Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

The week starts perfectly, and to plan: I go to nearby Bacton, set up ‘camp’, and spend a happy day getting lightly sunburned and casting into the surf with the ever-present possibility of a bass or flounder or something taking the bait. Nothing does, but it rates v highly on my scale of worthwhile diversions.

Tuesday, and local daily paper The EDP send a photographer to capture Margaret and Sheila in an apparent Editorial moment for an upcoming ‘piece’ about the journal!


Back home, I’m cutting the grass when I notice one of the Ginger Hens lurking in a sort of rustic Pagoda I built earlier in the year to offer some shelter to the Guineafowl during a Beast from the East spell. They never used it.

When I get off the mower, stretch my back, regain the use of my legs and totter over to see what was interesting her I find a mix of 20 or so hen and pheasant eggs - so, with any luck a Ginger will go broody and clamp herself over some. Pheasants are hopeless mothers, but a hen will rear more successfully and it would be amusing to have a brood about the place - although it’ll impose greater overnight security unless she takes them into the polytunnel with the other hens.


Midweek and the highlight is swimming followed by a visit to the nearby fish van to see what’s good... this week a ‘special’ on huge raw prawns. So we have some of those for a supper of garlicky, buttery loveliness.

Sadly, the self-imposed low-carb diet means no crusty white bread to go with them - but I try to convince myself that with the first of the year’s asparagus and a mound of salad it’s just as good without. A confession: I seem to have effortlessly added a stone to the other stones I could have done without. To mix measuring metaphors (?) I am now a whopping 102.6kg, my waist has shown solidarity with my chest and joined in at a uniform 46”. My name is Chris, and I am a Cylinder...


Distracted by Coronavirus, the NHS ops backlog ie waiting list in our area has gone from 480 a year ago to 28000, nearly half of which are the hip and knee replacements that feature in our household - the constantly brave and forbearing Sheila is one of those, needing both knees done and existing on ‘heavy‘ drugs. On the waiting list for 18 months, there is currently no estimate available as to when she can expect attention. I am thinking of selling a kidney for her and going private.


Boris announces he won’t be going to India after all, then Matt The Unfortunate announces India is to go on the red list of Very Dangerous Places. Or was it the other way round...

Anyroadup, by the time you see this, starting 4am Friday, no-one but Brits will be allowed in from India, and they will have to book in to one of the ‘quarantine hotels‘ at their expense for a spell of isolation. Twitter is abuzz with talk of ways round this by using other stopover airports - as if that’s a good thing. Sigh.


‘Workplace headline indicators’, as we cautiously emerge blinking from Covid’s grip and survey the shredded economy, look like this according to the ONS: employed 75.1%, unemployed 4.9%, “economic inactivity” 20.1%. This last contains those in limbo, still on furlough - 5 million of us, hoping there is a job to return to. 800,000 are known to have lost their jobs. Yeah, I know; there’s an extra .1% in there. Lies, damned lies and statistics.


End of the week and the first of the outdoor pub lunches: by the river at the Ferry, Stokesby. We’re with our ‘bubble’ Marjie and Black Shed David. I have my default pub lunch of ham, eggs and chips, deciding that low-carb can be put on hold as this is A Celebration. So, suitably sanctioned, I compound the felony and wash it down with carb-saturated Adnams bitter.


I seem to have put on a few end-of-week grammes; diets are like that, aren’t they? But are we downhearted? “NO!” 

Tomorrow (Saturday) we’re off for our second squirt of Pfizerjuice. May stop off at Horning Swan for lunch on the way back. They do a good burger and chips, by the river. It’s a well-known fact riverside atmosphere just burns calories. Toodle-pip.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



The way ahead

is fraught with purpose


searching for itself

to lighten up,


to lose the weight

of retrospective milestones


burdened by regret

and chances missed.


What may be reached

remains uncertain,


hopeful horizons

partially in view,


the tentative release

of one step nearer


in a direction

found by starting out.


Staying home

Nicky, Ithaca, NY.

