24/01/2021

Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

Wednesday was an extraordinary day. In the morning, Jean, in Melbourne, scheduled a three way zoom call - Jean, me and another American from Michigan now living in Israel. A topic arose at the end of our call that captivated us. Each of us left America in our early twenties, so we are now approaching over fifty years living abroad. “Why had we come to live abroad? Were we escaping something or were we drawn to something?” Each of us eventually acquired citizenship in our adopted country but none of us has given up our American citizenship. “Why is that? And how attached do we feel to America now? Do we continue to feel American.?” I was still pondering all of this over lunch -“How American am I?” By the end of the afternoon however, I could not have felt more American.

 

Somehow I was in tears from the moment we tuned in to watch the inauguration live. The Vice President Elect, Kamala Harris, descended the stairs to the Podium and my tears began and continued for the full two hours. As I watched I felt relieved, proud, elated all at once. Despite everything that has happened over the last four years, despite the horrendous events of the last few weeks, this country, my country, was able to stage this ceremony with dignity and seriousness. The weight of the historical continuum was stressed again and again - from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln through many others to today. Tradition somehow transcending the presence of an impregnable fence and a phalanx of National Guardsmen. 

 

I cherished the humanity and inclusiveness - the celebration of diversity from the Pledge of Allegiance in sign language to Bernie Sanders’ mittens and Lady Gaga’s red skirt, to the passionate words of the Youth Laureate, Amanda Gorman. I cherished the moment of silence to remember the 400,000 Americans lost to the pandemic; at last, a President with empathy and decency. 

 

A peaceful transition of power.

 

My nephew and his wife sent this photo of their Inauguration cake. I leave you to ponder the significance of the sunglasses and black sneakers, but note the words.
In answer to those hats that shouted “Make America Great Again”, three words, “We Just Did. “

24/01/2021

Plagues past and present

David Seddon, Brockdish South Norfolk

The Black Death

 

The number of deaths from corona virus in England has now reached 100,000. This appalling and, at some point, we will know more about why we appear to have suffered so many. But for the time being, let us take some comfort in the ability of modern medicine to develop vaccines which can, we hope, contain the virus and reduce the number of serious illnesses and deaths. Such measures were not available in earlier times.     

 

The plague that was effectively contained in Harleston in 1625, about which I wrote previously, was a manifestation of something that had first arrived in England in the summer of 1348 – the ‘bubonic plague’ (the term Black Death was not used until the 17th century), caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria. The plague was spread by flea-infected rats, as well as individuals who had been infected on the continent. 

 

The first known case in England was a seaman who arrived at Weymouth, Dorset, from Gascony in June 1348. By autumn, the plague had reached London and by summer 1349, it had spread to affect the entire country, before dying down towards December. Low estimates of mortality in the early twentieth century have been revised upwards due to re-examination of data and new information, and a figure of 40–60 per cent of the population is widely accepted. 

 

The most immediate consequence was a halt to the campaigns of the Hundred Years War. In the long term, the decrease in population caused a shortage of labour, with a subsequent rise in wages; this was resisted by the landowners, which caused deep resentment among the lower classes. The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 was largely a result of this resentment, and even though the rebellion was suppressed, in the long term it brought an end to serfdom in England. 

 

In 1361–62 the plague returned to England, this time causing the death of around 20 per cent of the population. After this, the plague continued to return or re-emerge intermittently throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, in local or national outbreaks. From this point on its effect became less severe. But it remained endemic throughout the 16th. There were major outbreaks in London, for example, in 1592, 1603, 1625, and 1636. In 1625, 40,000 Londoners died of the plague, and parish registers show deaths attributed to the plague in almost every year of the century up to 1665 – the year of the Great Plague, about which we know so much, from the diaries of Samuel Pepys, among other sources. 

