Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

It's difficult to gauge where we really are in terms of Covid. It is no longer headline news in spite of being far from over. Apparently there are still around 5 million over-16s who haven't been vaccinated. Large numbers of children are off school with Covid, and we know several adults who have been double vaccinated but still caught it. Mask-wearing has definitely reduced, even among the post-60s. Not much sign of those we know going abroad, although we have friends (both doctors) who have spent a couple of weeks cycling along the Italian stretch of the Via Francigena pilgrim route to Rome. 


Our big adventure will be a week in Southwold at the beginning of October! Some glorious September weather has made up for a mixed summer, so let's hope it lasts for a bit longer.


Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton


We’ve had visitors to stay this month for the first time and I have been down to Surrey to stay with my father for a week while my sister, husband and dogs took a well-earned break in Cornwall. I also took the plunge and took part in an on-line entry level course in the Welsh language. I have been using the Duo Lingo app on my phone since March 2020 and felt that I needed some face-to-face tuition. It was a very enjoyable course and came from Nant Gwrtheyrn, the National Welsh Language and Heritage Centre on the Llyn Peninsula. I hope that perhaps next year, with continued self-study, I will take the next step and do a week’s residential course.


W.I. met for the first time indoors this month. It was a warm evening and the doors and windows of the lovely old Evelyn Suffield House in Norwich were opened allowing the neighbours to enjoy our speaker as much as we did. He was a radio presenter and played hits from the 60s and 70s – a fun evening to welcome us back.


My train journey to visit my father was busy and so was London. I wore my mask on the train but many didn’t and I felt uneasy about this. I walked from Liverpool St to Waterloo as usual but went via the Millennium Bridge and the South Bank. In the sunshine it was good to see and hear the buskers, the food stalls, the mudlarks on the shoreline and the many people walking along the riverbank.


Covid is still very much part of our lives and I was made very aware of that this morning by a conversation on the W.I. WhatsApp group between some mothers with children of school age. Infection rates have risen since the schools and youth groups went back after the summer holidays, families are isolating again and children are anxious.


I also had reason to visit our local doctors’ surgery this week which is bending under the pressure of Covid, the shortage of staff and an increase in patient numbers due to the new housing developments in the area. The one Receptionist on duty had a caller on the telephone, a queue to check in (2 metres apart) out the door, a spaced but full waiting room and was trying to explain to an elderly patient who had called by on the off chance of seeing a doctor, that a form had to be filled in and submitted as the first step. All this was made harder and more stressful by the glass screen, the masks... and lack of smiles.


I hope fellow Journal writers are well, have kept out of the Doctors’ surgery and have enjoyed a sunny September.


Good wishes to all.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Autumn is here although the glorious weather we are experiencing makes it feel like summer is still with us. Long may it last. I am very apprehensive about the winter.


We should have been in Devon this week enjoying time with Mary and Simon. Mary and I had made extensive plans and accumulated loads of equipment for the indigo dyeing we were finally going to be able to do. The weather would have been perfect as it is all done outside.


Unfortunately our 13 year old granddaughter tested positive with Covid last Thursday when she and her sister were staying with us! Her parents had taken her mother's KS2 class on a school trip and her brother was also with them. Our granddaughter is an incredibly anxious child when it comes to anything germ/virus related and the pandemic has made her even more so. Her anxiety started when she was in her first year at Primary School. She thinks it was triggered by a visit from the school nurse who talked to them about the importance of washing hands. The nurse showed them, with a discloser, that even if their hands looked clean they were still covered in millions of germs. Since the pandemic started she had been even more careful, washing her hands all the time, keeping her distance from people and wearing a mask in situations where no one else was. 

She does lateral flow tests twice a week for school and had done one and looked at it. 'It's fine Grandma.' Later that evening when Jeremy went to do a test he noticed that it was no longer fine! We decided everyone needed to get a good night's sleep so we didn't tell her or her parents. Nervously, the next morning, I woke her gently and told her I would like her to do another test as it was possible the one she had done was positive. I had expected a completely different response to the calm 'Can you show it to me Grandma.'  I received.

