Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
Wednesday 17th March
Such beautiful weather today, I actually did some gardening. I cut back a lot of dead stalks, made sure any emerging buds could see the light, and had a general tidy up. So nice to be out in the sunshine with only the chirping of the birds for company, and occasional chitchat with Graham.
Walking back home from the allotment the world felt more normal than it has for ages. Groups of children were playing on the common and some older lads were playing football. Amazing to think it was a year ago that the theatres closed their doors. Tomorrow I have my first jab. Despite all their failings on lots of other things the government has been very organised and efficient with the roll out of the ‘vaccine’.
Don’t you think that the royal family has shot itself in the foot with regard to Meghan and Harry? They are much more relatable, young and modern. The world is more integrated, accessible and tolerant than it’s ever been, but certainly doesn’t always feel that way.
When Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952, both men and women could be hung for murder. It was a criminal offence to be homosexual. Abortions were illegal and young girls were forced to give up their babies for adoption rather than bring ‘shame’ on their families by having a child out of wedlock. The world has changed. Why shouldn’t a prince be able to marry a woman he loves? Charles did, in the end. They keep saying the word ‘family’ in the press statements, there are no private family matters for them, everything is picked apart and over analysed by the tabloids. No one can survive that much press intrusion, no one’s skin is that thick. Meghan and Harry performed their duties for the establishment. Is the royal family relevant now? We all love the ceremony, tradition and pageantry, but if it costs the people involved their voice, independent goals and peace of mind is it worth it? Two revelations stood out for me from the interview with Oprah, Meghan asked for help and didn’t receive any. Harry was denied protection. That is not how you support members of your family. I hope they have a wonderful life in America.
I see the tour operators are giving it the hard sell on the tv adverts, trying to get families to book summer holidays abroad. It all feels a bit too soon. I wonder what it will be like when the pubs and bars finally open? A bottle of wine will seem so expensive!
What a year! Thankfully I still have a job, and am looking forward to doing wedding flowers maybe soon?
Keep well and safe everyone xxxxxxxxxx
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
A recent feature of the last few months of lockdown has been the increasing number of disappearing dogs (sometimes cats), stolen usually or, in a very few instances, absconded. Almost daily images of pooches with beseeching eyes gaze out from social media platforms to register another sorrow on top of the pandemic human cost. Are these creatures the embodiment of Covid souls that are missing or ‘stolen’ from the lives of many families?
One big aspect of the past year (is it really a whole year people ask?) has been the surge and fall of coronavirus infection and deaths. It is not something one becomes complacent about. In fact staying focussed has been paramount, being as alert as a dog is a good thing, wearing muzzles, no, masks at all times, washing hands (even if one has not been anywhere), disinfecting the shopping, and so on. All this tension, and yet it has also been a year of extreme peacefulness which I have welcomed. I was going to say ‘quietness’ but that is incorrect for I am a tinnitus sufferer. I will remember this year for suffering an increased high pitch noise similar to an incessant dog whistle. All the time. Sometimes I think I would welcome a barking dog register just for a change!
My brother informed me the other day that he has just acquired a second dog, same species as his original dog which is getting on now. It is best to train in a younger version, to avoid that eventual period between loss and a new friend and most important, admirer. My brother is now like ‘a dog with two tails’! In fact it is a case of puppy love! I wonder how many words for love canines have? 300? 500?
Walking around Wymondham has become less interesting as time has gone on (familiarity hasn’t quite reached contempt yet). I am noticing the proliferation of doggy bags (the toilet sort) spilling out of bins or occasionally lying on the path or worse, the dog excrement itself. I wonder what will happen eventually to dogs when people go back to work (like a dog). Will everyone go back? Is this the end of offices? If dogs are locked up in the (dog) house all day they might develop behavioural problems.
Humans in lockdown have suffered too and puppy sales have rocketed as dogs are ‘a man’s best friend’ in times of need plus you have to take that well-being walk every day which is allowed under restrictions. Those of us who love cats have the comforting and less energetic charm of stroking away our fearful thoughts or there are self help programmes on the internet. The NHS advert has a man reading a book in which he makes notes. This is about ‘managing’ your mental health problems. I didn’t see a dog in the video.
Reading is the must have remedy for lockdown blues and I have been lucky to have at my disposal 125 translated novels from across the world. (George is one of the judges for the Booker International Prize). I have read so many great books (only one so far has a dog in it, alas) so while we have been forbidden to travel abroad I have gone to many countries in my mind and had a richly cultural time there.
‘Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war! Julius Caesar’s words. A year ago people were left feeling fearful and a rising panic led to the stripping of food from supermarket shelves while a dithering shellshocked cabinet, who compared the situation to war, were on the back foot when it came to obtaining PPE equipment and organising the testing and tracing of the ‘enemy’ virus. I can recall feeling angry and scared but also realising the difficulty of handling the challenges set by a fast moving new pandemic.
