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Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

October’s rantymuse

So, some new stuff around after what seems like months of treading water:

we’ve not fully dipped our collective toes into society - though with ‘brakes off’ we’re encouraged to... we did go (with Black Shed David and Marjie) to the new Bond film. We were able to book the back row in one of the smaller ‘screens’ so weren't exactly in the thick of it and though David had the bad luck to have ‘Smelly Man’ on his other side, the rest of us felt securely isolated with everyone in front and breathing away from us. That said, it’s not an experience I‘ll be bursting to repeat. The film was better than expected, btw.


We’ve had our booster jabs, so are about as protected from horrid Covid consequences as can be, and ‘Flu jabbed too. That just leaves Shingles. 


Rather late in the day, I’ve more fully got to grips with just where we are, risk-wise. It seems - correct me if I’m wrong - that though we’re just as likely as anyone else to get infected, if infected we may experience lighter symptoms and, hopefully, avoid hospitalisation and all the horrors that brings. 

We can, of course, pass Covid on to the unsuspecting, jabbed or not, just like someone without the jabs - the more so if the symptoms are so mild we don’t realise we’re infected and fail to isolate... So, in some way it would seem the very act of accepting inoculation is to make us more dangerous to others.

We continue to mask up when out but increasingly find many don’t.


Something that continues to exercise me - you may recall I posted a tweet months ago when it was thought there wasn’t a single chalkstream in England unaffected - is the ongoing dumping of raw sewage into our rivers and seashore. There is an understanding the water treatment companies (aka sewage farms) have licence to do this in extremis i.e. when there’s heavy rain and the sewers require ‘relief’, but it’s become the operating norm that sewage untreated and undiluted by heavy rain is going in and the result is that nowhere is truly safe now:

The missing words are “for wildlife and the fish that live within them.” Quite how these natural inhabitants are supposed to survive the chemical poisoning isn’t explained, but it’s coming to a river, lake (eg Windemere) or seashore near you if it isn’t there already and half the MP’s don’t seem to care, having voted down a bill to toughen up regs a week or so ago. At least, they didn’t seem to care... a mass ‘outing’ through Social Media of those that killed the bill may have resulted in an embarrassed rethink.




Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

I finally finally got myself to the local gym and signed up for a swim membership. All summer, while I was lying in bed avoiding worrying about my eye sight, future strokes, and my unvaccinated relative by reading junky novels I kept thinking I need to sign up for the pool. Well at the beginning of October I did actually sign up. It’s a great system actually… you book ahead of time and get a lane to yourself. Because I’m an early morning person I’m usually the only person in the locker room, so it feels completely safe. At least from covid. Sometimes when I’m the only person in the pool I get spooked and can imagine all the ways I could drown, which isn’t many really when I’m in a lane with lane dividers I can grab any time. It is wonderful to be swimming. I’ve gone from feeling old and decrepit, suddenly on all these medications and vulnerable to strokes and who knows what else, to feeling limber and capable and strong. Not that I am exactly, but the water makes it easy to stretch. I swim a bit more than quarter of a mile at a time… and they have these macrame wooden bead lane counters so I can keep track of how many laps I’ve swum without having to be remembering the number all the time I’m swimming. I want to learn to make them… I missed the ‘60s macrame enthusiasm, just couldn’t get interested, but now I like the idea of this project.


I wouldn’t say my eyesight continues to improve because that isn’t the case, but the shots mean I can mostly see well enough though reading is a problem. However, I did discover I can see to sew. The irascible dog loves to bury his beloved items in our bed, but has to dig and burrow to get a good purchase on where he wants to hide whatever it is. In the process he rips apart the comforter cover. It took me a while to realize I needed to put a piece of very heavy furniture fabric over the bed to prevent him from damaging the covers, so in the meantime I have three covers with dog holes in them. The expensive covers are worth patching instead of buying new ones. They are not easy to patch though because of getting all the fabric into the space between the needle and the body of the sewing machine. And I’ve been scared of even getting the sewing machine going because I didn’t want to find out I couldn’t see to sew. Well, it turns out I can see. At least to create a patch. Which is a huge relief. I really didn’t want to give away all my lovely fabric and my two state of the art circa 1990 Bernina sewing machines. I don’t think I can do close repetitive work like detailed quilting, but I can certainly do bold projects and patches and that is good enough.


Inspired by my efficacy, I took the dog to the vet and got his nails clipped. I’ve been grooming him myself with a clipper, which has had a pretty steep learning curve, but I’ve never got very good at doing his nails, partly because he really doesn’t like it, and partly because it is hard: his foot fur is long, think hairy hobbit feet, and some of his nails are black which makes it very hard to see what I’m doing. And I hate to hurt him.


