Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
The street that links Wood Lane to Westwood common was in the national news this week. Seven bullocks were spotted on an outing, having strayed from Westwood. They came down a parallel street that has no cattle grid (apparently too noisy). It is not unheard of for the animals to do a little exploring during the first few weeks of their long summer visit to Beverley. Sometimes they trot down Wood Lane, and head for town, but this time they chose to go the other way, into the smart new private estate on the old Workhouse site at the top of Woodlands. Perhaps unfenced front gardens here were a mistake. The 'neatherd' rounded them up pretty quickly, but not before a journalist had sent a tweet that was picked up by the press and news channels. Now they are back where they belong, enjoying the buttercups.
It has been quite an eventual week. On Tuesday we had our first visit to my aunt's care home for many, many months. It took most of the morning for a short visit, as we had to wait for the results of a lateral flow test before we could enter. She has short term memory loss, and won't remember the visit. She was rather bemused as she was sitting on her own in a room she wouldn't normally be in, and we had to wear masks, aprons and rubber gloves. Hard to explain what is happening to someone who is very deaf when you have a mask over our face. Now we've all had two vaccinations perhaps they will feel able to relax the rules a little. On Wednesday evening we went out for a meal! It was only to Pizza Express, two minutes away, and just with one friend, who is in our bubble, but it felt quite daring.
This morning we had an email from some friends saying they enjoyed seeing us on a Sky Arts programme, 'David Hockney: Time Regained' on Wednesday evening. Although it was on Freeview we hadn't seen it, and it doesn't come on iplayer unless you subscribe. We decided it must have been a film made by a German firm for ARTE, the European Arts channel, in 2017. We saw David regularly when he lived in Bridlington, and it was a privilege to see so many of his paintings as work in progress, especially as he prepared for the major exhibition at the RA. The film was one of those occasions when we were meant to be taking the crew to visit the places he painted, but somehow ended up being part of the documentary, some of which was filmed in our kitchen. The funniest thing is that on the Radio Times website, among other places, instead of a picture of DH there is a side view of 'my' David looking at the catalogue for the RA exhibition. Why? Can't help thinking it might have been a case of mistaken identity!!
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
Monday 17 May 2021 – The Covid-19 regulations are relaxed in England. Pubs, restaurants and cinemas are welcoming people back indoors. Up to six people can meet inside homes. You can also hug today... but you couldn’t yesterday as it was too dangerous. It all feels a little surreal. I visit my new home for a chat with the current owners. They greet me, “You don’t need to wear a mask inside today; we can have a hug”. They are joking... aren’t they? I was so pleased to see their house looking the same chaotic mess of packing boxes as mine. I rushed round to mum’s on the way home and gave her a hug. She was pleased.
Is the government worried about its latest decision to ease the Covid-19 restrictions? Neither the PM, the Minister for health nor any other senior cabinet minister took a photo op on re-opening day. No enjoying a pint in a pub, nor eating in a cafe or going to an art gallery. Boris rarely misses such an opportunity. Meanwhile, the Indian variant of the virus is spreading through parts of the UK. Of course, this has nothing to do with the government being too late in closing the borders you understand.
The Minister for Education, fireplace salesman of the year Gavin Williamson, has decided that what the higher-ed sector needs is to eliminate arts-based courses and replace them with ones that “ensure young people can (take) work-relevant courses that will get them the good jobs”. There needs to be a, “better balance between the skills that local employers want from their workforce and those that are being taught by colleges.” So, that’s it folks; arts, music, drama are only for those who can afford to pay privately. And young people needn’t consider leaving home; they will be doing whatever mundane course the local distribution warehouse wants in this new post-Brexit, post-pandemic economy. The new phrase in the government’s lexicon is levelling up. The problem is Boris et al are defining what it actually means.
As the week goes on I find myself starting to get back into life. Back to Pilates at last. And, I’m going into more shops. I ask a friend to go to the cinema but friend has to wear a mask all day at work and is not prepared to wear one to go out for the evening. Bother! I really want to see the film Ammonite about the Palaeontologist Mary Anning. Perhaps I can surreptitiously go with another friend.
