View from the wrong side of the Pennines
Elle Warsop, Oldham
It's been a while since I last wrote and my wall has remained egg and chip free which is always a bonus. It still isn’t answering back which sometimes is a pity when I’m here all alone wondering what to do next with my day.
The wall, I have decided, is actually the windows of my conservatory where I have plastered up the scene synopses of my ‘Marillion, Cake and Scissors’ script in the hope of inspiring me to sort it out. It is a dark farce (if there is such a thing) - both my script and my attempts to convince myself I am sorting it. I have actually written a small extra scene which is something, but not a lot to show for the three weeks since my Writers’ Group. Or the two weeks since I attended an online talk by the Playwright/director/acting tutor Anna Jordan which was, incidentally, brilliant and, yes, inspiring. So I need to get on.
I am writing this instead. Oh… and knitting. I blame my daughter. She asked me if I had knitting patterns - she has taught herself to knit and knitted a hat recently. I regaled her with tales of the jumpers I knitted in my late teens and twenties. Jumpers, Aran sweaters and cardigans that, by the time I had finished them, I was bored of or unhappy with the fit and never actually wore. It was always about the journey and never the destination. She was surprised about my knitting prowess. Rude! I told her of the jumpers I knitted for her father when we first met. “Did he actually wear them?” she asked. Bloody cheek! He actively encouraged me to knit him more Daughter dear. I think I stopped knitting on returning to paid employment when Youngest son started school. I haven’t picked up a knitting needle since. Until now. I only have scraps of wool and I’m knitting a hat with them that no one will ever wear. It’s keeping the conservatory windows egg and chip free.
As for the Menopause… the symptoms continue relentlessly. No one ever warns you that the symptoms might go on for years… and years… and years… and… ok Elle you need to stop that now. But these bloody hot flushes. I go out for my daily (…ish) walk and have no idea what to wear. In these colder days of Autumn and Winter, I am either too cold or too hot. Some helpful soul suggested that women wear lots of layers so that they can take them off when they have a flush. They obviously never had a hot flush in their bloody life. What they had failed to grasp is that the temperature gauge malfunctions and you are sweating at your core in one second flat. No warning. One minute, you are minding your own business watching a kestrel hovering, the next you are overheating in the worst possible way. Or at least I am. If I have layers on I cannot get them off fast enough. I suddenly get this intense panicky feeling as the flush starts and feel absolutely, totally frantic, claustrophobic and generally awful until I have pulled off my clothes and cooled down a bit. This might mean dragging off coat, jumper and shirt until I am in my summer vest even if it is 7 degrees out. Then, before I know it, my arms up to my shoulders are freezing but my core is still raging and no one, that I know of, has invented a top for just your arms. And this could go on for over ten years or more apparently. Ok let’s not dwell on that anymore. Thank you Jane, by the way, for your note of solidarity the other week. It did not go unnoticed! Menopausal women of the world unite!
I know this is supposed to be the Plague Journal but no talk of Covid19 or Coronavirus from me. I hope you don’t mind. I find it too depressing. As a family we decided ages ago that Christmas with the extended family is not happening this year - whether the Government say we can or not, which apparently they are in the throes of discussing. Rolls eyes. So there will be no usual Christmas Eve at Mum’s house with Mum, the five of us, my two sisters and their families. Sad but necessary and we are all resigned to it. That is all I am going to say with regards to Covid. I think I may have been guilty of calling it Corvid on occasion. I am more than happy to talk about Corvids. I love watching them at this time of the year. If I am lucky enough to be out at the right time, and near dusk, I love seeing the Jackdaws and Crows careering and swooping around in the sky together, looking for somewhere to roost. There are so many that live in the fields at the back of our house. I love the sound they make as they call to each other and fly in their hundreds over head. It is dizzying and magical. So, yes, let’s talk about Corvids.
No sign of Corvid
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
Despite our "lockdown light", as it is called, the numbers of infections are as high as before, but the steady increase was stopped. There is a militant fraction of protesters who keep initiating demonstrations against the regulations and two days ago some protesters entered parliament on legal grounds as they had been invited by three right wing politicians who are MPs. These people harrassed leading politicians like the economy minister. This is outrageous and reason for investigations in parliament.
