents in my aunt’s care home have Covid, Barbara included. Sadly, one has died. On the plus side, most residents who have tested positive are asymptomatic. All residents and the majority of the staff have been vaccinated and the virus is less deadly than earlier variants.


The world outside care homes has, for those living in the UK, been freed from Covid restrictions which seems to have only succeeded in increasing the level of the virus in the community. Meanwhile, life inside Barbara’s home goes on with full precautions. Staff and visitors wear masks, throwaway plastic aprons and gloves. Visitors must take Lateral Flow Tests before arrival. Until two weeks ago we were also given a PCR test as well. Temperatures are taken, appointments must be booked and visitor forms completed prior to each visit. From the beginning of April free testing is to be abandoned. However, visitors to care homes will still be required to take a LFT prior to each visit and will be asked to pay. Current estimates are that these tests will cost upwards of £5 each. On principal I strongly object to paying to see my aunt. 


Barbara has not been allowed to touch, hug, kiss or even sit within two metres of me for two years. It has taken its toll on us both. Today Barbara talks a lot about dying; unsurprisingly she feels detached from life. Her care home opens and shuts in seemingly equal measures as staff test positive, leaving residents isolated and confused. When a resident tests positive, the care home shuts for fourteen days; if more residents test positive, the clock is restarted. Dear Boris, your regulations are not working. If the virus is milder and people living in care homes are fully vaccinated, why is Barbara still incarcerated? Despite the UK government’s rhetoric, Covid has not run its course. There is no herd immunity.  


Humans seem determined to self-destruct. The eradication of animal habitats has led to man and animal living closer together causing generation after generation of SARS type viruses to breed. Collectively we are heating up the planet to uninhabitable temperatures. All the agreed commitments at the COP 26 conference last November are being ignored as Russia reigns war on innocent populations. 


What more can we come up with?  Oh yes, why not give a knighthood to the fireplace salesman of 2007. A clueless Minister who was sacked from both ministries he governed. That will cheer us all up.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Two years ago I remember thinking, 'at least there is something on the news beside Brexit'. During the last two years the pandemic has never been off the news and has overshadowed Brexit, climate change and conflict around the world. Conversations have always been interlaced with worries about how we and the rest of the world are handling the situation and how vulnerable we feel personally. Now all restrictions are being lifted and many of us don't feel ready to take that step. I can understand that we have to learn to live with Covid and we can't put our lives on hold forever. However we are still learning about new aspects of the disease and how it is affecting people long term and that is concerning. And now the terrible situation in Ukraine is dominating the news.


Today the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the butterflies and bees are out in the garden working hard. I have set my sweet pea seeds, hoping for a mass of glorious colour and scent to enjoy later on. We had a wonderful Spring two years ago which made the first Lockdown more bearable for those of us lucky enough to be able to walk in the countryside or explore the towns and cities we lived in. Only three of our close family members, out of fifteen, have had Covid and none have been badly affected. We are very lucky. Our youngest son’s partner who is recovering at the moment sent me a message to say she has now tested negative. She then corrected her message to say she meant positive. I realised that positive used to be a good thing and negative a bad thing so I can understand her confusion.


Our third son and his wife are still able to work from home which they have chosen to do. Our daughter-in -law has health issues so they are being extra careful. They are coming up to visit on Saturday and we will all take tests before they come. While they are here they will meet up with our second son and his family for the first time in two years. They are going to take their nephew and nieces out for a treat to get to know them again. I can’t help feeling nervous and I expect they are too. 


We have just returned from a very sociable and relaxing visit to our good friends Mary and Simon in Devon. Just what we all needed. Physical social contact with friends as well as more casual social contact is very important to me. I am the one who organises our social life and I like to have plans to look forward to. Luckily, although Jeremy would be happy to stay at home working on projects in his workshop, he is also happy to up sticks and be part of whatever I have arranged! So I am organising, we are testing and we are getting on with our lives. Sometimes life seems back to normal.  


With love and best wishes to everyone who has taken part in this amazing project and special thanks to Margaret and Sheila. I have enjoyed reading about your experiences during this mad time.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

I find it hard to believe that this is my last entry in the journal. It’s been a long journey that has continued so much longer than I, and probably many others, would have thought possible. It’s been a privilege - it really has - to contribute a small morsel or two towards a record that is now destined for the august archives of the British Library! None of this would have happened without the vision and work of Margaret and Sheila, and of course all those others who have penned so very many words.