Not much to report. Sorting, discarding, packing. Repeat. The sun came out this morning (we’ve had snow and sleet and hail for days) so I put out on the curb lots of things I didn’t want and off they went to new homes. Yeah. And met someone who really just wanted to wander through our house and pick out what she’d like us to give her.  A little odd, but she left with some tennis balls and a sieve that I belatedly remembered I was planning to keep. Oh well.  In trying to persuade her to take my custom made (not for me) desk top I found myself thinking I should keep it, though I do hate to keep anything that is too heavy for me to move. Anyway, new home for the telly, which proved to be really heavy when I carried it out for the older woman who wanted it, though now I think about it we’re probably the same age. Which brings me to the interesting part about moving. Off I went to the doctor for my physical and realized I felt terrific. For the first time in ages. And I think it is all the exercise I’m getting. Walking five or six miles a day around the house, carrying heavy boxes and, yes, television sets. I’d lost weight too. So that is an unexpected plus to what is really a bit of a grueling process of having to realize there is no point in collecting old bottles, keeping two ponchos I love but never wear, etc. ete. etc.


In other news I caught an amazing picture of a hawk looking at me. Every morning early I take the irascible dog for a walk at Steward Park, which is at the Ithaca end of Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes. And most mornings I take pictures. I’ll include some. Those snatches of beauty are keeping me going, along with discovering yet another marble collection, stone collection an shell collection. Non of which am I capable of throwing away.   

Perhaps by next week I’ll be writing from Vermont instead of Ithaca, New York. We’ll see.


View from the top of the hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

A very quick entry this week as time has got away from me. Great celebrations about the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, what a good day for the world to see justice in America.


I watched some of the climate change conference with the world leaders yesterday and it was great to hear their words, let's hope they can make the necessary changes. I've just finished reading The 6th Extinction by Richard Leakey and I must say it was a sobering read and made me want to do something to contribute to saving our planet for future generations. Interesting view, that man is not necessarily at the pinnacle of evolution.


I've now started reading a biography of Isaac Newton and discovered that he cloistered himself away for over a year during the plague and came up with most of his brilliant new science of mathematics in that time. Now, I really wish I had done something more positive with this last year, even if I couldn't be a world famous scientist or philosopher!


I've now had my second vaccination and Richard is getting his on Tuesday. Room for hope. Again.


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

A dental appointment in London on Monday was cause for a jaunt! We spent two days in town and could not believe how quiet it was.  


I had errands to run in the rather swish emporia of Fortnum & Mason, Farmacia de Santa Maria Novella and Hatchards and virtually had the shops to myself. It was a real pleasure and a very pleasant way to become reacquainted with the High Street.


But most exciting was a visit to Uniqlo on Regent Street. I say exciting because I encountered it’s amazing check out system. In place of the long counter there is now a bank of cubicles almost like a row of transparent polling booths. At each there is a beautiful large display... no need to fumble for specs... you throw all the garments you wish to buy... together... no need to separate them... onto a sloping desk in front of you and immediately the tags of everything on the desk are scanned and the details flashed up onto the digital display at eye level. You present your card contactless and you’re away.


It was the highlight of my visit! So in addition to treats for The Matriarch’s 90th birthday fast approaching on 2nd May I bought three T shirts for myself, a copy of Edmund de Waal’s new book ‘Letters to Camondo’ and had an ice cream at Grom! F&M’s windows, as usual, were rather clever and I particularly liked the joyful one.



Cotswold perspective

Rosemary, Rodborough Common

Like me you probably love to take a walk through a bluebell wood during April, but sadly this much loved flower is under threat from the imported Spanish bluebell. 