Schools are supposed to remain open, the educational ministers in the 16 states apply some different rules though and a statistic was published yesterday revealing that about 80% of all infected students and staff in schools caught their infections outside schools.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
A week dominated by positive vaccination news as Oxford joins the Americans and Belgians with real hopes for vaccines from three sources perhaps as early as late December - though we’re told Hospital Staff have been told to stand by for theirs earlier - and all claim great efficacy for the vulnerable elderly. Woo-Hoo.
To much dismay among businesses, N Ireland - who were ahead of us in going for lockdown and were due to relax next Monday - have suddenly changed their minds, mainly due to stubbornly high hospital numbers, and are reimposing lockdown - not immediately, but after a week of tantalising respite.
Then Wales, according to the ONS, gets some good news: the infection rate is down from a peak of 770 per 100,000 to 250. Still too high of course, but presumably reflects some restraint - though over the same period police attended over 1000 lockdown busting ‘incidents’, suggesting the Welsh like a party. There’s an increasing groundswell for a special dispensation to enjoy a UK wide ‘normal’ Xmas. Quite how that’ll work or indeed why it should remains elusive. Boris will have a bit of a problem, having cancelled Eid a while back and now Diwali.
Here in Norfolk 106 ‘instances’ of infection have resulted in the temporary closure of at least 5 schools.
My guess is he’ll offer an ‘open’ Xmas in exchange for an extended lockdown after Dec 2nd.
It’s been a funny old week. I’m cheerful enough but can’t get fully enthusiastic about anything much and seem to have had a series of relaxing ‘days off’. I keep forgetting that being retired, I don’t have to justify this. Today (Friday) was going to be a fishing day and I set out for nearby Walcott hoping for a codling. I thought my biggest problem might be the Police having a different idea of what constitutes ‘reasonable motoring to access my recreation‘ and spoiling things. As it was, I was met with huge breakers making fishing difficult if not impossible, so I sat and had a coffee and sandwich, watched a lone surfer attempting to get in through the breakers for a while, then came home. There’s always cod to be had from Blofield Fish and Chip shop...
Then, late in the day but always a boost, I had a bonfire. Few things can be as cheering and satisfying as a bonny, and, having had an easy chair delivered in a huge box I had the means and an excuse.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
D’s birthday. The weather yesterday was glorious - cold but sunny. Today the sky is grey with rain forecast, so a picnic lunch is postponed. The week has followed its usual pattern. Daily walks, a couple of socially distanced outdoor meetings with a friend, the weekly trip to the supermarket. One of my sisters had a Covid test, but thankfully it was negative. A friend’s brother-in-law is in hospital in London with the virus.
Managed to do a lot of leaf clearing earlier in the week. Several massive, ancient beech trees in the garden that backs on to ours provide a wonderful backdrop, the only downside being that most of the leaves seem to end up on our side of the wall! Our much smaller purple-leaved hazel tree also produces a prodigious number of large leaves, which fell quickly in the recent winds. There are more Autumn leaves to fall. Our new neighbours in the cottage almost opposite have a Christmas wreath on their front door. It is only 20 November.
Instagram has changed the icons that appear at the bottom of the iphone screen and when trying to work out how to post a picture I’m reliably informed that I created a ‘story ‘with a picture of half my face. Could have been worse. It has now been deleted.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
You know the expression, “It doesn’t take much to amuse you”? Well, I think that applies to me.
I had a long conversation with my sister, Beth, this week. Because she is eight hours away, we talk at my time 11pm - midday for her, bedtime for me. She has just recently moved back to California, down the coast from Washington state and was waxing ecstatically about the strength of the California sun and the glorious whales and dolphins and birds. She is a bird photographer. She and her husband have tried twice now to move away from that sun but both times they have made a hasty retreat. “I am back with the things that really please me - that give me instant pleasure”. Her words.
She asked how I was getting along, deprived of so many of the things I enjoy - London, the galleries, theatre, cinema and the company of people, particularly my sons and grandsons. I realised as she asked me, that as much as I miss those things and long for them to return, I am very lucky to have many other things that give me instant pleasure, in particular trying to make things.