There is a call this week for an immediate investigation into the handling of the pandemic by the Government but the scientists believe we should concentrate on the vaccine rollout.
The joy we all feel at the vaccine success is the flag flying on the warship mast and so proudly too. “Every dog must have its day’ (Gulliver’s Travels) and for now we are looking forward with puppy excitement to the day we can mix with family, friends and the odd dog or two, a Charles Spaniel maybe?
A Wymondham plaguery
George Szirtes, Wymondham, Norfolk
Plague Year Summary, 19 March 2021
It’s a year now and though it is over, nothing is over. My chief activities were writing a daily poem throughout (ten lines, meaning three haikus and one five-syllable line for those who are interested in that kind of thing), reading 125 books for the International Booker and engaging in a great variety of other associated bookish things: in other words life much as usual.
The physical deprivations have been few since where I am sitting now is where I spend most of my life, but some of them have been intense. Our son’s marriage took place in London with two witnesses who filmed the brief registry ceremony and sent it to us. The birth of their first child, a boy called Finn, was celebrated with more photos and one blessed meeting the day before the third lockdown. Our daughter and her husband live in Norwich and their young children have been in frequent contact by Zoom or Skype or one of the other things that shrink us - and our friends - down to screen size.
They shrink the world too. I have never done so much virtual jet setting. It certainly cancels the necessity of travelling on trains and planes and may eventually cancel some planes entirely. It is, after all, an era of cancel culture.
From my window onto the yard I have seen leaves stand as still as statues and be bowed under the flagellations of rain and wind. Blackbirds have built nests and hatched chicks that have flown. A straggling neurotic procession of blackbirds, sparrows, pigeons, blue tits, great tits, and jackdaws have looked in, some to nibble at the feeders we put out.
The street has stood in its various doorways to clap the NHS then slowly stopped clapping. We have walked the six possible shorter walks round Wymondham in most conditions through Toll’s Meadow and cemetery, down Lady’s Lane and up the site of the old leper hospital, The Lizard. We have seen empty buses proceed down their routes like motorised zombies. We have walked past the estate agent where there was a Covid death, the man’s youthful bearded face smiling at us from tribute pictures in the window. We have met and stopped to talk to friends, neighbours and acquaintances in the street, masked and a couple of yards apart.
We have watched films and discussed them with friends on screen, we have watched football matches including our local Norwich City on TV by virtue of our prepaid season tickets. We will be getting season tickets for next season too, quite possibly in the Premier League as things stand.
On the very nice side the book I wrote about my mother won some prizes that I couldn’t collect in person, and it was broadcast on radio all this week, ending today. Some of the books I have read for the Booker have been marvellous and a couple are probably great books. The long list is done but not to press yet. Friends have written and sent books to read. If books were houses we’d own an entire small town.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I received my first vaccination on Monday of this week, the Oxford AstraZeneca jab, and suffered not even the mildest side effects. Amidst all the noise emanating from mainland Europe about the safety and efficacy of this vaccine, it is always worth remembering that AZ are selling their vaccine at cost (around £2 per jab) whereas Pfizer are making a very healthy profit (selling at between £15 to £20). Perhaps Pfizer use some of the fantastic profits they are making out of the pandemic to spend money on lobbying Brussels not to suspend use of their vaccine despite it having similar profile of side-effects to those of their AZ competitor.
With the prospect of nearly all those aged over 50 being vaccinated within the next few weeks, and the over 50s accounting for 99% of all Covid deaths, I struggle to see why the government cannot accelerate the unwinding of lockdown restrictions. The illiberal and illogical nature of lockdown restrictions has been my biggest bugbear throughout the last year. The absurdity of some of the rules was highlighted by the recent police intervention to break up a vigil in memory of a woman who had been abducted and murdered in South London. Politicians on all sides criticised the police action – but the police were only applying the law, which is what they are supposed to do. If the law is an ass, that is the fault of politicians, not the police.
And what has been obvious throughout the last year has been that the scientists recommending lockdown restrictions, and the politicians dictating them, belong the amorphous mass of public sector employees with guaranteed salaries, defined benefit pensions and doubtless nice houses with gardens to retreat to at the end of the day. I doubt they worried for a moment about the impact of lockdown on a the mental health of a single mother or the educational and social development of her children, locked in a tower block for months on end, with virtually no human contact.
The great social change of “working from home” which has been the focus of so many opinion pieces and news reports during the last year overwhelming applies to the professional and public administration classes. The rest of the population have either had to soldier on regardless (workers in food factories, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, dustbin men, teachers, and some areas of the health service) or have been furloughed or sadly made redundant (especially workers in hospitality, leisure, culture and “non-essential retail” sectors). These people have had a very tough year.