I’m visiting Barbara twice a week now. She is not in good humour on Thursday. A skirt which matches a jacket is missing. “You said you didn’t want it, so I gave it to the charity shop”. “I bought if for a wedding”. I struggle to think whose wedding she is talking about. Cousin Richard’s in 1979? “But you don’t wear dresses or skirts”. “I paid a lot of money for that suit”. “You said you didn’t want to keep any skirts.” “But I can’t wear the jacket without the skirt”. “But you only wear trousers and the jacket would look fine with them”. “They’ve lost three pairs of trousers in the laundry”. It must be so difficult living in a care home and feeling so powerless.
I’ve just got an older person’s bus pass. Where I live there is no public transport unless you walk to the neighbouring village. Not great on unlit, pavement-less roads after dark. So I’m looking forward to being able to hop on a bus once I’ve moved. Be great to go out for an evening and have a glass or two and not have to worry about driving home. Life's next chapter awaits.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
Ole was lucky to get a vaccination with AstraZeneca yesterday, today he is showing some symptoms of flu and has to stay off work. I am very busy marking an awful lot of exam papers. Just like last year, I met my students in a half-filled classroom on Monday where they took their tests.
Yesterday was also the birthday of Wolfgang Borchert, a poet from Hamburg, who was born a hundred years ago and passed away at the age of twenty-six. He wrote about his – misled – generation, pacifism and his home in poems, short stories and a play. In order to commemorate him a lot of events take place around the centenary, mainly online of course.
Whitsun shall be a quiet affair again as meeting people is still quite restricted and the weather forecast is not too otimistic for gatherings outdoors. I look forward to this week´s last but one edition of the journal on Sunday and hope Ole will feel better by then.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
Reflections of the past year of Lockdown 19 -05 -2021
It’s been an interesting week since being able to hug my daughters.
A year without contact has its consequences. Why was I sobbing at the thought of being able to give my daughters a hug? It’s been too long. The sobbing was a release from all the pent-up emotion I expect.
I must admit to being very relaxed in my cleaning habits during lockdown. What was the point in cleaning if no one could come in. I became very untidy in my loneliness and grief. Just sitting watching TV or having a lonesome walk up the lane. Or worse eating the wrong food. Trying to cook for oneself is not as easy as it sounds when you have been used to cooking for two or five people all your life. We are now hearing on TV of all the people who are obese and it’s the next problem for the NHS, as if it hasn’t got enough problems without that one joining it. I also have put on a stone in weight when I was already too heavy adding to the problems and the pain of sciatica in my back. This came about when the sun came out and after not doing any exercises I shoot into the garden with gusto and wrench my back no short cuts for me. The pain became unbearable so I saw my GP who said I could take more tablets. These tablets made me ill and I had to stop taking them and got terrible withdrawal symptoms.
My daughter Sarah came and took me home with her to take care of me. They looked after me very well pampering me with loving kindness for a couple of days. My middle daughter Karen came to take me home stopping on the way for me to see and smell the bluebells in Ecclesall Woods that I missed last year due to lockdown.
The English Blue Bell Hyacinthoides non – scripta. Is the best in all the world. With its delicate perfume and flowers and unbelievable beauty in our woodland. Giving me strength. Having an emotional hug from Sarah as we left them.
Monday, I had my eldest daughter Ellen from Oldham came to take care of me at home, having a hug in the open air first, what joy. She stayed the night and did a spring clean in my front room and we had a good chat and a laugh.
We got quite giddy with laughter as I have a china cabinet with all my ancestor’s china and friends nick knack’s in. But the most amusing part was when she vacuumed underneath it, she found a small box of Chinese coal. I had no idea it was there and don’t know anything about it. I can only assume it was something my husband put there, but why? and what was he going to do with it? We will never know now. But I thought how funny finding Chinese coal under the china cabinet and we both became hysterical with laughter. I have not laughed as much in years.
Then we started to think and surmise about it. My husband used to do engineering jobs for a Chinese chap at Sheffield University who was into ceramics and occasionally he brought my husband gifts, but why coal? Was it special coal from china? Also, my husband carved things, was he about to carve something out of this coal? But the pieces were so small. We do see small figures made out of coal. Was it from a pit closure to remember a friend? My husband always supported the miners during the year long strike of 1984. My mind boggles at the ideas we were coming up with.