And she remained calm. I think it was a relief to her to have Covid and not feel really ill. All that dread left her. She has since been conscientiously isolating at home, not allowing anyone near her and wearing her mask and gloves when she leaves her room.

She has been very tired and had lots of nose bleeds. Another symptom has been tinnitus. She was absolutely convinced there were crickets in her bedroom and still finds it hard to believe there aren't. She knows exactly what they do sound like because they are live food for her gecko and one once escaped into her room. 

Everyone she had been in contact with went for PCR tests and everyone came back negative. The vaccines are working.

So, our Devon trip was postponed yet again and rearranged for the beginning of October. I do hope the weather is kind to us. 

Having resigned myself to not going to Devon I found I had a whole week with no plans. We didn't have to self isolate but wanted to do so until we had the results of our PCR tests. I felt invigorated and cleared out two cupboards, sorted out some financial stuff and finished knitting a cardigan for our five year old granddaughter.


Yesterday I saw an unusual bird on our bird feeder - a sparrow with white wings. Looking it up it seems to be a genetic mutation called Leucism. It was there again this morning and I managed to get a photo.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Amidst seemingly unending tales of woe, with fuel shortages, HGV driver shortages, food shortages, too little carbon dioxide (in industrial supply chains), too much carbon dioxide (in the atmosphere), it was a great delight and distraction this month to observe President Macron’s apoplexy on being told that Australia didn’t want his submarines but would prefer to take a nuclear powered US model instead. Any decision which manages to annoy both France and China, whilst delighting Japan and India, must be applauded. It seemed to come as a surprise to the EU to discover that this US President (just like the one before him) puts US interests ahead of Europe’s. Australia’s decision seems an entirely sensible and prudent one given China’s clearly evidenced intention to expand its malign power and influence across the western Pacific. And maybe at the G7 summit this summer, Macron should have spent more time focussed on geopolitics, and less time ranting about the calamitous threat to the EU posed by sausages crossing the Irish sea to Belfast.  


The energy price squeeze shows that the chickens are coming home to roost in Europe and the UK in the area of energy policy. Germany decided some time ago that it would happily make itself (and thereby the rest of Europe) dependent on Russia’s abundant natural gas resources. But Russia is getting frustrated that the EU has not yet approved the Nord Stream II pipeline that runs through the Baltic to Germany (bypassing, and therefore economically threatening, countries like Ukraine). And so it has decided to dial down its existing supplies of gas, resulting in a huge increase in the price of gas across Europe. In short, we find ourselves in a situation where Putin’s finger is hovering over the on/off switch of European power supply networks this winter. So we should all pray for wind to drive our turbines, and maybe consider reviving the UK’s great fracking opportunity.


At work, my name has been scrubbed from the lists of attendees at various management meetings, in preparation for my December departure. But as long as I am a director, I will of course attend the formal monthly board meeting. My leaving dinner has been arranged for December 10th, but I have managed to persuade colleagues that I don't want a karaoke machine.


This coming weekend we have a big family birthday meal at a restaurant in South Manchester, celebrating my 60th birthday and also that of my elder sister, who was 60 last year, but who never had her party thanks to lockdown. And preparations are afoot for a party around 1st November to celebrate our mother’s 90th birthday (and our stepfather’s 93rd). He likes a big celebration every year now, on the very reasonable grounds that it is increasingly likely that it will be his last.


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

Today it's starting to feel like autumn is drawing in. I had to go out early for a site meeting with the builder at my daughter's house and as I climbed Greenhow Hill on the other side of our valley I met low lying mist hugging the village at the top and creeping across the moor. Elsewhere it was a lovely sunny day but as I returned later I could see the mist had settled down on our side of the hill. Richard has been prompted by the chilly start to get the Aga going, which will be lovely as long as it works and we don't need to call out the Aga man.


