Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

The soundtrack to this week has been birdsong and lawn mowers! I cannot believe that the clocks are about to spring forward or that Easter weekend is imminent!


Speaking of clocks, the country clock which ceased to measure time at the end of January has now been taken to clock hospital where because of a backlog we are informed it may take a year before it is restored! We could have agreed to a 20% of the total cost premium to have it returned in three months but felt that as time continues to be somewhat unimportant we would just go with the flow.


The Matriarch will return to Liverpool on Monday with my husband and brother each driving half the distance between us and bundling Mum like a hostage between cars when they meet at a suitable loo stop! It will be so strange without her but we are all looking forward to change. Mum is looking forward to her own garden, my husband is looking forward to seasoning food a little more adventurously again and I am looking forward to a spring cleaning spectacular alongside Weekly Angel who is due to resume normal duties immediately after Easter. 


This week we had a practice run with visitors... coffee and cinnamon buns... much choreography. It was so good to see them and all went well but we found it exhausting that two conversations were happening simultaneously... we wanted to be part of both!



From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

I couldn't bring myself to write in the anniversary issue last week because, on Wednesday, Francis had a very high fever and a sore throat and the thought that he might have covid paralysed me. I was on the way home from rehearsal when he texted and told me of his symptoms and that he was going to be tested and thought it better if we didn't meet the following day as we'd arranged. We had to wait three days until Saturday evening until the test result came through: the longer we waited the more I became convinced that it would be positive and he became convinced that it wouldn't. He was right and he seems now to have made a more or less complete recovery. The night we had his test result my father, disturbed from his eternal rest for the umpteenth time to appear in my dreams, told me that he had finally learnt to drive (he never did). I needed to go somewhere and, to demonstrate his new skill, he insisted on driving me there. At the fork at the end of my road he started to turn left towards Isleworth but I said that we needed to go the other way towards Richmond. He duly turned right and I realised that, though he could now manage the mechanics of driving, he had no idea where we were going and I was going to have to direct him. We'd been going 200yards or so when I realised that I had forgotten the purpose of our journey and had no more idea where we were going than he had. It seemed extraordinarily pleasant to be driving together perhaps forever, with neither purpose or direction. Just as John Underwood woke last week with 'Jesus shines with a clear pure light', I woke with Larkin's “What will survive of us is love”. 


I have done three days rehearsal on The House of the Dragon so far and enjoyed them immensely. We are tested every day and each have a sofa of our own for social distancing. We have to work with iPads instead of paper scripts, nothing to do with covid this, and we all hate it. My battery went flat in the middle of a scene. Preposterous. 


I've also been rehearsing Aguecheek in Twelfth Night on zoom. It's on YouTube on Sunday March 28th. Here's the link - https://.youtu.be/M9hggce4mRU


Thanks so much Margaret and Sheila for the opportunity to contribute to this wonderful project over the last year and I've loved reading everyone's contributions. xx


Midwife 42

Emma, NZ

I am remiss in my duty. I was generously asked to contribute for the anniversary of this fine journal - and I did not see the the email until too late... it's not the first time I've missed a deadline and I'm sure not the last. 


Sitting in the comfort of my Kiwi home, cats demanding to be let out through any door other than the one specifically built for them, children complaining that it's getting too cold to swim at school and the husband making last calls for laundry before the machine goes on, I find myself feeling somewhat embarrassed at our absolute return to normality. 


We are at the end of summer, evenings are drawing in and walking the dog as the stars start pinking out gives me pause for thought. All of my family, and that of my husbands, is in the UK, we have many friends that are frontline workers in hospitals and we have been watching closely from a distance. At times shocked and heartbroken at what seems such a cavalier attitude from the government, watching numbers climb, fall, and climb higher again. Saddened and angered by the attitudes of some towards the NHS - does it really take living away from free healthcare to see how utterly wonderful that most British of public services is? 


And yet despite our consternation - life continues apace. Babies are being born in record numbers - we have now seen the end of the 'Quarenteenies', a bump in the birth numbers caused by lockdown, and the maternity ward is currently lousy with twins - maybe there's something in the water? 

The boy has grown a metre - surely - and apparently he has the feet of a hobbit - enormous, hairy and never in shoes. Its quite customary here for people to wander around shoeless - supermarkets, banks, - and hoping that primary school children will ever have them on is pointless. 