I told Beth how this week I learned how to make a hexagonal origami box and lid. “Oh no,” said Beth, “not one of those pieces with six easy to follow instructions and then a seventh that requires three hands and a miracle.” “Yes, exactly” I said. Dianne and her daughter in law, Caroline, each on zoom, taught me and it was a hilarious process. Caroline would give me an instruction like “Fold both sides to the centre like this” or “Now, trust me, hold all those folds in one hand and...”.
It was certainly more complicated on zoom. “Let me see where you are. Turn it more towards the screen. Down a bit, a little to the right” etc. She was amazingly patient and wouldn’t let me sign off until I got it - until I had summoned those three hands and the miracle. But I was so pleased to master that final step and I rather like the final, if rather crumpled, product. Instant pleasure.
Yes, I really miss my old life and long for it to return, sometimes with such a deep sadness, but I think I am one of the lucky ones because so many things intrigue me, so many projects to try.
View from the Top of the Hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
Well another week in lockdown. Today I should have been meeting up with my friend to collect her late husband's books. I was really looking forward to our outdoor meeting and a walk to the park but we have postponed it as the previous forecast for a sunny day changed suddenly to “rain all day”. At least this prediction was correct, I would have been doubly frustrated if the sun had appeared at 11am. So back to work today, sorting and listing books. I have a collection of modern works on Darwin and related subjects to list, which is quite interesting.
Earlier this morning there was a parade of female pheasants going by in front of the house. I kept counting heads but admitted defeat when the first few disappeared stage left as more entered stage right. One was distracted by our garden and stood under the bird feeder awaiting crumbs being dropped by the little birds, looking huge and out of place next to a robin. One of the woodpeckers has returned in the last couple of weeks, we're waiting to see if the rest of the family will appear. No sign of our pigeon, he seems to have moved on. I keep looking at the door, hoping to hear his beak tapping on the glass, but no luck.
It's easy to forget why there are so many pheasants. Usually at this time of the year there would be regular shooting across our valley but it seems to be on hold at the moment. I saw a news item that said shooting in the Yorkshire Dales had been exempted from lockdown rules but perhaps a public outcry from 'townies' prevailed. It's an unfortunate part of rural life, as far as I'm concerned, that thousands of birds are imported into this country for the sole purpose of giving middle aged men in Barbour jackets the right to shoot them for £1500 per day per gun and that we are subjected to the unpleasant sight of pick-up trucks with hundred of dead pheasants hanging in them. The truck parks outside the Bridge Inn alongside the ranked Range Rovers while the shooters and beaters quench their thirst all afternoon. I suppose as the pub's shut they're not bothering to shoot.
So, Boris has seen Dominic Cummings off the premises so that he can “re-set” the government, only to be nabbed by Test & Trace and told to self-isolate for two weeks. He couldn't very well refuse, claiming he's immune as he's had the virus already (not a valid excuse), so he made an amusing little video to inform the public that, following his example, they must do the right thing. Cummings left conspicuously via the front door of Number 10, clutching his box of belongings. Did anyone check what was in the box? I would hate for Carrie to discover belatedly that her favourite silver is missing, or worse, documents marked 'top secret'. There was a lovely cartoon of 'The Downing Street Women' lurking outside Boris's bedroom, saying “We only need two weeks”. (A reflection on the rumour that Cummings and Co fell foul of Carrie's wrath). Boris has also made a tactless remark about the devolved government in Scotland, embarrassing Scottish Conservatives.
Today the news is full of Priti Patel, found in a report by the government's independent ethics adviser to have breached the Ministerial Code by bullying her staff. Boris is the only person who can act on this report, which he has been sitting on for months, but today he says the Home Secretary has his full support because she is doing such a good job – presumably stopping immigrants entering the country by erecting barriers in the English Channel or sending them to the Falklands. We don't believe him. I suspect she may quietly go in the next reshuffle but he is in a Catch 22 here as Priti is a woman and also from an ethnic minority and is therefore Boris's equivalent of Kamala Harris but not as likeable. He cited extenuating circumstances which mitigated the bullying, one of which was that “she wasn't told that she was a bully”. Schools may start copying this excuse for not excluding bullies. The independent ethics adviser to the government has now resigned, his advice having been shunned.
