Walking in L.A.

Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA

Hiking in L.A.


On Monday, my sister, our dog Chooch and I, together with a friend and her three little dogs, hiked up a trail in the mountains of the Los Angeles Forest that leads to a waterfall. It was a chilly but sunny day, perfect for hiking (it is not recommended to undertake this trail in the summer as it is far too hot). When we reached the waterfall we were greeted with a mini hail storm for a few minutes at the end of which the sun came out giving us hail and sunshine at the same time - quite magical. The mountains ahead were dusted white from snow. It was exhilarating to be in the "wilderness" away from the city; we met less than a dozen hikers during our three hours on the trail. We were thankful that we encountered only a light flurry of hail. Several years ago we were hiking up Mount Wilson in the spring time, a beautiful sunny day, when suddenly the sky turned yellow and we found ourselves in the middle of a storm. Luckily one of our walking companions was a seasoned hiker and had rain ponchos in his backpack so we were able to retreat down the mountain without getting soaked.


Today I walked closer to home in the hills and captured some wild lupins already in flower.

Jane, thank you so much for telling us about Robert Blomfield and his wonderful photography. The little documentary was really well made and I found it most touching.


I looked at his whole portfolio but was enthralled with his Edinburgh portfolio (1957 to 1966) because we lived in Edinburgh from 1955 to 1957. My father was an electrical engineer employed by the Central Electricity Generating Board and had been promoted but it meant we had to move to Edinburgh for a couple of years. We bought a house on Marchmont Road. It was a large two-storied house with spacious attics that made for wonderful roller skating.  I remember that it was close to some golf links and we used to walk to school. We had a really good education in those two years. I don't know what the education in Scotland is like now but back then it was generally thought that a Scottish education was superior to an English one. My mother, who was French, hated Edinburgh primarily because the neighbors looked down upon us for two reasons: a) we were English, and b) we did not attend a private school as did their children. Robert Blomfield's photos are so evocative of our time in Edinburgh in the fifties. The people standing at the side of the road are probably waiting to see the Queen when she visited Edinburgh in 1957. I say that because as my sister and I were walking to school one day somebody thrust union jack flags into our hands and told us to wave to the Queen as she was driven by.


Things are finally improving in California:
Covid numbers are down and tomorrow restaurants can open for outside dining, and personal care businesses such as hairdressers and nail salons can reopen. I just wish the schools would reopen...


Plague Year 2020

K.H.M., an East Kent Village


By now, almost all the many and varied written responses to Covid and its subsequent lock downs have been thoroughly explored and noted by a great number of people – the word ‘unprecedented’ tending to occur rather more than any other. There is one aspect of the consequence of the virus, though, that I don’t think has had any attention at all this Christmas.  


For several but quite irrelevant reasons I receive rather a lot of Christmas cards each year. Usually, I read these and their accompanying accounts of happenings in the families of their senders with great interest and pleasure, at the same time noting with sadness the absence of cards from those from whom I usually hear – a sure intimation of a mortality that has either happened or is to come. A scribbled note by the postman on a card marked ‘returned to sender’ that says “Gone Away” is worthy of a sermon on its own account. 


Or of a fox hunt.


This year I was so struck by the general lack of colour and vitality in those cards that I received – even the one from the local Convent lacked psazz - that I studied them more fully. There were many more illustrations of the Nativity than usual, which I found quite interesting, significant even. Rather a lot of doves carrying olive branches reached me – I’m not sure what sort of peace their senders had in mind and with whom. There was a very definite surfeit of robins. Their redbreasts were about the only really positive colours to speak of, the shades of most of the other cards being aggressively neutral. This contradiction in terms is because quite a number of the cards resembled nothing except the careful background wash we were taught at school to put on the paper before attempting to paint a watercolour on it. 


On the other hand, there were far fewer snow scenes than was customary hithertofore – if the current weather forecast is anything to go by this choice may well have been premature. 


What really striking colour there was on this year’s cards was usually more evident in the reproductions of famous religious paintings. There were for some reason that I can’t account for many fewer of these this year, too, although they have been a feature in Christmases past. Most of the other colours on the cards could only be described as pallid. An exceptions were the publications of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution which managed to be also both lively and amusing. 