I am the first to acknowledge that I’ve been lucky. I might be frustrated with the lack of family and social contact and bored by the lack of “events” – trips to pubs, restaurants, theatres, concert halls, sports venues - but at least my job and income are safe, and I don’t have to try and home school and entertain any young children. And of course I have a small garden, where today I can marvel at the cherry blossom, which seems to be at its very best this morning.
Finally, from a factory in the Midlands, here is a selection of the products we manufacture. Last year we made about 30 million of the sachet products and about 17 million of the bar or bite products. It keeps us all nice and busy!
View from the top of the hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
This week's entry is necessarily a retrospective, as we are now a year on from the initial lockdown and the Journal is also a year old. The anniversary is marked in the UK partly by this year's Cheltenham Festival, going ahead “behind closed doors” (as we describe it now) after last year's debacle. Incredibly, the government allowed about 250,000 people to descend on a small Gloucestershire town despite the fact that the effects of the Covid virus had just begun to be felt in the UK. It is still unknown how much this influenced events going forward. At the time we were incredulous that it was held at all and loudly derided the government at the sight of the heaving crowds of humanity, drinking and shouting and enjoying themselves. Masks had barely been thought of back then, can you believe it! Wearing masks was something they did in China!
This year the traditional roar of the crowd at the shout of “They're off!” is a recording from a previous year and the only spectators are the “connections”, but it's still all fun as the jockeys try to line their horses up at the start, swearing at one another as usual and the starter swears at all of them, trying to get them all facing in the same direction. They're off and running! The losers this year are not so much the unlucky punters but the hundreds of local hospitality businesses who can only look on from their closed and shuttered premises and hope for better things next year.
We've been so glad of sport resuming after the depressing spell of cancelled events and tournaments, even if it is all virtual. We've settled into a happy routine of skyping with my son in Sydney at half-time during the Leeds matches and keeping up with the tennis and cricket around the world. Richard likes to keep an eye on “his seat” at Elland Road whenever it comes into view.
So here we are, a year on. We've got used to wearing masks, to staying two metres away from people, to not seeing our friends, to not having meals with the family. It's amazing what you can tolerate and even accept over time. We've grown older though and I'm noticing more memory loss and diminished hearing. What will life be like when things get back to normal? Will that actually happen or have we changed our habits so much that life will never be quite the same? I wonder whether we'll be able to cope with having the children to stay, whether we'll be capable of having normal relationships again and hugging one another, whether we will tolerate differences of opinion or will we want to pull back into the safe little cocoon we've wrapped around ourselves for the last year? Will Richard even want to go back into the noisy crowds around his precious seat at Elland Road? All we can say right now is that we've survived and as far as we know all our close friends and relatives have too. We're the lucky ones.
There has been so much change. The government “got Brexit done” despite the pandemic, now they're “getting the vaccine done”, despite political rows about equitable distribution and despite the contagious panic about the Astra Zeneca's safety. Today Boris is off to get his jab (Astra Zeneca, of course) to prove it's safe. There should, of course, be an inquiry into the initial handling of the crisis but of course the government want to wait until they are covered in glory from “getting Covid done” so that no-one will have to resign. Now is “not the right time” and probably never will be. For once I agree with Dominic Cummings, who has reappeared this week like the ghost at the feast, claiming the NHS was a smoking ruin and demanding an urgent inquiry. Well then, let's have it.
We have had a welcome change of leadership across the water. Black Lives Matter surged across the US and around the world. The Capitol was stormed. Here, women are vocalising the fears for their safety that they have suppressed for so long. People are still being tortured and killed by cruel regimes and there are political rumblings about China and Russia. Paris is going into a third lockdown. All we can be certain of is that life is change. Events roll on and somehow we the people must continue to live our lives as though we are all safe and sound. Last year, I talked a lot about fear. The mind-killer. Today I don't think about that so much, I am trying to stay positive, to look ahead with hope. Are we all facing in the same direction? Probably not, but we are still in the race.
This time last year we had no idea what was going to happen. When Nicky told me about the Journal I was curious and thought I'd just write my thoughts once or twice and that would be that. It has turned out quite differently and I've been so glad of this space to read and write and keep up with people's lives, to see how everyone makes the best of things and continues to create, to hang in there. I have been so encouraged by this Journal. To write, to share feelings and experiences has been wonderful. Thanks as always to Margaret and Sheila and thank you all for reading, for writing, for being there.
The runaway diaries
Sophie Austin, London
ONE YEAR ON
What have I learnt? That we are all in this together. The virus doesn’t discriminate; Prime ministers, rocks stars, cleaners and doctors. But it does have an unequal effect. We have all experienced this last year so differently, our privileges or lack of, placing us in uncomfortable hierarchies within our communities. This hasn’t been a great leveller but a luminous highlighter scrawling over the inequalities in our society.