 

The severity of the 1665 plague outbreak did not become apparent until June, and life in the Pepys household carried on as usual in the first five months of the year. His mother came to town in May and enjoyed herself until she left in June as the city emptied itself. Pepys himself stayed on for a short while, with his family, at his home in Seething Lane, 

 

‘till above 7,400 died in one week, and of them above 6,000 of the plague, and little noise heard day nor night but tolling of bells; till I could walk Lombard Street and not meet twenty persons from one end to the other, and not fifty upon the Exchange; till whole families (ten and twelve together) have been swept away; till my very physician, Dr Burnet, who undertook to secure me against any infection.. died himself of the plague; till the nights (though much lengthened) are grown too short to conceal the burials of those that died the day before, people thereby constrained to borrow daylight for that service; lastly, till I could find neither meat nor drink safe, the butcheries being everywhere visited, my brewer’s house shut up, and my baker with his whole family dead of the plague’.

 

He chewed tobacco to stave off the plague, and worried that wigs might be made of the hair of victims. He had a moment of ‘extrordinary fear’ when he heard that his assistant had come in to work with a headache and had gone to lie down on Pepys’ bed. On 5th July, he moved his family to Woolwich, while he himself took lodgings in Greenwich, and in late August had the Navy Office moved to Greenwich also. He kept himself very busy throughout the rest of the year. He was very aware of the risk of staying in central London, and encouraged his cousins to leave town, using ‘all the vehemence and rhetoric’ he could, but they were unwilling to leave their shop, which was their livelihood.  

 

He himself, however, ventured back into London from time to time, and not just to look after his private business or to fetch things from Seething Lane. Once, he made a quite unnecessary visit to the plague pits at Moorfields; he also walked through the City at the end of August to visit a goldsmith and remarked that the people he passed were ‘walking like people that had taken leave of the world’. He even visited Westminster, though he knew it was badly affected – until he learned of the death of ‘poor Will’ who used to sell ale at the Hall-door, and ‘his wife and children dead, all, I think, in a day’. An old friend from his clerking days, Peter Luellin, would visit him in Greenwich on Navy Office business, eventually died of the plague in St Martin’s Lane, which ‘much surprised’ him.

 

Eventually, the number of those dying dwindled, and his wife decided to return with the family to Seething Lane, but Pepys himself was less eager to return permanently, and his wife had to make a special trip to Greenwich to urge him to follow suit. When he did return in January 1666, he was frightened by the sight of the churchyard at St Olave’s, in which graves were piled high. More than three hundred burials had taken place there during the previous six months. ‘If the plague continues among us another year’, wrote Pepys, ‘the Lord knows what will become of us’. In fact, another 2,000 Londoners died in 1666; the theatres were not opened until November, and there was no public thanksgiving for the end of the plague until then. The great fire of London seems to have helped purge the plague; but the last recorded case was at Rotherhithe, in 1679. That seems to have ended the plague.

24/01/2021

“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

I’m sorry to have been such a rubbish correspondent. I have felt completely overwhelmed by the news of the day. Every sentence I wrote for last weeks journal was hit with the back button until I was left with the blank sheet, and  I had to send an email of apology to Margaret. The almost normal life we have here is coloured by the appalling health situation in America and the United Kingdom. We all know enough about COVID now to know that it will get much worse. The figures for active cases was identical in England to Victoria as we went into a hard lockdown. When we emerged with zero cases the UK had 20,000. I am eternally grateful to the hard and often unpopular decisions that were made here. I cannot imagine the fatigue of health care workers. Interviews with doctors and nurses shown on Australian television are heartbreaking. We also understand that “long” COVID is beginning to impact, with the hospitalisation of people who were sick and apparently recovered six months ago, returning to hospital. 

 

On a more positive note politics in the USA suddenly is more calm and civilised. The grown ups have been left to clean up an almighty mess. 