We are in limbo at the moment as we are waiting to see what comes out of the meeting at the White House today. Trump has summoned some lawmakers from Michigan to come and be instructed on how to overturn the result of the election. If this works out I expect he will summon the lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Arizona and so on, working his way around the states until he has a majority. It is a total disgrace and reflects very badly on the Republican Party. Can anyone explain to me why the USA describes itself as “the oldest democracy in the world”? I thought that was Britain, because of Magna Carta! Or at least Greece! Anyway, how can a system that appoints a few people in each state to confirm the president's position who can then change their minds and overrule the public vote, be called a democracy?
Yesterday, having lost a multitude of court cases, Rudy Giuliani gave a memorable press conference with last ditch accusations of massive electoral fraud, spouting conspiracy theories right left and centre. The effect of his message was somewhat diluted by the rivulets of hair dye pouring down his face as he sweated his way through this tirade.
We have to wait and see whether Trump will leave. I enjoyed the photo last week of the South Korean boxer who refused to leave the ring when he lost an Olympic bout. My advice to the officials in Washington is “Turn out the lights in the White House and leave the building”. Let's see how long he stays when there's no-one there to agree with him.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
Well, I’m horrified at myself. I’m working on the fundraiser, and the organization put a hold on it until they had their monthly meeting. Given we need to revamp the donor part of the website, and that takes time, I was upset at the delay. But I was also upset because it wasn’t what I would have done. I disagreed with the delay. I wanted them to do it my way. Yesterday I attended the zoom meeting and they enthusiastically approved the project, but I whinged about the delay and raised the (true) prospect that perhaps we won’t be able to do it this year because of the delay. I don’t seem to be able to accept that other people have different opinions than me, or different needs, let alone accept that with grace. And I have a strong need to be right.
This less than stellar set of attributes really shone forth when my friend told me that for Thanksgiving she planned to go with her son and wife to Connecticut meet her other son, daughter in law, and two kids. Three different households converging. In Vermont we’re under strict instructions not to travel for Thanksgiving, and to stay only within our own household. This is in the context of a serious upsurge of cases right where we both live in Central Vermont.
I wrote a poem about rules and breaking them (I’m writing a poem a day as a fundraiser) and in the poem I was, if I say so myself, generous about being on my high horse, about being self-righteous, about my own lack of following rules, etc. etc. but the end of the poem was also pointed:
“We forget each of us
is an essential element
of an organism much grander
I sent my friend the poem and got a long self-justifying text back that twisted the rules, distorted the situation, and finally said she had to die sometime and meanwhile it was really important to see her grandkids. I wrote a gracious note back but inside I spent hours arguing and angry. Why doesn’t she see I’m right? The Governor of VT is right. The instructions are based on science. It’s not just about her dying, it’s about the other people who might catch the virus. Plus almost everyone I know is desperate to see their grandkids. So?
But when I step back I feel like one of those horrible characters in a detective novel who minds everyone else’s business, curtains twitching as they peer outside to see what people are doing. And then what is this need to be right? Or, rather, given I’m right, that other people should change their behavior based on my correct analysis. Who do I think I am?
And then, underneath it, I’m sad at seeing this side of her, for the first time, after more than forty years of friendship. And she’s probably sad to see this side of me.
Part of me can’t help thinking we all need to be having these conversations to help us all follow rules (something I persist in hating doing) to keep everyone safe. But clearly I’m lousy at having these conversations. Something ugly and stubborn rears up inside me. In the middle of my ruminations about this I did think of a twelve step program slogan: “stay on your side of the street” which somehow cut through my need to get her to change her behavior.
Perhaps I find it hard to believe, to have the hope, that people will come to the best decision in their own time. Which of course relates to the 90 some million people who actually voted for our President.
Anyway, I don’t like her decision, but even less to do I like who I am, poking my nose in, sitting in judgement, insisting on being right. That’s not going to make the world turn any more smoothly! And meanwhile it is uncomfortable to live with.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
“These were very traumatic times. A lot of people didn’t take the situation seriously enough to the danger this country was in. At home everyone stopped to hear the news on the wireless.” The word wireless may be a clue that this observation has nothing to do with the current pandemic. My father was writing about the first year of the Second World War, yet his words resonated down the years.