I have accepted that there is not going to be a new dawn, that we will not all go to sleep and this situation will be over. We were in the storm before, but most of us were too busy to notice. The impact of deforestation and resulting rising co2 levels causing virus carrying species into contact with humans, global economic necessities and ease of travel supporting efficient spread, and suddenly earth was in the eye of a perfect storm.
On the 24th March 2020, in the UK, we woke up and nothing will ever be the same again.
And what a relief! What an opportunity! To hear the birds sing and to spend so much more time outside, to pause, reflect and imagine better. But also to watch too much tele, eat too much chocolate, drink too many margaritas. To lose all my work, but be busier than I have ever been. To get completely lost in the possibilities and then check in with the news or social media and be brought crashing back down to earth with the grim reality of the state of the world.
How lucky then, for me, to be a mum and to have experienced this year through your eyes too. There has been no grimness in your reality, and you have shown me that actually the world is rather glorious.
Over this last year you have gone from taking tentative first steps to leaping, squirrel like, off any surface. From being able to say a few key words, you have learnt most of ABBA’s greatest hits (your dad’s fault, not mine). You are enamoured with all wheeled vehicles and anyone who smiles at you, offering big toothy grins to strangers and motorbikes alike. You have learnt how to deal with challenging behaviour in the playground, by saying ‘no thank you’ and walking away, so crushing to watch, but you shrug it off and find something else to do.
You are your own person; so wise in knowing exactly what you want and need but also entirely capable of adapting when the playground is closed. You have taught me so much.
I often think back to Shirin Jacob’s first Journal post where she described the Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, addressing the children, not the adults, as she laid out her plans to deal with the pandemic. You are my future and I am so grateful to have had you to share this year with, to help me recognise what’s important. I hope I have been able to limit the impact of these worrying days on you. I promise to challenge inequalities and better support the natural world, so that, by the time you are my age, you still have a beautiful place to wonder in and an eclectic community to smile with.
2020 & 2021
John Underwood, Norfolk
Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light...
…was the ear worm running through my head as I awoke. I murmured the words to the tune out loud, and Ally was able to continue the verse “ like a little candle burning in the night” and on to the end. I remember singing the tune at Sunday School whilst sitting on an oval sisal mat, which was coloured red and green. It was unravelling, and I picked at it.
We spent the next hour reminiscing about our childhood and the shops in Orpington where we both grew up, and where we first met outside youth club. Both of us could walk a memory tour of the High Street in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Ten years later I used to bunk off school an hour early to meet her at the Wimpy Bar next to the Odeon cinema. Our childhood memories brought us to talking about our upbringings and the values that were instilled into us. Ally learned to march at Girls Brigade, and she still has the moves. I was brought up to doff my school cap to ladies, and to give up my seat to them on bus or train and without my parents prompting me. Telling the truth was hugely important , even if it got you into trouble. We understood that “owning up” was something that you did before you got caught out in a lie. We were indeed expected to shine with a pure clear light.
Watching politicians avoid telling truths to us (and “next slide please” has become a family saying in our home too, as well as “recollections may vary”) has become a daily event in our lives. We truly live in a ghastly chumocracy where Covid contracts are awarded to your horse racing pals and Tory party donors. This is the current currency of lockdown. There is an inevitable failure to “do the right thing”- demonstrated by the cuts in aid to the Yemen whilst continuing to sell munitions to Saudi Arabia, to use against Yemeni people. Cutting aid to Syria resulting in the potential collapse of education provision. Failing to award decent pay rises to nurses and lying in Parliament about the opposition record. Meanwhile the Prime Minister schemes away at attempting to start a charity to pay for decorating his Downing Street flat. Insert your own example here…
Ally has been keeping her own journal during the pandemic. She recorded how PPE was lacking for doctors and nurses – at a time when some of them were using bin liners as aprons - and the suggestion that protective equipment should be reused, and how it was unavailable for carers in care homes. Many millions of taxpayers pounds were wasted on unsuitable equipment, ordered by unqualified recipients of government wonga. More has been wasted on Track and Trace systems that barely worked, overseen by a horsey chum of a horsey chum.
The whole history of the pandemic in England has been a catalogue of missed opportunities, of a failure to act promptly, driven by the fear of appearing unpopular and by the inability of the premier to tell the truth. It has cost tens of thousands of lives.
Our personal response has been to keep busy in the house and garden, so that we can “come out of lockdown” knowing that we haven’t had to waste a year of our lives. The mundane still threatens to become the norm. I sometimes seem to mark my days and weeks by dishwasher emptying, putting the same knife in the same drawer. By tugging at the stuck down tissue to start a new toilet roll, by cooking the same meals.