Well, the infection rates in the UK are staggering at over 30,000 cases a day, but despite that all seems to have returned to normal. Children are back at school, everything is open and lots of people aren't bothering with masks, which is a bit irresponsible. We both had colds a few weeks ago and felt so awful we feared the worst, but tested negative with both the rapid flow and the PCR tests. I have since read that people are getting worse colds this year because we've had so little social contact in the last eighteen months that the easing of restrictions has given the common cold a chance to thrive. Also, there is a lot of confusion caused by the similarity of symptoms of the cold, flu and Covid, so it's not that easy to know what's wrong with you. Happily we recovered fairly quickly. Perhaps we need an easy reference wall chart to perform a quick self diagnosis.


I had been saving up symptoms for a trip to the doctor, which took a couple of weeks to organise, partly because of course you can't go to see a doctor if you have Covid-like symptoms. I had to do an e-consultation, which took 20 minutes and resulted in a doctor saying I needed to see a doctor! (Tip, your need for an appointment is assessed on how high you rank your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. How would I know? When I said 7 it told me I needed urgent attention, so I changed it to 3 and it carried on asking questions!) Ultimately, the doctor was nice and happily inspected my various ailments, the main one being my sore arm, without complaining that I should make a separate appointment for each one, which has been known to happen. Unfortunately in the excitement of diagnosing my bunion, varicose veins, psoriasis, etc, she forgot to request the prescription for the ointment for my arm. If only the doctor still wrote or printed out the prescription at the end of the consultation like they used to do, I could have received it a week earlier, saving two phone calls.


I had a second lovely trip to Norfolk to visit my cousin and her family, meeting up with five of her six grandchildren and enjoying a walk on the beach. That is such a treat for someone who lives as far from the sea in every direction as we do. We caught sight of several seals poking their noses up through the waves and it was a perfect day to stroll along the sand. I was also able to call in for a coffee with Margaret and Peter, which was very enjoyable. I'm getting the hang of driving around Norfolk now and didn't get lost once. I really love the Broads, with all the boats out on the water. I'm hoping to make another trip after Christmas, weather and possible lock downs permitting.


The news has been quite concerning lately, with energy companies going bust, the spectre of rising heating costs and the danger to the food supply chain from the lack of CO2. I was previously unaware of all the uses for CO2, you would think we'd have plenty of it due to all our emissions. Apparently the shortage of HGV drivers is partly due to Brexit (20,000 drivers not allowed in from Europe), Covid (40,000 HGV tests not taken) and the rest due to young British people not wanting a career in truck driving, which I completely understand, having made two perilous return trips down the A1 in recent weeks. I certainly won't be urging my grandsons to pursue work in the transport sector. Of course, none of this could be foreseen, could it, because we only want to encourage highly trained workers to come in from Europe, not mere lorry drivers and fruit pickers... 


Boris is off at the U.N. making humorous speeches featuring Kermit the Frog singing 'It's not easy to be green' (surely lost on many delegates) and promoting the UK as the world leader in combating climate change, while here at home the Insulation protestors are being jailed for blocking the M25.


The Aga is thinking about coming on (I'm looking for the Aga man's number in case) and we are getting a delivery of oil. Hopefully we'll be warm this winter and the hens are laying lots of eggs, so we won't starve, hoorah!


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

September has been a funny little month.


Our garden exploded with the hydrangeas that I had planted a year ago and the curb appeal of our ugly 1950’s abode has improved. May have to plant a few more!


I have been communicating with Michael Marriot, a rose expert in England, and he recommended buying bare root roses from Flora Linnea in Sweden, only 12 hours away by car. So I rang them and spoke to the nicest man, Max. We shall make a long weekend of it next May. Just for a different experience. I also started following Mr Marriot’s wife, Rosie Irving on Instagram. I feel her goodness and joy radiating through the airwaves. I don’t know what the new year will bring but I hope we can join one of their TOD tours to a couple of gardens next summer. 


Our Norwegian border opens to the Great Unmasked tomorrow at four pm. God help us. It had to happen at some point. Time to burrow into my little cave with my puddycats. 