The other thing my mind is busy with is trying to speak to any one in authority on anything these days is impossible. Music music or press 1 press 2 press 3-4-5-6-7-8. 40mins later you have forgotten what you had rung about in the first place.
In my youth we never had a phone and there were only two public phone boxes for our whole village of a thousand houses. Now everyone has a phone and we can’t get to speak to anyone in charge. 40 minutes of music to speak to any company or British Gas re bills that’s a laugh. It just drives everyone mad. Covid is the first message you get on any line now. How ever did we manage before? Everything has to be done on line with faceless people. How do the thousands who have no internet cope? It doesn’t make sense. I must stop going on about it.
On a happier note, I do hope I will be able to come to Norfolk for the party but it all depends on whether my daughter Ellen can bring me. We will have time to work something out but not for 27th June for us please.
Happy Birthday to Margeret I hope you had a wonderful birthday this week.
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
People aged 60 and older are starting to receive, under the government’s national vaccination programme. This is called phase two of the programme. But phase one is still under half done. It aims to give jabs to all healthcare workers.
So far, fewer than half of the country’s 1.4 or so million health professionals have received them. It’ll probably mean the second phase or the rollout of the vaccine will be delayed. No one seems to know, or if they do they’re keeping quiet.
I try not to think about it too much. Really, I simply can’t wait to get my jab. But I try to curb my excitement, continue with my semi-locked-up lockdown existence and try not to think about it. I feel like my kids do a week before Christmas.
I’ve read more books over the last 14 months than I ever have over a similar length of time. I haven’t had more time on my hands, despite being stuck indoors more than I would normally. If anything I’ve had less time to myself because the schools were closed for so long and are now on staggered attendance. But I’ve made more time at night and have read a vast amount, including plenty of 19th century English literature and classical Greek and Roman authors. Maybe it’s a sort of bucket list.
The backyard at home is dotted with wispy black ash that has blown here from the veldt, or bush, which borders this part of town. Last week, there was a massive fire that raged across it. It’s been very dry for months, the grass and shrubs a glossy, brittle, golden brown. Every year the bush around here catches fire, or someone torches it. You can hear the crackling inferno from quite a distance. Weirdly, it sounds like water pouring onto muddy ground from a great height.
It’s amazing that anything survives the blaze, but it does. Even if there’s been no rain, you soon see small, bright green blades of grass starting to emerge from the black ash. The bushes are trees are usually unharmed. After the rains, which usually come later in the year, everything’s green and lush again. Unless you scratched at the ground to see ashy soil, you’d hardly know there’d ever been a devastating conflagration.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Emerging into the light
This week has been unusual, in that we have made long car journeys and visited family. My mother in Lichfield, 96 years and still managing with just a cleaner once a week and my sister shopping for her and managing hearing and teeth appointments and all the other myriad things that go with supporting elderly people living at home independently. We haven’t been to see them since my mother’s birthday in September. We could have visited for the day, but the journey is over three hours each way, and I have been terrified of inadvertently bringing Covid to my mother’s door. Now that we are all “double jabbed” things felt more secure. This weekend we will visit our youngest son and his partner, and their lively three year old. She is as bright as a magpie’s hoard and we can’t wait to see them all. This afternoon we are collecting our other two grandchildren from school - we have been taking turns to “bubble” with their other grandparents – and we are looking forward to hearing their news face to face.
Ally and I cannot fathom all the fuss about holiday travelling - especially those people rushing off to the sun in the “amber” countries despite government advice that they should not. And there’s the rub. “Advice”, left all nice and ambivalent, because, as we see it, our libertarian government doesn’t want to appear too unfriendly. They would prefer to “nudge” people towards making the right decision rather than lose votes by telling them. Your government wants to be your chum, for after all, we live in chummocracy these days.
The ”Indian” Covid variant has been much in the news, and there seems to be uncertainty about how transmissible it is. It seems certain that we will have to live with Covid outbreaks for the foreseeable future, perhaps dealing with them as we would deal with a ‘flu or measles outbreak, with containment and tracking and tracing of victims - but it has emerged this week that local authorities have not been kept up to speed about the variant cases in their areas by the national track and trace unit, leading to outbreaks in several locations. Although our journal will end shortly, I suspect that the Covid story will roll on. And if the journal is eventually published, will there be hollow laughs all round as our future audience hears about about how the Covid pandemic ended in the Summer of 2021?