Ally and I have both come to the realisation that being round other people is going to take some getting used to. We have become less human, diminished. The future offers some hope of change, but I fear that the collective memory is short, and that all the wrongs will be forgotten in a riot of holidaying and partying. “In this world of darkness, so we must shine, you in your small corner, and I in mine”.
Jane, just south of Norwich
Another year older and another year wiser so the saying goes. I’m not sure I am any wiser than I was a year ago, but I think I know for sure what I value most in my life now and have discovered the things that aren’t really that important.
Family and friends are of greatest value and I am thankful that they have come through the past year unscathed. Our children (all in their 30s) have kept their jobs and have found working from home a positive move. Looking forward, they expect to return to an office situation part-time.
I value the freedom of travel. Not being able to catch a train to visit my father in Surrey has been a worry to me and the chance of flying to Canada to visit our son and daughter-in-law still seems a remote possibility.
I have missed meeting up with friends, having people to stay, visiting family, cooking meals for more than two, having a coffee or lunch in the City, day trips to the coast, going to the Cinema, the Theatre, exhibitions and wandering around Craft Fairs and markets. I have not missed shopping in general, preferring now to shop on-line and having the luxury and convenience of items delivered to the door.
I have missed belonging to groups and look forward to joining my walking group at the end of the month and one day meeting up in person with my W.I. ladies again rather than via Zoom.
I have enjoyed having time to myself to have a go at painting again, to be able to spend a short time every day trying to learn a bit of Welsh, listening to a lot more radio than I used to, time to knit, to read a book in the day, to spend more time in the garden and time to write and submit to this wonderful journal. (As Margaret suggested, I have been looking back at early entries, a true snapshot of the evolving situation, both informative and entertaining). I have spent far too much time on my phone and wonder how I ever managed without one!
I am so thankful that I am retired and wonder how life would have been when I was working or the children were still at home. We would have been exposed to the virus - retirement has given us the luxury of hiding from it.
I read an article about Michael Rosen in the paper recently. He spent 48 days in intensive care having picked up the virus in January or February when he was travelling around London visiting schools to sign his wonderful poetry books. He is still recovering, deaf in one ear, problems with his eye sight, breathlessness etc. He is writing again and has a positive attitude to life but has an “increased sense of vulnerability”. He says he has gone from being “a certain person” to an awareness that “Now everything’s not certain”. He tries to build optimism into every day by doing one small thing every day that makes him feel proud or good.
For my little art group’s theme this week, we are doing self-portraits. I don’t think I’m very proud of this picture but it made me feel good doing it and in case you were wondering what I looked like – this is not it!!
Best wishes to you all.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
Almost one year since the first UK lockdown. Personally, it’s tricky to evaluate the initial impact as two unconnected things were happening which almost wholly diverted me: it was approaching the first anniversary of R’s death and, with exquisite timing, my aunt began to have lots of falls at the end of February. I visited frequently. Then in mid-March things took a turn for the worse. The GP was really helpful, she sent prescriptions and advised me how to nurse Barbara but, due to the new restrictions, she was unable to visit. Health wise things went even more downhill for Barbara and the GP suggested I ring the emergency services. Paramedics arrived, no PPE, no chance of socially distancing in my aunt’s tiny room. Off she went to hospital. Two hours later I was called to say they were bringing her home. “Can she walk?” “No.” “We’ve offered Barbara a care package but she didn’t want anyone in her home. We think the safest place for her is not in a hospital.” “There’s no equipment at her house” I wailed to deaf ears. I more or less moved in. We muddled along for some time. With no hoist or wheelchair, all support agencies in lockdown, an immobile elderly woman refusing the assistance of care agencies, it was only ever going to end one way. But, for a while, it was just Barbara and me, tucked away in our own little world.
Any observation of the last year has to take into consideration things we did and did not do. Taking precedence must be the selfless contributions of frontline workers, volunteers and scientists who have step by painful step dug us out of this pandemic. The expertise of the pharmaceutical industry who developed the vaccines and have given the world hope. On the flipside, the actions of the UK government were, tragically, nearly always too little, too late vis-à-vis all three lockdowns. The UK has, to date, had 126,000 deaths, up there with the US, Brazil and India. One third of these deaths have taken place in care homes. All hidden from view initially; Barbara and I had no idea of this when she chose to move into residential care. Government decision-making on care homes has been one disaster after another. There has to be an enquiry into this, doesn’t there? At the time of writing, the PM and his cabinet are holding off. My lowest points during the year have usually surrounded (lack of) access to see Barbara.