I was sent to the dentist by my husband. My lovely hairdresser, Stine, had recommended him three years ago but I can’t bear gynaecologists and dentists. So I sent husband first to check him out. What a delight! I was so impressed. It was like walking into a set of the movie Ex Machina, futuristic and amazing. He kept me entertained whilst I was x- rayed and treated. Gave me recommendations for some mountain tours that wouldn’t trigger a heart attack whilst climbing them. And told me that he found Singapore very sterile. I had to agree. 


We watched Michael Palin climbing Annapurna in his Himalayan series last night. It brought back memories of my trip to almost base camp 23 years ago. So I had mountains on my mind. It’s impossible to live in this beautiful county of Møre og Romsdal, surrounded by the Sunnmørsalpane (our Alps) and not go up a mountain. My husband and I went up the mountain on the island a few weeks ago. It was glorious till I descended. My knees weren’t at all happy sliding and slipping down. Shortly afterwards, my dearest friend in Singapore was admitted to emergency in Gleneagles Hospital with a torn meniscus. She was operated the next day and discharged, with a brace on her left leg and many, many thousands of dollars poorer. Our knees and hips aren’t built for long lives and all the exercise and abuse we subject them to. 


We planted a pear tree grafted with four different pear varieties, a birthday present from Stine. So we look forward to many pears in a few years. My other lovely gardening friend, Mailén, invited me to her mother’s home on another island to see their garden. I went expecting coffee but we were greeted with the biggest spread of cakes, sandwiches and cheese. Glorious and unexpected. Tove has the loveliest garden with a huge hazelnut tree. Mmmm! On my wishlist!


I was listening to a podcast by Jordan Peterson on the elements of a successful life. He mentioned having structure and purpose in life so we don’t while away precious hours because if we strip away our family, friends, job, activities and a life purpose… we are left looking at misery and unhappiness. 


I pray for Jordan, as he has been unwell for some time, and for those of you in our journal community that are coping with pain, sadness and illness. I send you my love, my friends.


The Sunnmørsk alps in the background.

Eddie, a Portuguese water dog and his
devotees. Tove and Mailén


From S Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

The great news in St Just this month has been the performance of the Ordinalia: three plays based on medieval Cornish plays telling the stories of the Creation of the World to the prophesy of Christ’s birth, the Passion, and Christ’s resurrection and ascension. They were performed three times each in the Plen-an-Gwari – the medieval playing-place that survives in the centre of St Just - using a version of the original staging, with various ‘houses’ around the periphery (including Heaven and Hell, which had magnificent jaws) as well as a central stage, and broad passages linking them, with the audience seated between. Public announcements at the beginning included the line ‘coffee and tea can be bought from the stall to the right of Heaven’. The language was a mixture of modern English and Cornish, with Judas accusing himself of treachery and Thomas having his very extensive doubts in Cornish, but the stunning acapella song by the three Marys at Christ’s tomb in Cornish too. 


The devils were many and hairy, one on them on extraordinary prosthetic stilts that made him a good 10 feet tall (he knelt down very obligingly to have his picture taken with a small child). Pilate gave away various Cornish villages, notably Botallack and Pendeen, as reward for good service, and banished people to Hayle and Ruan Minor. And the star of the first performance was a quite ridiculously beautiful unicorn with anxious eyes (a puppet worn by a person), which failed to get on board the Ark because its mate didn’t turn up in time. Then Christ was raised on an actual cross, and died at 3pm to the striking of the town clock – and the blessing pronounced afterwards by an actor playing one of the disciples made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. 


From a Covid point of view, it should have been extraordinary to see hundreds of people file into the Plen with their camp chairs, to watch a cast of dozens – but it felt cheeringly natural. Less cheeringly, I’ve just had my first cold in two years, but counting on my fingers, I don’t think it came from the play - which makes it rather hard to work out where it did come from, since almost everyone here is still wearing masks. I’d forgotten just how utterly horrible they are – ironically, in my case, much worse than Covid. But I suppose that’s a kind of good luck.