This year I felt the tone of the cards demonstrated a marked change in national mood and a noticeable lack of conviction about the season and the message of hope for the future that it usually conveys. The general feeling struck me as negative, even some of the charity ones being on the depressed side. There was a definite neutrality in the sentiments expressed in print, too, and a noticeable absence of bright cheerful scenes of jolly Father Christmases standing beside glowing coal fires – a not-so hidden agenda, perhaps. Terser handwritten messages from the sender often took the form of ‘the garden’s never been better but the dog’s exhausted’. And all wished for a better year than the last one. Here, here – or should it be hear, hear?


In contrast with all of these I found that the optimism and good cheer expressed in the cards I had for my ninetieth birthday were uniformly hopeful – with - at ninety - surely much less reason.


And the cards I sent this year myself?


A painting of an old mill in this village that I bought after finding it on social media.


Tropical thoughts Part 2

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

“The rain it raineth every day” Feste


Storms ushered in the New Year

Like an angry father-in-law.

Not the ‘spits and spots’ beloved of

BBC weather but such an unrelenting deluge

It seemed impossible to imagine

The sky should contain so much.

Two days without break it squeezed itself

From determinedly leaden clouds

Unmoved by resolutions, fresh starts,

Clean breaks. Gutters spewed debris

Into riverine roads that flowed into

Torrents that re-joined the sea.

Mute, released from captivity,

Hardy souls splashed a circuit round

The remains of an indeterminate lake,

Gazed in sullen silence at muddy grey

Depths. Pondered, hunkered down

And wondered if the clown was right.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

It has to be very brief this week I'm afraid. I've left it to the last minute as I've been very busy rehearsing every day for a zoom reading of a smashing Lancashire play called Hindle Wakes (circa 1910). 


So enjoyable to have time for proper rehearsal with a good director, which we didn't have when we did Winter's Tale a few weeks ago - and to share a joke or two with the other actors. A shame we can't go off to the bar afterwards but this'll have to do and I'm going to play Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night in another reading sometime in March so I feel very lucky. It's what I know how to do and what I've done all my adult life. 


If some of you would care to tune in on Sunday it would be great. It's a curious play - obviously influenced by Ibsen but a comedy and as Lancastrian as Hobson's Choice or hotpot.


Hope everyone is keeping as well and chipper as can be expected under the circumstances. 


With all my best wishes, David


The light at the end of the tunnel...

Nikki, Norwich

My 'sanity station' each week is meditation. It's the main thing I can rely on in these crazy times. When the news is so negative, the energy is all over the place and the weather leaves a lot to be desired... being able to take just 20 minutes to relax and control my thoughts is a welcome break.


I only started regular practice last year and can honestly say it's one of the best habits I have developed over the three lockdowns (and I hope it goes some way to help cancel out the not-so-healthy habits.)


In October 2019, I visited a beautiful place called Dzogchen Beara, in Cork, Ireland... back in the days when travel was allowed! Whilst I had 'dabbled' with meditation before, this was the real deal. A weekend retreat.


Three friends (who I met whilst travelling in Australia many years before) came with me. 

We were reminded of our antipodean adventures straight away, since, once again, we were sharing a dorm in a hostel. Though it certainly seemed a lot easier climbing up to the top bunks twenty years before!

After such an incredible introduction I vowed I would continue daily, but in 2019 life was still running at 100mph and then some, and all too easily it went by the wayside. 


But lockdown one put the breaks on. It allowed my manic pace to slow. Even with homeschooling, caring for my mother and my own studies, suddenly there was time, especially without a school run. 

One of the friends I went to Cork with recommended a guy called Andrew Johnson, mainly for his beautiful Scottish accent and real, easy-to-follow manner, and I was hooked.

He offers live meditations via an App called Circles at 8am every morning, or the option to catch up later if this time doesn't suit. There is a wonderful community that has developed over the lockdowns, super caring and supportive and always ready to welcome anyone new. We have a little 'chat' and share where we are, then meditate and encourage one another. 


So if you need a little sanity station too, I hope you can take a moment to calm your mind, switch off from all the negativity that is out there and find your light at the end of the meditation tunnel! There is nothing to lose and so much to gain. xxx



Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

The lack of anything other than largely inadequate emergency treatment in hospital for Covid, plus the fact that the availability of a vaccine here is still some way off, is prompting people to resort to home remedies in an effort to fend off and boost their defences against the virus.