I am currently transcribing my dad’s memoirs. Paradoxically it is an enjoyable undertaking. Well, maybe not the total lack of punctuation. Or trying to read dad’s sometimes indecipherable handwriting. And certainly not Jack’s experiences in France in 1944-45. But other experiences are a delight. There are short notes to me in the margins. ‘Mary, can you re-word this’. ‘Does this go here’? ‘Mary this bit needs to make more sense’. [NB The punctuation is mine, not dad’s!] Jack died twenty years ago but working on his recollections is like having him in the room with me. Sometimes I can’t wait to get to the next sentence. And Jack’s diaries are an insight into how people adapted their lives to great change. Or did not.
By one of those strange coincidences that sometimes happens in life, I found R’s father’s diaries this week whilst sorting through some of his papers. I recall R talking about the diaries but I hadn’t realised that Arthur had bequeathed them to him. R couldn’t bring himself to read them; it had been enough to know that his father was not like other dads. Sadly I never met Arthur and only talked to him on the telephone; he had emigrated to Australia in the 1960s and died soon after R and I met.
The diaries only relate to one period of Arthur’s life: his incarceration in Japanese prisoner of war camps. Starting in Singapore’s Changi prison, Arthur moved on to other camps and finished up at Thai/Burma camps to work on the infamous Burma railway. Curiosity begins: How did Arthur keep these safe from Japanese soldiers? How did he find the paper and ink? After the diaries have been transcribed, they will be passed to the National Archives to add to their collection of British and Commonwealth prisoners of the Second World War. Arthur’s voice deserves to be more widely heard.
Today there is lots of speculation about Christmas 2020. Will we be allowed to see family or friends? Can we buy a tree? Will we be able to go to a pub? Arthur’s first Christmas as a POW didn’t have many choices. In late 1942, Arthur had been walking from Singapore accompanied by some 16,000 men from the 5th Battalion Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment.They had crossed into Thailand. Arthur writes, ‘In Thailand came our first contact with the Korean soldiers. These were real Bs to us and treated us worse than the Japs. Christmas is here now but we have memories. I sell my hat and we have cigs, eggs and fruit for supper.’ How stoical.
Going prepared to visit my aunt this week, I take a hot-water bottle, hot chocolate in thermos and a smile on my face. The Minister for Health and Social Care has promised that testing for relatives will be available by Christmas and we will be able to go inside once more. Do I hold my breath?
Annabel, A village in Battersea North Norfolk
Care in the Community
Well it’s been a big week.
Trump’s out but not gone. Dom’s gone. Biden’s in, nearly.
Had a new radiator in the car.
Found 2 very nice chairs that had been put out for a new life.
I’m on my secret mission undercover in Battersea and very busy.
All my neighbours here and there, old and new and known and unknown and old friends and new have helped me sort my old flat out which was in need of a makeover. The tenants all lost their jobs and have had to go home to their respective mothers in Italy and Finland.
My old friend Andy brought his wonderful miracle woman cleaner Maria who has scrubbed and scraped and sprayed every surface she could get her hands on. She has hung out of the windows, scrubbed chairs and curtain poles, polished the cooker, cleaned the oven to the point where I would rather starve than mess it up. Andy has painted, shifted furniture, been to the tip. Scott from downstairs has done more painting and drilled this and that. My new neighbour Amir who I had seen once before for one second helped me unload my full car when I arrived in the dark and rain.
The Norfolk end have looked after the house and the cat. Roger has looked after the chickens. Earnie is at Doggy Day Care with Auntie Bridget.
Such kindness all around. I think Andy and Scott are slightly regretting it now as it seems never ending and has taken a lot longer than we thought and has been exhausting. The man in the hard ware shop said earlier, ‘Are you likely to come back again as I’m thinking of shutting up the shop”.
Care in the Community Part 2
Trumps still there.
Biden still nearly in.
Rudi Giuliani had a bad hair dye moment.
Vaccine trials going very well.
Priti Patel didn’t get fired.
Came back late on Wednesday night.
The beds came on Friday, the carpet on Monday, Andy took the curtains to his friend for hemming on Saturday and brought them back on Monday.
I had a bed to sleep in on Tuesday which was a luxury after having to blow up my airbed every night.