Our woodlands are home to over 50% of the world's population of Hyacinthoides non-scripta, but do you know the differences between our native flower and the imported Hyacinthoides hispanica? The Spanish ones are far more vigorous than our native plants, which places them at risk. The Spanish flowers hybridise with them which then produce fertile plants showing a whole range of mixed features from each species. Overtime, hybridisation could change the genetic makeup of our native species, diluting its characteristics, weakening it and potentially evolving it into something else. The Spanish bluebell, was introduced into the UK by the Victorians as a garden plant, but it escaped into the wild - it was first noted as growing 'over the garden wall' in 1909. It is likely that the escape occurred from both the carefree disposal of some bulbs and also from pollination. Today, the Spanish bluebell can be found alongside our native bluebell in woodlands and along woodland edges, as well as on roadsides and in gardens. 

What are the differences between the two? At a glance, native and Spanish bluebells could easily be dismissed as being the same, but a closer look reveals several easy to spot differences between them.


1. Deep blue, occasionally white, long narrow tubular-bell flowers with tips curled back.

2. Flowers on one side of stem.

3. Distinctly drooping stem which is coloured purple at the top.

4. Cream coloured pollen anthers to the stamens.

5. A sweet scent.

6. Long narrow strap shaped leaves.


1. Pale blue flowers often pink or white

2. Flowers all around the stem.

3. Conical bell flowers with open tips

4. Straight pale green stems.

5. No scent.

6. Blue coloured pollen anthers to the stamens.

7. long broad strap shaped leaves.


The runaway diaries

Sophie Austin, London

I haven’t written in the journal for a while.

Life has been cracking on at a fair lick and last year’s lockdown in Wales where we climbed mountains, enjoyed the finer details of spring and left our London selves for a while feels like a beautiful dream.

The leaves are unfurling from their buds as we unfurl out of our most recent lockdown. 

I left you with a babysitter for the first time in a over a year. 

This was the first time in your life you would be awake as I left you with a stranger. 

I was nervous. But you were brilliant and after a few stories from me, were delighted to be read to by a new voice. I secretly hoped that you would be upset and would ask me not to go and I could stay, curled up in our house and not have to go out into the unfamiliar new world.

But you were cool, so I felt I should be. 

I headed out into the night to celebrate the birthday of one of my oldest friends. She could only find a table outside at her local boozer on a Monday night and the trains were pretty empty. I felt self-conscious in the dress I had put on for the occasion, it was a long journey through the city. 

Tower blocks glowing orange as the sun set.

I got to the pub and had to wait, mask on, outside. Eventually I am ushered inside and told to sanitise and then sign my name on the track and trace list. The sanitiser is so gloopy and the pen is still wet from the previous signer that my name is barely legible and I feel uncomfortably grubby.

My friends are sitting outside in the busy beer garden, we hug illegally and I go to sit, but can’t sit on one of the benches as it’s too close to the other table so I must squeeze on to the same one as my friends. The tired looking staff strain to hear us behind masks and over the din of other drinkers. I keep checking my phone hoping the baby-sitter needs me to come back. Talk is general and keeps turning to the pandemic, speculations, hearsay, myths and legends. I realise I have so little to say, I am entirely out of practice in conversing in general chat. But my friends hopefully don’t notice and I make an exit as soon as is politely acceptable.


The next day Nana arrives and you are shyly delighted as she joins me to pick you up from Nursery. It doesn’t take you long to over come your shyness and soon enough the two of you are leaping around like spring lambs. 

Nana is staying for a few days to look after you while I work, but we all spend Wednesday morning together and go to the Zoo which has just re-opened. I think you would have been happier going to a park. Your disinterest in the animals was hilarious. You scooted past tigers, giant tortoises, grumpy gorillas, without stopping, until you saw the merry go round. That caught your attention and after a short ride, we’d ‘done’ the zoo and you wanted to home!


That evening, my films had their premiere and will be launched in schools up and down the land over the next five weeks. Luckily I didn’t have to leave the house, as over 150 people joined the online screening and Q&A. I was on a panel with environmentalist Jonathon Porritt and youth activists Dominique Palmer and Nyeleti Baur Maxeia. It was an honour to share space with them, they have all influenced the films so much. The reaction from the audience was overwhelmingly positive and the commissioners, Reboot the Future are delighted. 