The price of fresh ginger has more than tripled in recent weeks. It’s usually about R150 (a little over £7) a kilo but is now over R480 in some stores. The Competition Commission has been called in to tackle the price fixing that’s mushroomed around the ginger trade. The prices of garlic and lemons are also far higher than usual, but ginger is grown less widely and is often imported.


Hot drinks or inhalants made by boiling or steeping ginger, lemon and sometimes garlic in water are a popular remedy here to fight colds and flu in the short but often fierce winter months. Similar other cures abound, most of them to do with traditional plant-based medicine, which has a generally good reputation and a long history.


The ginger-lemon-garlic mix has often been “exposed” by science writers here as being more of a comfort than a cure for colds and flu, though many people continue to swear by it. But the remedy is now coming under more concerted attack from scientists because it is being touted as a prevention for Covid and therefore as dangerous quackery. 


It’s illegal to spread false information about the pandemic, and the various bogus “cures” for Covid spread on social media — including bizarre claims that high alkaline foods eliminate the virus — are leading to prosecutions.


Scientists interviewed in the press deride the ignorance that has grown up around using ginger to prevent or cure Covid and call on “citizens” to follow all the government info about the “phased introduction” of a vaccine in the “coming months”. 


I wish they would have more sympathy for people who dread getting the virus, who have to be out and about every day of the week to try to make a living, and who are losing friends and family to the disease. It would be better to go after the crooks who spread rubbish about curing Covid with ginger and who rake in the profits from the attendant price hikes.

The schools are supposed to reopen in about two weeks. I’ve been unsure of what to do. Gracey (12) had a hard time with the school work under lockdown and home schooling last year and I blame myself for her doing badly in some subjects. She’s also become very withdrawn and I know that seeing her school friends would do her good.


But there’s a danger of her bringing the virus home. I guess the danger has only increased during this second, more rapid wave of infections. Her little brother Masana (7) and I both have comorbidities. 


So I suppose I should keep her at home longer and try harder to help her with her subjects and get her to be in touch with her friends. 


I think that’s easier said than done.


Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

This week I have been working on a general Internal Medicine ward and we have had some interesting cases. We had a 52 year old man who came with pulmonary oedema and "sky high" blood pressure (300/160 mm Hg). The cause was a very very narrow renal artery on to the right kidney and our fantastic radiologists successfully dilated and stented the artery with good effect on blood pressure and kidney function.

A really problematic patient from July 2020 came back to the hospital again from her nursing home with malnutrition and reduced conciousness. Her husband, who is a retired physician had during the autumn repeatedly tried to undo my changes to her medication from July, even though she did not want him to manage her medication. I had managed to prevent any changes by contacting any new physicians that he booked for her, but in november he tricked a neurologist to take away medication that she needed to protect her from hypoglycemia, and after that she deteriorated. She seems to be improving a bit now, so I hope she will recover even though palliative care probably would be best, but the husband and daughters will not accept that unfortunately.

It is a bit cold outside but when there is snow it feels less cold, I think and I like walking to and from work in this winter weather.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Hello! Greetings from a sunny Friday.


It was a relief seeing the sunshine this morning after a week of almost constant grey, overcast skies and drizzle that has often turned into heavy downpours. Oppressive. Restrictive. Feeling cooped up and fed up. Oh but it is not just the weather. The news has been so awful.




We have watched the TV updates in silence. What is to be said? What can be said? The various government ministers and advisors speaking on the public briefings seem to have found a good way to move on. They simply say “Next slide, please”. And another slide appears and we move on. Whatever the news - whether it is good or bad or indifferent - we move on. Next slide, please. 


It has stuck with us now. So – when we are not happy about something or it is just time to do something else, we simply repeat the mantra. It works like a dream. 


“How much is the electricity bill, darling?”

“Next slide, please”


"We could redecorate the spare room"

“Next slide, please”


“The dogs have trodden mud all over the kitchen floor! Are you going to help me clean up this bloody mess?”

“Next slide, please”


“It’s your turn to make a drink”

“Next slide, please”.