And continuing my project of efficacy I planted lots of tulips. The deer love to eat them, but I planted them inside our new fenced area and I’m hoping the fence and the dog will discourage them. We’ll see after a few months and a lot of snow.


Meanwhile the plague continues in Vermont. We have a very high rate of vaccination, 80 something percent, but we still have a high rate of infections. So we wear masks everywhere and limit what we’re doing, though we did have a group of people to dinner a couple of times. Heady stuff. They were all vaccinated, and we cranked up the heat and opened windows. And shut the dog in the car. Not that the dog would give anyone covid... just that he would bark and be obnoxious. I’d forgotten that I love to gather people around, and cook for them. It felt like a wonderful reminder of pre-covid life.


I hope everyone is doing well, and I really look forward to reading about your lives.



Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

What a month! Disasters bookended with Delights!

Early in October the long-awaited Dyeing Week happened. Jeremy and Dianne arrived on Tuesday and by supper time the tent was up in the garden. By lunch time on Wednesday we had the tables set up and the indigo vat made up. It was our best ever, giving rich, dark colours, so the dipping began. We each had projects we had begun in Spring 2020. I had cut out the pieces to make a shirt and using a leaf stencil had stitched the leaf shapes in numerous designs. With the stitches drawn up and tied tightly, into the vat went the pieces - dipped several times to a deep blue. The stitches only come out after numerous rinses so you have to have patience.


There was a lot of wrapping and capping. Earlier I had also dyed a silk scarf in cold water dyes to a light grey/blue. I wrapped it and tied it at an angle around a cylinder, then scrunched it down to pleat it. This also went into the indigo vat. After rinsing it had to be dried completely on the cylinder to retain the pleats. Striking results.

Meanwhile I brewed up a vat of onion skins, bags of them, and dyed a piece of muslin to a glorious golden orange. This also was tied round a cylinder, after being folded numerous times, and was dipped in the vat to produce waves of blue at the edges.


We tried a number of other dyeing experiments - one involving capping and wrapping chick peas - that I will never have the patience to repeat although I like the results. Dianne and Jeremy left the following Tuesday and busy as we had been, we didn’t finish all we set out to do. I could have gone on for another week easily.


But, then, the disasters began. Simon and I left for Bristol on Saturday, stayed the night and the next day took the train to London. Trying to avoid taking a bus we walked our bags to Temple Meads station. We have been travelling together for 32 years and should be good at it but we are obviously out of practice as we lost each other at the station and ended up travelling on separate trains. Simon had the lunch with him! Not finding Simon at Paddington Station, I walked my bag to Leicester Square where we were staying (it takes one hour and ten minutes). An hour later Simon arrived. I was hungry and exhausted and a bit disorientated as we set out for a restaurant, walking down Shaftesbury Avenue. By the time we reached the restaurant my wallet was missing from my bag. I would normally be so cautious but I had let my guard down. Back to the flat to ring the banks and cancel the cards - a highly frustrating business as each bank had a wait time of about twenty minutes. You can do a lot of business with a stolen card in twenty minutes.


Disasters come in threes and the next day, still distracted and a bit insecure, I tripped over a box in the flat, fell face forward to hard floor and bruised everything - toe, knee, shoulder and chin.


Things picked up after that though and we enjoyed a a glorious self-guided walk round the Inns of Court from a book called “Shakespeare’s London”. The book makes note of lines from the plays to guide you. We got cancellation tickets to the Paula Rego exhibition which was thought provoking, emotionally charged and enriching, We actually went to a short play - a rehearsed reading- at the Royal Court. A small audience with everyone masked. Generally we found, in London, few wearing masks and little social distancing, as if there was no COVID, despite the case numbers escalating.


We finished the month with a visit in Bristol from the grandchildren. Sheer exhaustion and delight. In just a half term of uninterrupted schooling, they had both shot forward in reading and writing and drawing and just general knowledge. Ben, at four, was endlessly sounding out and copying words, trying to read. Sam, at six, listing famous kings and queens of England. “Henry the Eighth had six wives and three children.” “William the Conqueror shot King Harold in the eye.” I hope we can meet up with them in London in November and take a stroll to Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards, maybe Big Ben. “The name of the bell not the tower” says Sam.