Stay safe, and stay in touch - a Facebook group would be a good thing I think. I belong to several (the strangest of which has to be “We Love Endpapers”, a group dedicated to the enjoyment of decorative book endpapers) and dip into them often. A good way to tell each other our news and support each other as we continue to peer into the future.
From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
I am sitting in my study listening to the clock ticking, and it seems to be ticking down towards the final opportunity for so many people who contribute in this little piece of cyber space. I could feel down about that, and know that I will feel a sense of bereavement next week. Truth to tell, this has been a wonderful experience in what is a bad time for the people of the world - at least that's how I see it. I do hope there will be some means of journalists keeping in touch as much as we may want to in the future. Best beloved and I intend to get to the party!
So, what has been happening during the past week - in this neck o'the woods anyway? It has been quite a productive time for me and for best beloved. Beach hut repairs have forged ahead, and the doors are beginning to look quite respectable. An expedition to Puckpool in order to do work was carefully planned for Wednesday, because we thought the weather would be kind. Well, that was a big mistake wasn't it! Somehow the work got done, but we were thundered upon, and also hailed and rained upon in torrents. Best beloved and I managed to laugh our way through this and there was very a good end result. I don't know when we'll be able to continue, because at the moment a howling gale is blowing up the Channel and hitting the Island hard - not beach hut weather.
The wildlife here, particularly birds, seem to be doing well. It seems that the local population of songbirds is well up this year, and there are lots of fledglings to be seen. A downside is that once a day perhaps there is a thump on a window as one of these little birds bangs its head. So far all of them seem to have survived, but do they suffer brain damage from this I wonder! House sparrows are back here, for the first time in over twenty years. It's great to see and hear these little chirping things.
Thank you Margaret and Sheila once again for all that you have been doing...
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
This week I have been thinking some more about life after work, as I will be retiring in December. I attended a virtual trustee meeting of a charitable institution where I am shortly to be appointed a trustee. The solicitor who is legal advisor to the Trust said they were looking to introduce some young blood with real life financial and business experience. It is nice to be considered "young blood" when you are approaching your sixtieth birthday!
My MD at work asked me what kind of leaving party I wanted, with options ranging from a quiet dinner with just a few guests to a substantial party with dozens of colleagues and an evening of drunken karaoke. I would prefer the former, but suspect that peer pressure, and the established customs of the company, mean that I will end up with the latter.
Our son's property renovation project is taking longer than anticipated, with the result that when their current lease expires at the end of May, he and his girlfriend will be temporarily homeless and therefore lodging with us. I hope the Wi-Fi can handle another two people "working from home" all day.
At work we are continuing to put in place the necessary building blocks for our five year expansion plan, which I have helped to formulate but which I will only observe from the outside. We have appointed a new Head of Business Development who will research and develop new markets for us across Europe. She is a Ukrainian, previously living in Hungary, but who recently relocated to Milton Keynes. Meanwhile our IT team, which used to be my responsibility, has been merged with our digital team (which used to be part of marketing) to create a new dynamic digital function headed up by another new hire, a Frenchman living in London. He has agreed to let me practice my rusty French on him, and in typical French style said that he would welcome the opportunity to correct my errors.
In the wider world I am hoping that the government finally plucks up the courage to start taking some bold decisions. Firstly they need to be to press on with the ending of all lockdown restrictions on June 21st, and to refocus the NHS on all the other ailments and diseases that have been ignored for the last 15 months. And secondly they need to make real progress on a free trade agreement with Australia (and then with New Zealand and Canada), so as to lower the cost of food for our fellow citizens and to provide better export opportunities (and therefore more jobs and higher wages) to our manufacturers. Free trade is always a win-win!
And finally Sarah yesterday booked tickets for "A Comedy of Errors", in a temporary outdoor theatre that the RSC are constructing in Stratford for a summer run. Real life is slowly returning!
Hello from Eastbourne
Mr Jolly Wonderful by Shirley-Anne Macrae
I am writing this from bed, during a rare moment of clarity. I have been here all week you see, in various states of delirium. I shall explain.