 

I’m trying to multitask again. I have been asked to bake a Persian Love Cake for a dinner with friends tomorrow night. The first one I forgot to set aside half of the mix to make a base and instead it was all cake. Then I did a zoom Pilates class and left it too long in the oven. I’ll section it and freeze for home use. My husband asked hopefully could we have some with a cup of tea this afternoon. A step too far to have it twice in twenty four hours. The second is in the oven and I have almost forgotten it writing this. It is an expensive cake to bake having almost 500 g of almonds and then decorated with pistachios. It is wickedly sweet, but it will have that cut through a little with yoghurt served on the side and a generous serve of Gill’s fabulous homegrown raspberries. If it emerges from the oven unscathed. Twice now I’ve forgotten to reset my phone to timer.

 

My dental work begun almost twelve months ago is limping towards the finish line. I have had a skin graft removed from the implant and I am now just over two weeks away from the crown being fitted. All the surgeries are running twelve to fourteen weeks behind schedule. Dermatologists are 6 months behind. I developed rosacea during the first lockdown and need a specialist review. I fully appreciate the value of and support wearing masks. The climate here is very challenging for mask wearing and the dermatologist told me he was dealing with his own pandemic of skin conditions caused by their use. The virus that keeps on giving.

 

Well my cake nears its time and my lovely dog is giving me her best stink eye to ask for her dinner. You are never out of my thoughts and I do worry for you. My lapsed Catholic Father used to say “ Worry if you like Susie, but for Christ’s sake don’t pray for me”.  All I can say is I will try not to. Oh, did you know you now have to pay for fresh air in Australia? People in hotel quarantine have to pay extra for rooms that have a window that opens or even more luxuriously possess a balcony. 

 

Sx

 

PS well done on the jab and the job David!

 

Some pics from our house and hen sitting for my niece last week. The upper Yarra river Melbourne.

24/01/2021

Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

It’s a roller-coaster week of news. Even the weather is changeable. Family and friends are struggling. What can we do to help? It seems the best thing is to stay safe. But this seems so little when others are doing so much.  

 

The vaccination roll-out is going better than expected. We owe so much to all those brilliant scientists and health care staff who are making this possible. The only snag is that the supply of vaccine is not keeping up with demand. In some areas people in their seventies are being vaccinated whilst, in other places, people in their nineties are still waiting. My mother rings almost daily to tell my sisters and me that she is still waiting. She has had her letter and just needs to wait patiently. Mum is not keen on patience.  

 

On Tuesday I visit Barbara at her care home. It’s a window visit and I stand outside in the wind and rain. But, it’s her 96 birthday. An ingenious person has bought a baby monitor so, for the first time since last September, Barbara and I are able to have a conversation. It’s wonderful. As an added birthday present, Barbara, along with every resident, is vaccinated on Monday evening. Best not mention this to mum. Happy birthday Barbara. 

 

Juxtaposed to the vaccination success, the numbers of people with the virus continue to rise. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, 1800 people die on Wednesday. Our Prime Minister says that we may still be in lockdown in May. A friend zooms to scream that they just want their old life back.  

There is relief all round as we witness a peaceful transfer of power to President Biden. Trump, in his final address as President, tells us all how successful he has been. Anything good that happens will all be due to his great work. Anything bad that happens will all be down to the new administration. Nice line of reasoning. He’s worked hard, his family have worked hard. So hard that the First Lady asks someone to write her thank-you letters to the staff that have supported her over the last four years. Meanwhile, in one day, President Biden wastes no time signing executive orders to address the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and racial inequality. 

 

Some of Trump’s new neighbours are less enamoured by his move to Palm Beach. In order to obtain permission to turn their private residence at Mar-el-Lago into a private club in the 1990s, Trump signed an agreement to waive his right to reside there. Demands are being made of the Palm Beach authorities to enforce this contract. It’s unlikely to succeed. But similar troubles are filling up Trump’s in-tray as individuals and companies try to distance themselves. 

When I next move I’d like to engage the team of people that transformed the White House for the new administration in a matter of hours. Furniture removal, cleaning, décor altered. Even the name-plates on the doors are changed. The last time R and I moved it was chaos in parts of our new home for weeks. We had paid for removers to pack and move but, mistakenly, thought that we’d like to do the unpacking. On moving day we surveyed the piles of boxes after the removal team had left, locked the door and went out to reassess our imprudent decision.  