So where am I now, and where is our world, as the plague continues and other existential threats hang over humanity? I find I am tempted only to utter the words, “God knows!”, because I don’t consider I know anything really sensible. I once lived with a degree of certainty in my life. Now perhaps I realise the only certainty is chaos. Such chaos seems to contain within it a dichotomy between that which may promote life, and that which may end it for all of us. I suppose I am thinking that good and evil are both alive and well in our world, and that the present state of things has made this much more evident than in the recent past. This perceived situation has changed my thinking vastly, and I think it has also changed me as a person. I used to believe that redemption was a possibility for all – even those who have committed the most heinous of acts. Now I doubt that proposition. I believe in good with all my heart, but note that it so often that seems to grow only when evil has to some extent already ploughed its furrow. I think we have seen this phenomenon throughout the pandemic, and also now through war and terrible violence. I am more easily cynical than in the past.


In my personal life this has been a wonderful time in so many ways. Best beloved is at the centre of my life. I find my relationship with her so very enriching. She has taught me much – not least how to cope with a transformed world. I hope that some of the enrichment has passed the other way too, and that we together, and sometimes not together, are the better for it. We may not be formally married, but even so I think that only death may be the parting of us. We are both hoping for a few happy years yet!


It seems slow, but we appear to be moving towards an increase in social contact. For best beloved and myself this is a step by step process. I have moved the faster of the two of us for a number of good reasons. The first big step involved the journal, and a visit to Norfolk for the garden party chez Sheila and Margaret - what beautiful homes! It was a delight to meet in person several journalistas and their partners. My second big step involved going on a cruise, which was great, although I think another cruise on my own is not on any future agenda. The Mediterranean was lovely, but I love to share, and that couldn’t really happen.


Well, what can I say about the whole journal experience! It has been a wonderful part of my life. Having tried to join Mass Observation, which initially seemed to be starting up to fully cover the pandemic, I met total failure. I filled in an online form, and then – guess what - nothing happened! The old scholars group from a certain school (St. Chris) somehow pointed me towards Margaret and Sheila, and their wonderful initiative. It was so good to be able to start writing, and also to read of others’ personal experiences of a novel world. Gradually a sense of community built in myself. Curiously there were others too, and I know of one personal fan, namely ‘J’ from near Southampton, who has been a loyal reader, and sometime critic. I won’t mention other contributors by name, but I feel I know so many of you quite well. It’s been a delight, and I hope that some of us may keep in touch for a long time ahead. We don’t necessarily all see things the same way, but common experience has been accompanied by wonderful reflection from so many. From that I have learned so much – so thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


New and renewed activity has figured in my life. Music, always important, has moved to the centre, with several live performances now under my belt – the first since the 1960s! That’s a gain for me from the time of plague. Walking remains a pleasure, often an experience shared with best beloved. The beach hut is there too – a surprise delight that has also brought the opportunity for hard and happy labour.


You know – so many thoughts are running through my head as I write today. War is close and terrifying, and I worry for all of our families and the future. The plague has faded in the fickle media. What is to come next – a worrying question! Through all the ghastliness in the world it does seem that certain human qualities can shine through. Despite worry I am an optimist, because respectful love (caritas) will surely prevail. Many blessings and love to all who may read this…



Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

“It is not always easy to say where we are from; meanwhile, as an individual, I haven’t much to say.


Time is standing still; there are no eggs to be found anywhere.


My inner self is saying careful now, careful but rejoicing nonetheless; I will write of my feelings because they have led the way; I hear you and am sending my energy …”


I wanted to choose a quote from everyone, but settled on these few, picked at random which, linked together, speak of our past times but could also be written now by those embattled in Ukraine.


In my last entry I facetiously wrote ‘exeunt January literally pursued by a Bear’. I thought it was just posturing. We lurch from one once inconceivable scenario to another. We’re getting good at journals because we have television correspondents in the thick of it as our role models. The best of them usually end with something enigmatic on which to ponder. 


So I will end with a quote from ‘Lessons in Survival’ by the great Oxford Poet, Peter Scupham, “survival is mostly a matter of oversight… a person like you, a person like me, must contrive to find butter, but not too much jam…”


Thank you to everyone for sharing your news, your doubts, your joys and your friendship. It’s been the most nutritious jam sandwich ever! Thank you Margaret and Sheila for serving them up! XX