The girl - in full teen mode - spends her day shrugging, rolling her eyes, and in a permanent state nonchalance, only removing her headphones on pain of death at supper time. 


And yet still - with every interminable wait in a coffee shop, every hug of a friend at the end of night out, every bustling school assembly, and packed lecture hall - I am conscious that we are incredibly lucky to live on this tiny island at the bottom of the world; led by a compassionate and decisive woman, inhabited with a population that is happy to hunker down to protect its neighbours. 

We may be little but we are most certainly fierce.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Last Saturday afternoon, I drove up to Manchester to visit my mother and stepfather. I hadn’t seen them since October, and had decided that whatever the rules may say, I wanted to go and say hello and see them in person. A two hour drive, and then we sat in the conservatory for an hour whilst I drank a cup of tea and we chatted about family, friends, food and wine. They are both still mentally very alert, and much brighter than they were back in the winter months, but are both becoming more unsteady on their feet. Their combined age is over 180, so I guess they are not doing too badly. But when I left it felt awkward and unnatural that I wasn't able to hug my mother and give her a kiss.

At work I am busy filing statutory accounts and tax returns in advance of the 31st March deadline. There is some excitement over the possibility that our total sales for the present year might actually catch and overtake our turnover for last year, despite the collapse in sales last April and May. We’ll know the outcome late afternoon on the 31st.


And looking at dates, I am writing this on 25th March, Feast of the Annunciation, and therefore only nine months to Christmas. Do we dare hope that by Christmas we will be back to normal? I’m not so sure.


Last week I mentioned the cherry blossom in the garden, so here is a photo that Sarah took during the week.



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

This week was filled with sad and good news. A distant but dearly loved relative has passed away. I am sad but grateful for his long life. His grandfather was the brother of my great-grandfather and emigrated to Australia in the late nineteenth century. Unfortunately, the familes lost touch after the First World War. Due to Ken´s (my relative) initiative, when he was searching for family members in Germany in 1986, my family gained a lot of relatives in Australia. This resulted in several visits on both sides, lots of letters and on the whole a closeness despite the enormous distance. I am sure we will keep in touch with his wife and children.


The very good news is the confirmation of an appointment for a vaccination of my mother on Good Friday, a couple of weeks before she is going to turn eighty. Easter is generally supposed a time when life in Germany comes to a halt this year according to the government, which had planned some extra days off. As there were huge protests by the economy, this plan had to be reversed. Nonetheless, we are in a massive third wave, and the numbers of infections are constantly rising.


Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

It is Friday and in the media it has been a week of looking back at a year that has taken so many lives and changed so many lives. Not much good news to lift the spirits.


I have looked for light relief in simple things this week. Just the fact the hens are returning to their hen house slightly later each day is a sign the days are getting longer and this weekend the clocks spring forward an hour, ensuring lighter evenings. The peregrines, who have laid two eggs at Norwich Cathedral, have been circling on the air currents high above Eaton this week, their distinctive cries making me look up.


I enjoyed a walk on Wednesday with a friend who is a keen forager. She has been making nettle cordial and her enthusiasm has inspired me. This afternoon I took myself off to the woods beside the golf course and wearing my cotton gardening gloves to avoid stings, filled a carrier bag with young, fresh nettle tops. These have now been washed and are seeping in boiled water, sugar and citric acid. I will stir them once a day for a week before straining the cordial. It was a very relaxing activity, picking the nettle tops for half an hour with just bird song and my own thoughts for company and the distant sound of children at a playground nearby.


The first set of restrictions are being lifted on Monday and the chance, weather permitting, to have company in the garden (6 people max) sounds positive. Time to make a cake, or open a bottle... nettle cordial perhaps?... 


Good wishes to all.


Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

Forced to stay in one place, we have been reclaiming the vegetable garden. How I wish I had taken a photo of the patch before Simon began to dig out the jungle it had become. Somehow over the past decade we had abandoned this bit of garden which in the past had a fruit cage full of currant bushes and room to grow several rows of green vegetables and a wigwam of sweet peas.