 

My ability to multi-task has taken a dive this week. I’m at the top of some steps painting the ceiling when a video call comes in from a grandson. He wants to do some creative writing using his new birthday book. And I had offered. His mum is trying to juggle online teaching, back-to-back sessions all day, at the same time as supervising three sons with online schooling. In the rush to answer, I neglect to notice that there is a hole in my painting gloves. The paint on my hands gets transferred onto the smart pad, chair and table. I only notice when I grab a pear and see smears of New White on its green skin. How do parents working from home manage this for months on end?

24/01/2021

Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

“So how do I want to spend the rest of my life? I want to spend as much time as I can with my family, and I want to help change the country and the world for the better. That duty does much more than give me purpose; it gives me something to hope for. It makes me nostalgic for the future.”  

 

That was the ending of Joe Biden’s book “Promise Me, Dad.” Endings make way for new beginnings... 

 

God Bless you both, Joe and Kamala. Ralitsa, my best friend, and I discussed the future 46th American president and we are filled with hope for this senior politician who is, above all, A Good Man. After every personal set back and tragedy, he has dusted himself off, put on his boxing gloves and re-entered the ring. A lesson for us on grace under pressure. And we hope that Kamala will one day be elected as the first woman president. About time in America, given all the noise about equality, they have dawdled behind many other countries which have elected female leaders. Not many were exemplary though. So, female politicians can’t claim a natural moral and political superiority over men. Equality. My personal favourites were Thatcher and Merkel. Women with courage.  

 

On the other hand, Trump and Melania seemed to slink away with one of the worst endings on record. An illustration of “how not to do it.” The lack of generosity of spirit, the inability to put aside differences for the greater good and perhaps, just a lack of good manners.  

 

I have been living vicariously and have been transfixed by Barbara Warsop’s Seville marmalade adventure. I didn’t realise quite how much work it required. I can’t get Seville oranges here which is a great excuse for this lazy girl not to make marmalade. On Margaret Steward’s recommendation, I have a bottle of Thursday Cottage blood orange marmalade, found locally, in my fridge. Heavenly when lathered on toast with geitost (a sweet brown goat cheese) and a cup of strong Lapsang souchang tea. Margaret also recommended Brakenhill Fine Foods marmalade. I rang and spoke to Peter in Yorkshire, who is one of the owners. He was delightful. We are investigating postage post-Brexit. Greedy me is considering thick cut Seville orange marmalade, ginger curd, red hot onion marmalade and carrot chutney with a kick. Yummmm! Fingers crossed that postage will be possible.  

 

Since 27th December, Norway has vaccinated 50,000. There were 23 deaths, some soon after vaccinating old, sick patients. The government has investigated and recommended a case-by-case decision on vaccinating very ill or terminally ill elderly patients. There is a resistance against vaccination amongst the East European and African populations in Oslo. Unfortunately, they can become the vectors of tomorrow.  

 

I’m also in the market for a Vice President Aunty T-shirt produced by Kamala Harris’s niece for her brand Phenomenal Woman.  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/style/meena-harris-building-that-brand.html

Meena Harris, Building That Brand - The New York Times 

Meena Harris, a lawyer and former tech executive, used to make statement T-shirts as a side job. Her most famous read, simply, “Phenomenal Woman.” (Perhaps you saw it on Instagram, worn by... www.nytimes.com

 

“Aunty” is what I was brought up to call all older women even though they weren’t related, as a sign of respect. In another context in Singaporean slang, if we said that a certain dress made you look “Aunty,” it probably meant that it wasn’t the height of style. Singaporean aunties are instantly recognisable to the cognoscenti. “No, no, that’s soooo Aunty!” reads- Dear God, don’t buy That!!!! I’ve reached Aunty-hood in age, hopefully not in the look. But I do carry an umbrella to protect myself from the sun, reach to the back of the fridge in the store for milk, have extra carry bags in my handbag plus all sorts of emergency medication. And am a world-class nag according to reliable sources. Get my drift about aunties? 