It all started a few weeks ago; I felt unwell and called 111. After waiting 45 minutes, I eventually spoke to a nurse who told me they were still overwhelmed with COVID and a GP would call me back. I did not receive a call.
So I started my training week at Charleston and nipped out during tea breaks to call my own GP surgery for an appointment. No appointments! It was as if I had asked for something unreasonable, like a bar of gold! I was told if it was urgent, I should go to A&E. It wasn't THAT urgent but I really needed to see a doctor. After much pleading, I was granted a phone call at 8pm, seven days after my initial call to 111 and after several attempts at sucking up to the receptionists. Alarmed at the hoops I had been forced to jump through, my GP apologised and explained doctors are overworked (again due to COVID) and he agreed I needed some medication. Perhaps because he was overworked, he mistakenly sent the prescription to a closed pharmacy. It was Friday evening before I got those pills down me.
I felt green all weekend. Determined to carry on, I trotted off to Brighton for the day with the children, for art supplies and, er, um, clothes. I became even greener on the train home and as we pulled into Eastbourne station, I was engulfed by pain and I collapsed. Because of COVID, no-one bloody helped me! I howled and crawled off the train and my husband who was waiting in the car park, ran to me. As I wasn't dying, merely in agony, 999 advised him that I'd have to wait four hours for an ambulance. Nick somehow got me into the car and up to the hospital.
He pulled into the ambulance bay outside A&E and ran inside for help. Ambulances were parked up in rows outside and paramedics were standing around drinking tea, chatting. They didn't look particularly harassed. Nick came back with two of them, one of whom I have to say, looked very young to me. To assist, they gave me gas and air. And just as it was starting to work, the young one said "right, we're gonna get you out this car, it's gonna be quick and it's gonna hurt but you're gonna walk into the waiting area".
Now, I really like young people and I'm never rude. However I recall slurring "does your mum know you're out?" at him (the gas and air makes you feel and act like you've had a skinful). He ignored me of course and started to count to three, I think his plan was to drag me out of the car on 'three'. I retreated further into the car to make it difficult for him to grab me, still sucking furiously on the gas and air. He was saying 'no no no, don't be silly, now come here' and I can't be sure exactly of what I said but I don't think it was something I would normally say. The other paramedic, a mature and gentle looking man, who looked like he had a bit more life experience under his belt, shoved him out of the way and took over. Kindly and compassionately, he told me to suck on that lovely stuff as much as I liked and when I was ready, he would be waiting for me to place one foot at a time onto the pavement and he would assist me into a wheelchair. He sent the child-paramedic off to fetch one. This was all managed with dignity and respect and no expletives and I was wheeled crying into the waiting room where because of the distress I was in and alarm I was causing other patients, I was seen swiftly by a doctor. A jolly, wonderful, Nigerian doctor. Again, because of COVID, Nick was not allowed to wait with me and went home to see to our frightened children.
I told the jolly, wonderful Nigerian doctor that my husband loved his country, having spent two years working at the Enugu State Water Corporation. Nick loved the people the most, he loved their palm wine, their stews, the hospitality of folk who didn't have much. I told him of the many Calabash utensil holders he brought home and of the piece of Nigerian cloth I framed to make a wall hanging for our bedroom. When he was leaving Nigeria, an elder bestowed him with the title of Chief Chi Na Ogwu, complete with ceremonial robes, in thanks for his work for Nigeria. He was told at the bash afterwards that Bill Clinton received the same title!
Now, I don't know if it was because I was sharing my husband's love for this man's country but he treated me as if I were the Queen. He gave me a syringe of something powerful as well as antibiotics and many other powerful medicines to get me through the week. Yet although he remained jolly and wonderful, even through my drug induced stupor, I detected his sadness while speaking about how COVID is ravaging his homeland. I felt humbled and grateful and a bit spoiled.
And so here I am. I've been in bed all week, dosed up, sleeping, talking nonsense due to the medication. The cat is delighted, she hasn't left my side. I think she thinks I'm back for good. I do need to get better and back to my children and work. I had just completed my Charleston re-training. Also, the laundry basket is full again and I'm waiting on another 'no clean pants' complaint but hopefully I'll be fast asleep on my painkillers and won't have to deal with that one.