I breathed a big sigh of relief. Turned off my laptop and put you to bed; the joys of online events!

The following day I was in the recording studio with an amazing bunch of actors and my Lore of the Wild collaborator Bernadette Russell and sound designer Hannah Marshall to record the stories we’ve been writing over the last few months. Tales of giants, ants and squirrels were recorded alongside stories from the air, water, earth and fire. It was so invigorating to be in a room with a creative team again after so many online sessions and fitting to be recording such stories on Earth day.


Such a busy week then, almost back to a pre-pandemic intensity. So I think I’m going to stop now, and, it being Shakespeare’s birthday, pick up my book of sonnets and read them in the sunshine before something else needs my attention.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

After Easter number two son went back to his office to work, so we are again helping with his three children on two days a week. This means early mornings (this has been a bit of a shock) to take them to school and picking up after school. The fine weather means we can spend a lot of time outside so yesterday it was a walk and swim in the river – not for me, it was freezing! Actually, Jeremy measured it at 14 degrees so for a real wild swimmer it was positively balmy. Schools going back don’t seem to have caused an upsurge in Covid infections which is reassuring. I am surprised but very pleased. 


We have had beautiful sunny days this week which means pootling around in the garden is a pleasure rather than a chore. We continue to cover our greengage tree at night because we are still getting quite severe early morning frosts. However our very experienced gardener neighbour more or less told us we are wasting our time as “we are too far north for greengages”. Oh well, maybe we will prove her wrong.


I have just sent, to the family, a list of vegetable plants I would like for my birthday at the beginning of May. Hopefully by then I will be able to put them out in the garden.


I am sending a photo of my beautiful cactus which always amazes me. It gets virtually no attention all year but produces these wonderful flowers each spring. My sort of plant! Another wonder are the bluebells which have just started appearing in the woods on the way to school. Soon there will be a carpet of that glorious blue.  


The journal is such an enjoyable read on a Sunday morning. I was prompted to listen to ‘Meet me at the Museum’ which I really enjoyed. I want to visit Wortley Hall in Sheffield, Barbara, and I definitely want to visit Annabel’s shop to assess her customer service skills! Thank you everyone.


I hope you are all keeping well and enjoying the sunshine.



Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

Well it has been an unpredictable week.


Saturday:- Viewed house. Loved it. Put in offer.


Sunday 9 pm:- Informed my offer had been accepted. 


Monday:- Solicitors notified. Solicitor rings. Engage surveyor. Arrange quotes from removal companies.And so it went on for rest of week.  By the end of the day the house seller messages me “it’s beginning to feel like spinning plates”. Indeed it is.


In the information about the house I am buying it reads “the property benefits from solar panels, providing a FIT payment, iBoost to assist with water heating and is also connected to the Zappi EV point”. I have no idea what this means beyond the fact that my new home has solar panels. When we arrive the owner tells us that the panels generate enough energy to offset all electricity costs. Now that will be welcome.  


Glorious sunny weather all week. Friend dropped by on Tuesday and we had lunch in the garden. Septic tank man arrived a week late to empty the tank. Nice timing! One of the joys of rural living I will not miss.   


Friend and I went for walk. Where have all the walkers gone? We walked for about an hour and did not meet anyone. Footpaths are empty. No dog walkers. Even the people who live nearby and work from home seem to be missing.  


Thursday:- The Guardian newspaper has dropped its section on coronavirus after thirteen months. Does this mean that things are really getting better? Not for everyone. There are heart-breaking sections of coronavirus news from other parts of the world. India is really struggling, its hospitals are at breaking point and patients are dying untreated outside for lack of beds, oxygen and ventilators. Is it too premature or naive to pass some of our surplus on?  


Courier calls at house to collect a parcel. “It’s ok I’m safe, I’ve just taken a test” he announces. Man rummages in his pocket and proudly gets out his test stick showing negative. Is this a portent of the future? Will we all be carrying vaccination proof and test sticks into public spaces? Undoubtedly.