 

The following quote is the epigraph of Joe’s book: 

“Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”

Immanuel Kant 

 

I’m looking forward to watching the Inauguration today.  

Skål♥️  To happiness and new beginnings... 

24/01/2021

From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Hooray! The sun is shining today (Friday) and I have completed what should in normal times be a very simple task. This was to witness the last will and testament of someone I have known for many years. During a lock down this becomes a relatively complex operation, caused by the need for three people to be together, one to sign the will and the others to witness the signature. All fine and dandy you would think - do it outside, wear a mask and maintain distancing - but no, that won't work, because there are three who must perforce meet, and that isn't allowed. Well, the good lady, the principle signatory, had a brainwave. She phoned the police and asked what could be done legally. They had no problem at all in sorting things out. They issued a case number for the event, which would provide cover for those driving to the garden and for the meeting. So I drove over armed with said number, and would be covered legally if challenged. I've written about this today partly because it seems such a neat idea, and perhaps others might use it should the need arise for rule breaking. A small twist in handling lock down perhaps. Of course I wasn't challenged by the strong arm of the law!

This past week has been gentle on me. Best beloved and I continue to have worries over the family person suffering from plague, although there are some slight signs of improvement thanks be to God. Events in the USA have been fascinating and thankfully without more riots and insurrection. I feel a sense of relief that Biden and Harris have been sworn in, but have great concerns over the divisions in that beautiful country across the pond. It's also alarming to realise that more have died there from the plague than did from enemy action during the Second World War. What a tragedy!

 

I have been walking for exercise and that has been a delight. One day down by our little harbour I came across a strange huddle of sanderlings, delightful little wading birds normally to be seen rushing about on the beach dodging waves in order to gather food. This time it was different; they were huddled together on a sandbank doing apparently nothing at all. They are such busy little creatures that this seems almost impossible to imagine. I took a picture that can only be entitled 'Sanderling Siesta'. The only conclusion I can come to is that they were enjoying a rest. Sometimes perhaps it's best not to be too busy - I find that quite easy, being naturally bone idle!

 

My love and thanks to Margaret, Sheila and the journalistas...

24/01/2021

Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I made a huge Posh Kindling cracker featuring Trump to ignite our 20th January Bonfire of the Vanities as we called the wood burner that night. But terrible references to Trump have not completely disappeared from our household - the inventory I am making of my cracked and damaged ceramics collection has been nicknamed The China Virus.

24/01/2021

From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

I don’t think there has ever been such an emotionally charged, riveting Inauguration Day as the one we watched this past January 20th for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. I had tears in my eyes all day long as I listened to insightful news commentaries, watched as the Capitol steps respectfully filled with dignitaries, representatives and senators, three former Presidents and their spouses, and families of the new President and Vice-President, heard Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks sing so movingly capturing the feelings and thoughts of so many Americans, listened to various religious pastors offer prayers for people of all faiths and for those who have none. I was blown away by the young, so inspiring poet laureate, Amanda Gorman whose stunning poem ‘The Hill We Climb’ spoke powerfully of the state of our country with honesty and hope. It was such a sober and reflective day and both our new President and Vice-President made dignified speeches that were thoughtful, moving and inspiring. When I woke the next morning, I was aware I felt such relief that nothing awful had happened and that we had witnessed a most important and unusual day in American history. Slowly, very slowly but hopefully the unrest and division that the previous administration unwittingly revealed may be faced, addressed and healed ~ Never before have so many Americans been so engaged in the political process we just witnessed with so much at stake. 