Lucy, the new pup, continues to delight and infuriate! She jumps up an awful lot and is still teething - so steals things to chew. She loves the kindling basket and regularly brings me a morning gift of a tooth-marked piece of wood which she deposits proudly on the bed. Everything has to be put away or closed or put up. Shoes and slippers are of course very unsafe and so too socks! Ah but she is so much fun and joy. She loves running for the ball and is intrigued by the world around her. I wish I had been quick enough with the phone to have photographed her yesterday as she examined a bloom on the indoor bulbs. She sat up on her hind legs and looked in utter wonder at the little white flowers.


Ah well, that’s about it for now, folks. Same old, same old. Please do take care and stay safe. Time for me to hit the garden! But first… yes, it is my turn to make a coffee…

“Next slide, please”.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

The most exciting event in our domestic life this last week has been the purchase of a new printer, a proper office laser-jet that will hopefully last for many years. We have finally given up on cheap inkjet printers that continually fail and have ridiculously expensive ink cartridges. I ordered the printer online at PCWorld and was able to collect from the door of their Coventry store just one hour later: a very efficient service. I read a comment this week that we haven’t had a real lockdown. All that has happened is that middle class people have cowered in their homes whilst working class people bring things to their front doors. Well at least I saved a delivery man a journey by going out to collect the printer


At work we have discovered some unforeseen glitches in post-Brexit EU import and export systems: problems that neither we nor our hauliers had been aware of. We knew we needed Export Health Certificates for “Products of Animal Origin”, which in our case means products made with skimmed milk powder, but a number of other complications have appeared, and like many food businesses we have had a very challenging month. We are however reasonably confident that we can plot a way through the morass of acronyms and online registrations, and find a haulier who is prepared to take our product into Europe so that we can get back to normal by the end of February, but it is messy. 


On the subject of Europe it is rather unedifying to see EU bureaucrats trying to distract attention from their failure last year to act swiftly and decisively to establish multiple vaccine supplies. Several senior EU figures are doing a very good impression of Donald Trump in issuing threats and menaces to the very companies that are rescuing the world from the pandemic through their development of life-saving vaccines. Faced with all the challenges of new UK-EU trading arrangements it is difficult to see any advantage from having left the EU, but maybe the UK's vaccine success will turn out to prove a significant benefit of Brexit. It is little comfort, however, to see at last one area of pandemic response that the UK Government has actually got right.


Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

At first blush, it’s interesting observing the differences in home schooling between my five grandchildren. Since the second school lockdown began at the beginning of January, school life has changed. However, the more I discover, the more incredulous it appears at how challenging and, for many, how stressful these new arrangements are for teachers, parents and children alike.  


All five of my grandchildren are differently schooled. M, aged seventeen, has virtual classes using video as if he was in a classroom. J, aged thirteen, has to log-in to register for each lesson. Once he has logged in, he does the work for that lesson on his own via the web. J has a tendency to get absorbed in his work and sometimes he forgets to register before each lesson. Both parents are sent a text message each time he fails to log-in and are expected to respond immediately. Y, aged six, has three online sessions with her teacher each day and is also given assignments to do independently on the web. Nine year old O has all his lessons on the web. S, who is ten, has special educational needs and her teaching has been designed to ensure the least physically and intellectually capable children are not left behind. This does not suit S’s abilities so her parents have added additional activities to stop her getting frustrated. On the other hand, S is the only one who gets meaningful interactivity with her peers via ‘show-and-tell’ type video sessions.


Life is particularly tough for teachers. It’s important to note is that all schools are open. Children who are vulnerable or who have parents who work in essential sectors (including the NHS) are still going to school. When teachers are in school they are often also running online schooling. If those teachers are parents, when they are teaching from home they are also home supervising their own children’s schooling.  


How on earth do working parents manage these demands? Three grandchildren are under ten. Web-based assignments mostly require some level of parental input. One son is “flexing my hours”. He is deputising as a teaching assistant and fitting his own work in at other times. Daughter-in-law teacher works four days online from home, whilst also supporting her three sons. On-line teaching means that some days she is with her students on video all day. She also does one day teaching in school and her husband takes a day off work each week to support his sons. There are constant irritations. Not least the mess in the kitchen. All four parents are finding that Broadband connections often fail and, if one person is talking too loudly on-line, it interrupts others in the same home.  