Then there are the things that we did not do. The world’s eyes have been diverted from action on climate change and global warming; this inaction will kill more people than the pandemic. I’ll write that again. This inaction will kill more people than the pandemic. My hopes are pinned on Biden. It seems he will step up to lead on climate change. But who’s up there with him? Our PM has waxed lyrical about his green credentials. He has a golden opportunity as the UN climate change conference will be held in Glasgow in November this year. But then he gives the go-ahead to a new coal mine in Cumbria. A coal mine for export! You couldn’t make it up.
Equally concerning is that NOTHING HAS BEEN DONE TO STOP A SIMILAR PANDEMIC HAPPENING AGAIN. Scientists and ecologists have clearly established a link between the destruction of forests and natural ecosystems and the emergence of new diseases in humans. Scientists warned of the possibility of a pandemic due to forest destruction in 2018. Yet we continue to destroy our natural ecosystems and continue to deforest our planet. We remove swathes of animal and insect habitat daily. Parts of the world rely on live animal markets; a perfect place to begin transmission of another pandemic.
What parts of our new way of life will endure? Will we continue to work from home? Wear masks in public places? Buy more take-aways and visit restaurants less? Entertain in our gardens rather than meet down the pub? Use contactless not cash? Order things online rather than go to shops? Take staycations rather than travel abroad? My best guess is yes to all of these. But probably only for a short while, and maybe younger age groups will have a very different view.
To mark this anniversary week, my autoimmune system had a massive flare up. For good measure I was advised to have a Covid test as there were some overlapping symptoms. All my major joints are affected, I am unable to weight bear and, just to make it more interesting, I have vertigo. Great for someone living by herself who also had to self-isolate until the results came through. As I learn to navigate my world on two sticks, the road to recovery looks as if it may take a while. But, look on the bright side: it’s started the diet!
Well done to everyone for sharing a whole year of their lives. Wishing you all well.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
126,026 deaths within 28 days of a positive test
146,487 Covid deaths
First dose vaccines given: 26,263,732
Second dose given: 2,011,070
19th March 2021
Boris got his jab today.
I’ve been quite busy this week with my bedroom schemes. Had a masked meeting with my client and have driven Lisa and the soft furnishing girls mad. They supply the fabrics and make the curtains and cushions and every detail and pom pom trim has to be on the order. I have also driven the contract furniture people bonkers but Justin who I deal with is terribly patient and polite. There are so many decisions all of which are inter related. If one bit is out of stock then you’re almost back to square one. It’s like snakes and ladders.
Meghan has been equally annoying briefing her journo friend who has been reporting it to the world. Prince Phillip is out of hospital and back at Windsor Castle. The EU are also being brattish and badly behaved about the AstraZeneca vaccine. Many EU countries put their roll out on hold until safety trials were done though they were given the all clear and the virus is surging.
Dom came back and stirred it up at a hearing of the science select committee this week.
There’s a looming vaccine problem here with supply problems coming in April.
Europe seems to be sliding into their third wave so no holidays abroad have been advised.
So it’s almost a year since we started this diary when we went into the first lockdown on the 23rd March 2020. I think every one was very fearful then and some were hoarding food. What was it and what would happen? People were suspicious of each other and stayed clear.
There were massive hand outs from Rishi which took away some of the pain.
We stayed 2 metres apart and stayed home to protect the NHS. We ate out to help out. We stayed alert and controlled the virus. We washed our hands. We have had a year without hugs and kisses and hand shakes.
Families and friendships have been separated.
The first lockdown was much longer and stricter than every one imagined. We entered it far too late, the government were very slow and continued to be so in the autumn when they locked down too late again.
We had the, Oh its just flu, nothing to worry about phase but a year on over 126,000 people have died. We’ve had clap for the NHS and there has been little reward for all that they have done. They have just been offered a 1% pay increase. No bonus or thank you gift or holiday money. I think so many will suffer from PTSD. Masses of NHS workers and social care workers died and bus drivers too.
There has been good and bad to come out of this year.
There’s been an awful amount of tragedy and death. People died away from their loved ones, very few family members allowed at funerals. Zoom who no one had heard of a year ago has kept the world connected and now hosts news, meetings, and funerals. Instagram live streams last farewells.
It’s been interesting seeing every ones houses on the telly. People have had to re order their bookshelves and rehang their pictures for the zoom backdrop.
There was a huge increase in domestic violence and deaths.
Major cock ups by the government but also incredible foresight and success with the development of the vaccines. Kate Bingham head of the vaccine task force should be made a Duchess at least along with Professor Sarah Gilbert amongst others. Chris Whitty has been a regular face in all our lives. It really has been the year of the scientist.
Naughty Dom and his visit to Barnard castle, Captain Tom and Brexit. Harry and Meghan running off to LA. They should have stayed and done some good and they would have been respected and loved for it instead of trashing the Royal Family and doing nothing.