Here are the jaws of Hell and the St Just town clock, and a bit of an overview of the Plen.


A small blackbird

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Another Plague


I was diagnosed with cancer of the pelvis on the 9th of September.


My life is changing abruptly (and so is Rob’s, our children, and not to mention my affectionate friends). Up until now things have been as busy as work, even in retirement. Scans and consultation every day. Visits to the bank and lawyers, just in case things go badly. I’ve decided to be treated in Montpellier, where our daughter lives. It’s a very good medical hospital, the oldest one in the western world. After being opened for 801 years, they must have some experience (opened since 17.09.1220). There, there are enough doctors, as opposed to where I come from where there is a great shortage of medical professionals. As an added bonus, the beautiful Mediterranean sandy beach of Maguelone is easily accessible, except in summer (lets hope my treatments will be over by then).


The French author Rabelais registered as a medical student in Montpelier in 1520. He wrote that there he was happy with “very good wines and happy company”. I am not sure I will be allowed the wine, so good company will have to do. I’ll read his books in the endless waiting rooms. That’ll be a cheerful way to spend those hours. I have a decent edition of his work, on the left of the page the original spelling and the modern French on the other side. I challenge myself by reading both sides, learning 16th century French. He and I were born 64 km, both at a time with no television and no radio. With a little effort I can almost understand his French (I like etymology which also help). 


Yesterday, I understood that the French word “échoppe” (now out of use) is the root of the English word “shop”. 


I’ll try my best to be a good patient. Now I have to wait to find out what’s coming for me. I’m having my first “serious” consultation on the 21st to see what treatments I’ll be getting. Rob was told by my colleague who made the diagnosis “les carrottes ne sont pas cuitent”, in English “the carrots are not cooked yet” (my fate hasn’t been decided yet). 


In 2020 France: Covid death 116 000, cancer death 156 000.


That's all for this month. I can't even remember what other things happened these last 30 days, except for the brave women protesting in Kaboul.

Well-being challenge 


I noticed that the friends to whom I’ve told to about my illness all say “take care of yourself”. That’s not something I have ever been very good at. I wonder how to do it. My son as usual told me to take up meditation, my daughter yoga. I prefer cycling, but my GP told me not to do because of the pain it induces.


I thought that everything was OK for me: I slept well at night, had three square meals every day, had a comfortable house with a garage and a nice bathroom, a good job I was passionate about with a decent salary, and an able body which didn’t need regular medical attention up to until now. Those were all blessings. But I have many more blessings to carry me through this hard time: a really good and loving husband, two healthy and intelligent children – Benoit surprised me at his sister’s flat in Montpellier after flying from San Francisco to be with us, two caring sisters, and friends I can call whenever I need. 


I wonder what you fellow Plague 20 columnists can tell me your way to “take care of yourself”? Or, if you are no more competent than I am about it, what would you imagine you would do if you had to take care of yourself?

Sunset yesterday on Maguelone. France.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

I can’t write much this month as I’ve been knocked sideways by Marie Christine’s news.

Marie Christine and Rob are old friends of ours. Until recently we saw them every summer for the last thirty years when they came over from France and stayed near us. We’ve watched their children grow from infants to accomplished and delightful adults. Rob has read at our poetry picnics; they have bought antiquarian books from us (once, memorably filling our cellar with Loire wine in exchange for an early copy of Ben Jonson’s plays). Marie Christine has always been a fount of energy, cheerfulness and sharp intelligence. Great company. For the last months we’ve looked forward to her journal contributions, knowing they’ll be challenging, witty, thought provoking. And now this; illness strikes her just after she retires from a long career in medicine, first running her own breast cancer radiotherapy clinic, then back in hospitals working as a doctor. Marie Christine you have cared for and looked after so many people. When friends say ‘Take care of yourself’, that’s good advice. But also, importantly, let others take care of you. 

I wish there weren’t so many miles between us, but you have great family and friends. And you’re one of the strongest women I know.