This is how I have stepped in to cover one day a week (possibly more) with nine year old grandson. It is not easy-going. O seems to have more timetable than time. Topic for today is Norse mythology. I learn a great deal about Odin and Frigg, although I’m not sure this is the point. What is a frontal adverbial?  We get in a muddle with long division. It seems that the way Mr Edwards taught me in the 1950s is not the same as O has been taught. Who would have guessed? I ask O what he feels about schooling from home. “Instead of going to school I do all my work on the web. I miss my friends.” He only gets to see a few of his friends during one 20 minute online session a week with his teacher. The children don’t get to talk to each other, only wave at the end. How sad.


The younger children are learning a lot by way of new technology skills. There are signs of improved self-discipline, especially with the older ones… and sometimes not. I don’t know what the solution is. But it is clear that the current arrangements are not working for teachers, parents or school-aged children. 


The Great Big Art Exhibition is being launched by Sir Antony Gormley, sculptor of the Angel of the North. He is on the radio this morning asking people to make an artwork at home and put it in their window or garden. His ambition is "to create a UK show of imagination and optimism". I’ve never had much of the former (unless it relates to baking) and I’m not sure if I still have much of the latter left. But Sir Antony is so persuasive maybe I should give it a go. 

Last September I sent a letter to my MP to ask him to raise some questions about the government’s access to care homes policy with the Minister of Social Care. Since then care homes have been through at least five changes to the rules. It was surprising, therefore, to receive an email from my MP on Wednesday, attaching a response to my September questions from the Minister herself. Suffice to say it was not worth the wait. I shall be responding but I’m not expecting a reply before July at the earliest.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Today is the 25th January when we celebrate The Scottish Poet Robert Burns birthday. Robert Burns was born on 25th January 1759 to an Alloway farmer who led a frugal, physically demanding life and the young Robert wrote poetry as an escape from these circumstances. He died in 1796 aged 37 years having lived a full life. A celebrity and prolific poet mainly writing in the Scottish dialect. The Scottish Bard.


Normally around this time I would be celebrating Burns night with a Burns Supper. These suppers and concerts are held all over the world. Friends would meet at Wortley Hall, Barnsley, the worker’s stately home for a meal called a Burns supper. It’s an occasion to be remembered for a long time and this year will be sadly missed due to Covid.

It’s a great night of fun and poetry, with a Scottish piper to pipe in the meal of Haggis. The night starts with a welcome to guests with traditional bagpipe music and the master of ceremonies entertains us with the Selkirk Grace.


Some Hae meat and canna eat, and some would eat that want it. But we hae meat, and we can eat. Sae let the lord be thankit.


We start with cocky leaky soup. Followed by The Haggis, the crowning glory of burns supper and, suitably piped in to an upstanding audience. Traditionally the chef carries the haggis on a silver platter behind the piper and is followed by the person with the knife who will address the haggis. See Robert Burns the Address to a Haggis, spoken in the scotch dialect with dramatic rendition. After apologizing for killing the haggis he plunges the knife into it to slice it open to the line (and cut you up wi ready slight), meaning skill with the words Gie her the Haggis.

A toast to the haggis of a dram of whiskey while it is piped back out to be served for dinner with taties and neeps.   Turnip and potatoes. Followed by clooty (suet) dumpling and another dram of whiskey. Then someone may sing Robby Burns “My love is like a Red Red Rose” He was an incurable romantic. And a piece of poetry is chosen by whoever wants to read one to entertain our friends. The evening traditionally ends with the singing of Burns famous song of parting: Auld Lang Syne.


I have chosen this poem from the English Poetry of Robert Burns.
I thought it quite appropriate for this time re COVID-19.

The Lazy Mist

By Robert Burns


The lazy mist hangs from the brow of the hill,

Concealing the course of the dark winding rill.

How languid the scenes, late so sprightly appear,

As Autumn to Winter resigns the pale year


The forests are leafless, the meadows are brown,

And all the gay foppery of summer has flown, 

Apart let me wander apart let me muse,

How quick time is flying, how keen fate persues!


How long have I lived, but how much lived in vain,

How little of life’s scanty span may remain.

What aspects old time in his progress has worn,

What ties cruel fate in my bosom has torn


How foolish or worse, till our summit is gained

And downward, how weeken’d’ how, darken’d, how pain’d.

Life is not worth having with all it can give:

For something beyond it poor man, sure, must live.