 

The county where I live has been given very limited amounts of the vaccine so far, so I have yet to get the first of the vaccine even though I am eligible due to my age. Hopefully, this, too, will improve as Biden’s teams focus on the manufacture and distribution of vaccines. The days are slowly getting longer the light slowly changing and moving around the garden but all is frozen out there ~ no snowdrops or primroses for me yet ~ I look forward to the fragrant witch hazel blossoms before anything else but it is still too soon for them, although I see signs of buds under the brown leaves which seem to hang on till the very last. Well, we still have a few very cold months ahead of us here in the northeast. Lots of time for reading and knitting by the fire with the pups and sketching designs for a new wood engraving ~ winter is a quiet time and one I have always loved.

 

Warm regards to my fellow journalists ~ I love meeting up with you every Sunday morning and hope everyone stays well.

24/01/2021

From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

Thursday 21st January 2021

Stephen’s cousin texted us this morning, pointing out that it is the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century, hopefully an auspicious start to Joe Biden’s first full day in office, with its echoes of coming-of-age and new maturity.

 

Huge changes in the world, some optimistic, but meanwhile, as an individual, I haven’t much to say so I will simply record here that two friends in their seventies in Chichester have had the jab, and that another friend’s mother had it here in Midhurst yesterday and that Midhurst has begun the roll-out. There is some talk of us being forgotten and neglected, something which has happened before in terms of unfair council funding in comparison to Chichester, but happily the surgery is now giving vaccines and the Memorial Hall, part of the old Midhurst Grammar School, which H.G. Wells attended as both a student and teacher, is being used as a vaccination centre. As a scientific thinker, no doubt Wells’ ghost (if a ghost can be a thinker) will be interested in what’s going on.

 

Thinking of dystopian writers, I’ve been haunted all my life by E.M. Forster’s short story, The Machine Stops (1909). When we see our friends’ faces on the screen, perhaps fragmenting into pixels, and hear their voices with difficulty, the story returns to me. People are confined underground, never going out because of some unnamed catastrophe. They rely on computers, broadcasts and researching arcane artistic and historic movements to keep their brains going and only see their relatives via the blurry connection. Their bodies grow fat and slow, and somewhere along the way they forget how to service the machines that are their only connection. The handbook of the machine becomes an object of superstition and religious veneration. The story really struck fear into me when we read it at school at about the age of thirteen. How prescient it seems now. In Forster’s story, people forgot they could go outside and were shocked to discover that The Machine Stops. Human contact was only achievable by breaking the law.

 

And to complete a trio of dystopian writers, Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham is said to be set in Midhurst (Midwich is the clue). Wyndham went to Bedales and later lived near Petersfield. When my son was at school, they spent an afternoon watching the film of the book, The Village of the Damned. Why choose Midhurst? When we first came here, there were floods which cut off the town – reminiscent of the strange invisible barrier that surrounds the town in the novel. Also, if you look out from nearby highpoints on the Downs, it’s impossible to see Midhurst, even though you know where it should be. It’s as if the town sinks into the woodland (middle of wood, after all, is the meaning of the name) and, Brigadoon-like, disappears. Maybe the reformation curse of fire and water to which Cowdray Ruins is said to stand witness inspired Wyndham. Google reads one’s mind in a similar way to how the Midwich Cuckoos read the minds of their host families. Sometimes it’s alarming to type one letter and see the whole word you were looking for flash up immediately. The Midwich Cuckoos are in the computer now. And I’m in Midhurst staring at the screen, wondering why such a lovely rural area should prompt dystopian and sci-fi fantasies which no longer seem fantastical. H.G. Wells grew up at Uppark where his mother was the housekeeper; Midhurst was his local town. I suppose a fertile writerly brain will naturally respond to early surroundings and create the Morlocks out of the service tunnels at Uppark, with their well-like entrances and exits just as in The Time Machine. 