Oh and Trump and his nasty ways. I’m glad he’s gone. I had a nightmare about Biden the other day which was weird.
There have been major protests for Black Lives Matter and safety for women.
There’s been terrible separation of families. Awful isolation of the elderly. I feel so sorry for all the people who weren’t allowed family visits with their relatives cut off in homes. Very cruel.
The summer freedom was too free and the autumn lockdown came too late. Everyone obsessed over Christmas which should have just been cancelled. A huge surge afterwards.
Parents have been home schooling, working from home, doing all the cooking, cleaning the house. The women have taken the brunt of it I think.
The kids have never wanted to go to school so much. The students were sacrificed to an experiment in herd immunity. I heard on the news the other day that 80,000 children are suffering from long covid.
All my friends with children large and small said it’s been a constant round of 3 meals a day which most people weren’t used to cooking all the time. Teenagers eating them out of house and home. I wonder if people are more healthy from eating better. I think maybe some people are less stressed as the pace of life slowed down. I think sheds across the country will have been tidied. Handbags and high heels have been banished to cupboards.
Some people have had an awful time and some haven’t. London has been emptied of many people and the second homers have stayed in their second homes.
The virus has shown splits in society. The rich have built swimming pools and gone on holiday in private jets, the poor have died. Terrible tragedies have happened in some families.
I watched a very sad programme the other day about the first wave of Covid called The Story of Us and it followed a few dedicated nurses and also Professor Hugh Montgomery in the intensive care department at The Whittington hospital. He was treating the very poorly Micheal Rosen who so nearly died. Months later Micheal Rosen went back to the hospital and met Hugh who he had no recollection of. The professor had worked so hard throughout the first wave, was surrounded by death and was so dedicated. They had saved Micheal Rosens life.
The conversation went on to the doctor telling Micheal how his 17 year old son had died a couple of months before. After the unlock when people could move around his son went snorkelling and just disappeared in the sea. His body washed up 3 weeks later. So sad and tragic. Micheal Rosen told him his own 18 year old son had died tragically and suddenly as well. He was visiting him and stayed the night because he felt a bit off colour and was dead in his bed in the morning. It was meningitis. I wanted to get in the telly and hug them both. Just awful.
In my world my family are safe. My nearly 90 year old Mum is fine. She had the second jab on Wednesday and she is very happy with her second whippet. She is still charging along the Dorset coastal path doing her ten thousand steps a day. I know she feels weaker and more wobbly than she used to but she is pretty amazing. My brother and sister and the twins are all OK and have come through unscathed.
I think the life of a self employed single artist is ideal training for a pandemic. Financially I’m always on the brink of doom, lead a fairly boring life and spend quite a lot of time on my own. Perfect training. In many ways not that much is different for me but I have only seen my Mum once in the last year. We often went to India around Christmas and went on holiday in May for a couple of weeks. Oh I’d love to sit on a beach in the sun with my Mum discussing what we’ll have for dinner and then do a bit of haggling in the shops in the evening.
Verandah is shut and no drop ins at home for cake and tea so definitely much quieter. C… club, a monthly dinner with my friends Raff and Sez has been cancelled but the fact that not so much is different is testament to the fact that I’m just a bit dull. I don’t expect much really just to be able to survive day to day is a result! I can always occupy myself and never have enough hours in the day.
I still see lots of people round and about. I always shopped in the little shops and down the road at Edgefield nursery. They have all stayed open and it’s all those little interactions that make up a life. A giggle with the postman, and a hello from the courier or the butcher and the animal feeds people. Roger the gardener comes in every week and looks after me. Brings in logs, does all the man jobs, pulls out weeds, cuts the hedges. I make him cakes to have with his two cups of coffee.
I haven’t read a single book since the virus came on the scene which is funny really as I read such a lot before.
I have listened to pod casts and my absolute favourites are Fortunately with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey. I listen to them in bed to go to sleep to and howl laughing, they are so funny and its like having friends round regularly. Newscast is my other favourite chatty and friendly podcast and is brilliant to fall asleep to and keeps me vaguely informed. Paddy O Connell on Sunday morning is entertaining too.
The last year has had a sound track of Rufus Wainwright who has sung in his bathrobe every day during lockdowns and Mary Chapin Carpenter who sang a song from home every Sunday with her golden retriever playing squeaky toy. I bought both their new CD’s as a small thankyou.
I haven’t watched masses of telly but loved Bridgerton and Call My Agent.
Grayson Perry’s art club has been a joy and Chris Whitty featured a lot. Instagram is quite connecting and entertaining. Whats App video conversations with friends has been good too.
I have had the garden and an accompaniment of sparrows and blackbirds. I have been so lucky to be here.