Jane, just south of Norwich
What a week of weather we have had in the UK – heavy rain, warm sun, thunder and now strong winds to round things off. My Nordic walk, which included a route through woodland this morning, has been cancelled. I planted runner beans out in the vegetable patch last weekend and half of them have been munched by slugs, tempted out by the rain showers (our hedgehog needs to work a bit harder). I have potted up more bean seeds in the greenhouse as every year I usually have to replace a few.
The changing weather seems to reflect my mood. I am mainly optimistic for the life ahead but have occasional bouts of concern at other times, usually after I have listened to the latest news.
But I am looking forward to visiting my father this weekend. I have baked one of his favourite cakes to take with me, Maple and Walnut, and one I thought I would share with you. Very easy to make and one hour is exactly what it seems to need.
225g butter, softened
170g soft brown sugar
110g chopped walnuts
255g self-raising flour
125 ml milk
75 ml maple syrup
Heat oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mk 3 (Fan 150C). Grease and base line a 20cm round tin. Beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Add walnuts and fold in the flour. In a jug combine the milk, eggs and maple syrup and beat together before gradually adding to the flour mixture. Mix until smooth. Turn into the prepared tin and bake for one hour.
There are some good exhibitions opening in Norwich at the moment which is a hopeful sign. We haven’t been tempted to a restaurant or pub yet but booking for an exhibition seems a very good idea. Grayson Perry’s tapestries are on show at Norwich University of the Arts and an exhibition of the work of landscape painter John Crome has opened at Norwich Castle.
Grayson Perry’s art programmes during lockdown encouraged me and a few friends to produce a simple artwork each week to share with one another. With life getting busier, we have paused this group for the time being and I have missed it. I hope lockdown will never be repeated but it has given many of us the gift of time and the opportunity to do some new things for ourselves. I would never have considered writing a weekly journal to share with others if I hadn’t had had the time to read about the Plague20Journal, look it up, enjoy it as a reader and then feel that I could write and contribute something. I shall try and carry a little bit of “me time” and the opportunities it has given me, into my new post lockdown life.
I feel I have learnt a lot over the past year, about myself, priorities and friendships and the Journal has helped me dwell on the small happenings of each lockdown week as it has passed by. It has reassured me that the way I have felt has been very much the feeling of others. It’s been good to share. Oh yes, and I continue to learn Welsh – very slowly!
Dymuniadau da i bawb. (Good wishes to all).
Jean, Melbourne Australia
What a wonderful lifeline the Journal has been over the past year! The many different voices and lives made me feel connected to the bigger world - a godsend during our super strict lockdown when the life we could live shrank to something pretty small. Followed by the challenging transition to something like normal life and now, happily, visits to cafes, the theatre, galleries, and friends' hugs!
However our borders are firmly closed which means we can't leave the country - or only with the government's permission (for compassionate or business reasons) - and it's not easy to enter either, with thousands of Australian citizens waiting overseas who haven't been able to get on a flight. Most recently, Australians in India were even threatened with jail and a stiff fine if they tried to re-enter via another country. Prime Minister Morrison backed off from this position, but the question about the value of Australian citizenship remains (so what does it mean if you're refused entry to your own country?) and so does the question of why the federal government hasn't put in place a workable quarantine program - it is their responsibility after all - so that Australians can safely return? Apparently a third of the population have family overseas so the issue of separated families affects a mighty number of us. Until the government deals with the quarantine program - so it can lift the cap on those entering - and increases vaccination capacity, it is hard to see how we can move forward.
In the meantime - I finally pulled together a mass of information I'd collected about my father's family, from ships' lists (travelling from Russia to America in the early 1900s) and from New York census records, to share with my children and brothers. It was a big complicated family and so fascinating to see how they continued to live (and work together) with each other in different household configurations over 30 to 40 years. A survival bubble.
I also realised that, in order to keep going with my translation project, I needed to get out of the house! So I'm now going into the city a couple times a week and working in the glorious domed reading room of the State Library where I used to work. My home away from home!
Thanks to all the Journal writers for sharing so much. Stay safe and well!