With a Herculean effort Simon removed two young trees and then cut through weedy foliage, finding wire mesh from the former fruit cage, bits of fence erected some years back to repel rabbits, and all manner of abandoned garden paraphernalia - even a large piece of carpet we had put down to suppress weeds but now was stuck to the ground by brambles.


So now we have begun to plant. The Totnes Market, confined by present restrictions to food and plants, has an organic garden stall. Simon bought two gooseberry and three currant bushes. I bought early peas, broad beans and perpetual spinach. The peas are now in and following the advice of Alys Fowler in The Guardian, I have placed holly leaves round them to repel hungry mice. The other vegetables will go in this week. Yesterday evening I sprayed the patch with Nematodes (bought online) to suppress the slugs. We may not manage to avoid loss to deer, rabbits, mice and birds but for the moment it feels very positive.



Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

We own two houses, one small in Vermont where we’ve been for the last year, and one large in Ithaca, New York, most famous for Cornell University. We moved to Ithaca from Vermont for Barbara to teach at Ithaca College, and lived there for almost twenty years. Which is enough time to accumulate a lot of books. I have my mother’s books, most of which I still can’t bear to get rid of, and all the books that I bought thinking I’d know what was in them if I owned them and then I’d be self-confident about teaching whatever it was I thought I ought to know: literary criticism and cartooning, to name a couple of subjects. Little is more boring than reading literary criticism, so the books line the shelves, along with books about God that I don’t read, and books about Travelers and how to juggle and do cats cradle that I do read. And many other subjects.


Now we’re selling the house in Ithaca, which has lovely huge and sturdy bookcases full of books, and so we are sorting and trying to preemptively discard books in Vermont so we’ll have room to bring more books back from Ithaca. But what to do with the collected works of Dickens, which should be worth a fortune but isn’t, and whose print is tiny. Ditto, the collected works of George Eliot, the book about William Shakespeare’s curses that a student gave me, and and and. At the moment in Vermont we’re surrounded by boxes of books and shelves made from planks of pine that are collapsing. Barbara has found books she wants to keep, and I’m determinedly discarding any books that relate to teaching I’m no longer ever never going to do. But I find myself holding on to books about adolescence, hoping to understand something about myself and everyone else. And cookbooks. Each book contains at least one recipe I’d like to try. And there are all my mother’s art books that I’m grateful I held on to, now I’m painting. And this isn’t to talk about Barbara’s books from childhood, and books that I read as a child and bought so I could hold on to a fragment of childhood memory. We save those and the collected works of Dick Francis which I reread when life is challenging.  

It’s not a bad process really. There are treasures to be found, and treasures to be given up. Like the book on Taaniko, Maori hand-weaving, which is beautiful and reminds me of how much I love New Zealand, and which gives simple blow by blow instructions. My friend Daphne is interested in weaving and I have always known I don’t have the patience or mathematical skills for it. That book has a new home. I tried to palm off two Elaine Pagels books on another friend but she wasn’t having any. It’s hard to find good homes for books. But we persevere.


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk UK

After last week's bumper edition I noticed that there is a bit of space for me this week. Well, the sun is shining here, a bit chilly but it's good to be able to get things done in the garden, sow some seeds in the greenhouse and generally tidy up and get ready for when the frosts have passed and I can get on with some planting out.

Chris has built me a fabulous netted cage to keep all the varmints off my plants. There are some raised beds in there and a separate sweet pea raised bed outside. We have numerous varmints around here: pheasants, guinea fowl, chickens and deer. All are guilty in the past of destroying things I have lovingly grown from seed and planted out - it's so dispiriting! Rabbits don't get a chance these days as C built a fabulous fence all around my best bit of garden. Anyway, I am champing at the bit as I am going to have a cutting garden this year for the first time ever. 

I will also employ some cast iron hay racks (that C has kindly renovated) as strawberry planters, thinking that the varmints won't be able to peck at the fruits if they are wall hanging. We'll see...

Inside the house I have a vase of colourful supermarket tulips which are bringing a lot of pleasure. Tip: a friend told me the other day that if you put copper coins in the water it stops the tulips from drooping. I found some large copper staples in a delivered parcel and have put those in the water. Did it once and the tulips didn't droop. Was that a fluke? This is the second lot and they're looking pretty upright so far. Fingers crossed...