Earnie and the cat follow me round, keep me company and make me laugh and you have to go out for a walk everyday with a dog what ever the weather.
I can’t imagine what the year would have been like without Earnie, my faithful lovely hound who is on the floor by my feet now.
The diary has been a regular thing to do as well particularly throughout the first lock down. It was something that structured the days early on when life was really very very quiet. I like Sundays reading who is up to what and feel new friendships have been made. I’ve probably bored the pants off you all though as nothing ever happened so my apologies.
Thank you Margaret for asking me to be involved and thank you Sheila for all your hard work. We must have all written a book each. It must be well over 100 pieces of drivel I have subjected you too. I have loved being part of something and though I hate parties I’m looking forward to this one when we can all meet. The pink champagne is on ice and I’ll make you a weird cake or two.
Stay safe every one.
Then and now
Then and Now: Recollections may vary
(With acknowledgements to our dear Queen)
Were we here, were we there,
Did I end up in your hair,
Pursued home by a bear ?
Are you Margaret or Mary ?
Recollections may vary,
As the days went rolling by,
Did we giggle, did we cry,
Watching pie up in the sky ?
Was life smooth, was it hairy ?
Recollections may vary,
Shut your eyes and count to ten,
Turn widdershins, and then
Tell me who we are again:
A goblin and a fairy ?
Recollections may vary,
Is that a cat or clown
Coming in, but upside down,
Is this country, is it town?
The flowers look awful scary —
Recollections may vary,
When shadows come a-creeping,
The future in their keeping,
Let’s be bold or very wary —
Recollections may vary,
From the Editor
We are One!!!
It’s over a year now that I lay awake one night pondering the growing pandemic and imminent first Lockdown, and had the idea for creating the Plague Journal. I said then that two thoughts inspired me... Forster’s famous words ‘Only Connect’, and the wartime example of the Mass Observation project. Well, I think you’ve all done rather well at recording the last twelve months (we thought it would be twelve weeks originally!) and far better than I imagined at ‘connecting’ and creating a strong online community that you all have found important in your lives. I know I have.
This week, one sleepless night, my thoughts moved in a different direction. What If.
What if this pandemic had happened at a different time... say forty years ago. No common Internet, no online teaching, ordering of shopping, Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp. All these have kept us connected. Just television, radio, newspapers and the telephone back then. How would working from home or home schooling have been possible? Would schools and businesses have been shut down, or would they have stayed open in an attempt to keep the economy alive, making the pandemic many times worse? What would Margaret Thatcher have done? (or, earlier, Harold Wilson? Or later, Tony Blair?) Would the NHS have coped or collapsed? Or would many people have died at home. At that time, care homes were not the industry they are now, families looked after their elderly more, how would that have changed the course of a pandemic? And would we have been able, without our modern science technology, to come up with vaccines so fast? I wonder how my parents would have managed back then; stoically I’m sure, having lived and fought through the war. But... so many inponderables. And that’s just forty years ago. Go back to the war and how a pandemic might have been handled or used. Go back a hundred years to the big flu epidemic... no NHS then.
And the Plagues of a few hundred years ago.
Back at the start of the journal, I stated that another inspiration was the fact that the original owners of our old house, in the late sixteenth century, both died of the Plague, ‘actually Robert might have been murdered by his son in law, the playwright, Robert Daborne... but that’s another story. ‘Well, I remember Amanda White urging me to tell that other story. As Amanda has returned to the Journal this week, I’ll tell it.
Robert and Elizabeth Younger seem to have been the original owners of our house, Old Hall, South Burlingham; their initials are over our front porch. He was a London lawyer with a house in Shoreditch. His daughter Ann married Robert Daborne in 1602. He was a minor playwright (only two of his plays survive) and a rather aggressive , litigious spendthrift. They borrowed the London house in 1608, when Ann was pregnant, and Robert and Elizabeth Younger went down to visit them. They never returned to Old Hall; after a month Elizabeth died of the plague. Another month, and Robert was dead. The Plague? Well, Robert’s sons fought Daborne for family possessions and accused Daborne of murder (this went to Star Chamber but Daborne seems to have survived the affair). Meanwhile his wife died in childbirth. Exciting times. And the end of the Youngers at Old Hall.
So, Happy Birthday to all of us ! (Wash your hands as you sing it aloud!) .
And enjoy the image below of the List of the contributors on the very first day of the Journal, 23rd March 2020. I make a list every week in an old ledger. I really should have chosen a rather more glamorous book, but it’s lasted , and there are still pages left.
And thank you all for your loyalty, energy, friendship over the last year. And thanks most of all to Sheila, who gave this project legs, and works several hours each week to get it online and looking so good! She and I hope to meet for a garden champagne in the next few days to toast you all!