I carried on painting, painting painting and also went off hunting and gathering. Andy and Scott thought I was having an affair with Mr Rainsford the lovely Jamaican man in the hardware shop who started some of his words with a ha.
Battersea has changed and there is now a lovely Lebanese food shop across the road. (Reminds me of Christmas and a florist in lockdown)
Scott who is an academic was brilliant at putting flat back furniture together and was disturbed by my mismatched curtain rings until I put them in an intentional order. He’s a scientist and everything is utterly accurate. I’m an artist and everything is chucked together in an unscientific manner.
Andy was the project manager which took the pressure of me for somebody else to make some of the decisions.
Afshan, the young wife of Amir the kind neighbour offered us some lunch as we commented on the delicious smells coming from next door. It's Spag Bol she said, would you like some? I said Sadly I don’t eat wheat. Does he want some referring to Andy. Sadly he doesn’t eat meat I said. So kind of her to offer.
Maria came on Wednesday and cleared the whole place up and dodged around the builders who were making a mess but we got it all together in the end. I had to leave then as it was too tidy to stay. Scott waved me off to ensure I had left the vicinity.
I felt bathed in love and support. What lovely friends. I had been dreading doing this and it turned out to be fun and happy after all.
Got back late and picked Earnie up. Was exhausted yesterday. The day started with visits from this end of care in the community.
Spent hours looking for suitable bottles of wine for Andy and Scott.
Had a meeting today with Louisa in the car park of the carpet shop looking at carpet samples on her car. Very lockdown. We all wore masks as its getting worse in Norfolk and I had been in London.
In the outside world which I havn’t seen a lot of, there has been much excitement about the vaccines. There are 3 hopefuls now. It is truly amazing how they are progressing. The scientists must be in their element.
All for now.
Love Annabel xxxx
From the Editor
‘..no point in having a very merry Christmas and then burying your friends and relations in January and February.’
(Dr Scully, Sage member, Bristol University)
While I can understand the desire of families and friends to get together at Christmas, I feel that Dr Scully’s warning should be heeded. So, Granny hasn’t seen anyone much this year, she’s been isolating, Christmas will be terribly lonely, let’s make it a Christmas to remember for her. And it might be, but not for her. Will you all have to socially distance round the festive table, not touch, sanitise your hands between opening each present, keep all the windows open, (Granny might freeze to death), and finally take her home to face a month’s isolation to pay for a few days relaxation? Or, even worse, if things go wrong, will you be unable to visit her in hospital the next month when she’s got COVID, will you be unable to attend her funeral?
Vaccines might start rolling out next month and January. Can’t we put off celebrations for a few weeks longer until it might be safer? Can’t we be inventive about Christmas, can’t we simplify Christmas? It has become horribly overblown and commercialised, mightn’t this be an opportunity to scale down?
I fail to understand why we should expect normality in the middle of a pandemic. Read Mary’s words about her husband’s father celebrating Christmas in a prisoner of war camp. Were whole families always able to get together during the war when many were serving and, this year, will NHS workers under pressure be able to enjoy much of a Christmas? So, come on Boris and co, lay off the crowd pleasing sentimentality about Christmas. Just get serious.
Nicola in Vermont is anxious about friends celebrating Thanksgiving next week, and travelling and socialising unnecessarily. Well, we always celebrate Thanksgiving with my American friend, Mary from Totnes, and her husband Simon. This year we will both prepare small feasts three hundred miles apart, and share some of it by Zoom, and toast each other, and feel a lot better than we did four years ago when Mr Trump had just won the US election.
I know I’m lucky, I’m not living alone, I won’t be alone at Christmas. But I have old friends who will be, and are remarkably stoical about it. One is nursing a dying husband at home, one is in a care home, unable to eat or talk properly or see much, but she spends her time listening to music, her great passion, and is so cheerful when I speak to her on the phone.
Of course I’ll miss the carol service in our small church, I’ll miss the great bonhomie of friends and family for Christmas lunch, and the open house we usually keep for the twelve days of Christmas. But there are still frosty mornings, stars in the sky, ways of talking to, seeing and communicating with friends. Memories. Peter always reads the Tailor of Gloucester by candlelight after supper on Christmas Eve to whoever is staying in the house. Perhaps we’ll do it by Zoom this Christmas. You are all invited!