 

At the end of the film, The Village of the Damned, the self-sacrificing hero erects a wall in his head (a powerful bit of cinema and reminiscent of the computer’s fire wall, perhaps?) to resist the telepathic mind-reading of the cuckoos, who are always steps ahead of their human hosts. Vagueness, a deep sadness at some personal events, wiling away the time and getting appointments wrong have been a feature of this week. Another writer told me that it’s called ‘lockdown fog’ and is a thing apparently. Well, it’s the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century and I want lockdown fog to rise leaving a clear mind and an excellent firewall against the cuckoos who have designs on our time and thoughts. But what is the firewall there for? To stop me thinking about the huge number of dead, to ward off thoughts of not seeing the children for months, to try to create in the present moment, to remember I gave a poetry reading this week and paid my tax, features of a civilised society – and saw a new start in America.

24/01/2021

Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

All the brilliance, heat and vibrant colour of our high summer here in the far south sit so incongruously with the cold, grim gloom of the Covid reality as it continues to devastate the country. 

 

The official numbers of sick and dead are in all likelihood a poor reflection of the true state of things. Certainly the numbers of “excess” mortality suggest that Covid deaths are more than twice the official number of just under 40 000. We’ve some 1.3-million confirmed cases of Covid. As elsewhere, the rate of infection has increased massively.

 

But it’s unlikely that we’ll return to any form of hard lockdown. There just aren’t the resources here to cushion the ruinous impact on livelihoods that a total lockdown would cause. Richer countries are better placed in this respect. Here and in other so-called middle income and poor countries (and SA is only middle income in parts), full lockdown quickly translates into hunger and social meltdown.

 

The schools are supposed to restart in mid-February. I’m reluctant to let my two youngsters return. Last year, they home schooled due to us all being vulnerable in one way or another; in my case because I’m an aged parent with a history of lung disorders.

 

The city and surroundings seem generally busy despite the emergency. There’s a curfew from nine at night til dawn but life here is such that things are anyway always pretty quiet by mid-evening. 

 

The only thing I’ve noticed is that the trains are practically empty and very few are running. Every evening, I go with Masana (7) to the level crossing not far from where we live. He’s going through a trains phase, loves the big diesel locomotives with their loud plaintive horns. The train from the city to Mabopane township passes by pretty much on time each day. He waves to the driver, who waves back and sounds the horn. 

 

But there are now hardly any passengers, just a few young guys riding nonchalantly and perilously between the carriages and a scattering of people inside. The doors are always wide open in summer. Normally the train would be full and there’d be a lot of people not only riding in and between the carriages but also up on the roof. The trains often get delayed as they have to stop due to frequent gruesome and usually fatal accidents, and yet there are no controls in place to put an end to all the train surfing that goes on.

 

The trains are cheap, overcrowded and dangerous due to high crime. They tend to be the transport most used by people in informal and other forms of low paid work. My guess is that it is because this sector of the economy has been so badly hit by the lockdowns and resulting unemployment that the trains are so much quieter at present. I’m not sure.

 

But I go with Masana each evening to watch as the Mabopane train passes, with its dirty but impressive blue and yellow engines front and rear, and wave as it sounds its horn and trundles on it’s way, nine tenths empty, to the far off township.

24/01/2021

Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

A brief entry from me this week. Work has been very challenging since this start of the year as we finalised and unveiled a new five year strategy. This involves some restructuring of roles, and consequent difficult conversations with colleagues, but hopefully no job losses. At home I have been busy with garden tasks - trimming and reshaping an overgrown prunus tree and tidying away the leaves from my bed of hellebores, so that we will get the full benefit of the flowers that are just starting to appear.
 

And in the wider world the success of the vaccine rollout is very encouraging, even though the UK death toll continues to rise at an alarming rate. Following the Brexit deal UK-EU relations seem to be in danger of turning into a childish game of tit-for-tat, with Dutch customs officials confiscating lorry drivers' ham sandwiches, and London refusing to treat the EU ambassador as though he were the representative of a sovereign nation. Though the main benefit of full diplomatic status seems to be that you can avoid paying parking fines! And, because at heart I am an optimist, we have booked a holiday for July, though we are playing things safe, and are only going as far as the Isle of Wight. And finally I can report that my 89 year old mother received her Covid vaccine on Tuesday, which is a great relief.

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