View from a town formerly known as crazy

Chris Dell, Washington, DC/Lisbon, Portugal

Although I've never seen the film,"Back to the Future," it somehow seems the right way to characterize things at present. I'm writing from Lisbon, on my way to Germany for work, and it feels like the world is slowly righting itself. It's my second visit across the pond since August, which has been an opportunity to do some participant-observer research on pandemic behaviors. On my previous trip said research took me on a side visit to London for my stepson's wedding (yes, thank you, it was a glorious English summer afternoon; meaning it only rained twice on the wedding picnic and then only for five minutes at a time). Everyone knows about the endless mask and vaccine culture wars in the U.S., but I have to say it was appalling to see how lax the Brits have become about social distancing, masking, etc. One thought twice about getting on the Tube or dropping into a pub for a quiet pint. The current surging numbers are sadly the all too predictable consequence.


In happy contrast, Portugal has become something of a success story. Folks here are quietly compliant with masking requirements on public transport, in shops and restaurants, etc. No one is insisting on the right to die of COVID in the name of living in freedom. And, despite a slow start, the Portuguese vaccination campaign has become a great success after the government put an admiral in charge of running the program. Something like 98% of the eligible population have gotten their jabs and I guess we'll know before long whether there's such a thing as herd immunity from COVID. Through a series of coincidences I spent 90 minutes meeting with the admiral on his last afternoon in the job. It was oddly disconcerting. He's done great work, deservedly become a national hero, and been written up in the press all over the world. Unfortunately, he also knows it, and made more than one reference to having better polling numbers than the president and prime minister. It's an old truism, all too often borne out, that no good deed goes unpunished, and the admiral's expected promotion to chief of naval operations has become a political football. But it's also true that citing one's political popularity to all and sundry, including a complete stranger, is not the best way to endear oneself to the country's current rulers. Further evidence, if any more were required after January 6, that the U.S. military's deep tradition of apolitical service is one of our most valuable norms.


In other news from Flat Rat Alley, Mrs. Intrepid has been assigned to a posting in Kiev from the summer of 2023, so soon enough we'll have to turn to the tedious chores of learning a new language and preparing to move. We live in the hope the Mrs. I. will be able to finish out her career without having to return to Crazy Town for an other assignment, so we'll be selling our home and cutting the ties. To that end, we bought a small condo in an historic home in Charleston over the summer to keep as a U.S. base in the future. I suppose the fact that one is once again making plans about the future is the best sign of all that we're moving beyond the pandemic. Or, alternatively, that the human capacity for self-delusion is boundless.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Since last writing in the journal, I have had an MRI scan for my back pain which has been ongoing since March. The results were interesting as they also found a problem with my kidneys. I now have two appointments for the problems in November. All very debilitating. Also, after a blood test I am now border line diabetic which was a wake up call for me to lose weight, since then I have lost 6 lbs in weight and it’s improved my back pain.


I have been able to do more walks and the good thing now is that my art group has started up again. Be it with masks and social distancing all to the good of my wellbeing.


Last week I had my first holiday in two years with Marianne in Saltburn by the Sea on the North Yorkshire coast for a week. I love that place as its very near to Guisborough Forest, Whitby, & the North Yorkshire Moors. With miles of wonderful sands and waves for surfers. There are some good museums. And the funicular on Saltburn front Plus the famous Sea View fish & chip restaurant. We booked a house which was very nice, cosy and warm for the October weather. It only rained when we were indoors. In fact, we were nicely surprised at how good the weather was.         


We visited the National Trust property Ormesby hall in Middlesbrough which was all decorated for Halloween. It was disappointing for us as we couldn’t see the furniture as all the blinds were shut and ghosts all around screeching when near them and spiders tat. All to get the families in for Halloween. I hope it was worth it. We ate lunch in the café. 


The next museum we visited was the Kirkleatham Museum in Redcar which has the gold found on Whitby Moors by archaeologists, amazing. Lots of school children were visiting this tiny museum. There was also an exhibition about the recently closed steel works in Redcar that had existed for 150 years making this town neglected. 1000s of workers with no jobs now. A few years ago, lots of money was spent on refurbishing the Redcar front adding a vertical pier. This is now deteriorating. All very distressing for the town. A few places were closed until 2122 including the funicular.  


My next news is rather upsetting, I got a call from a woman whose father has been diagnosed with Mesothelioma. He also worked at Davy McKee and knew & my husband they met in the boiler room where the asbestos covered boilers were. She was in a state & needed help. Her parents are both 87years old and still live in Sheffield, her father is very ill in hospital not being diagnosed until late re covid. She lives in Sussex and is trying to manage not knowing what to do. I feel so sorry for her & it brought back my sadness at losing my husband in 2019. I did my best to put her in touch with people who could help her. This is the second person to develop Mesothelioma in the last two months that worked at Davy McKee and who contacted me for help.  

Asbestos is still being manufactured all over the world. I have to ask why when it’s been known since the 1800s how dangerous it is for people to breath in. It’s such a terrible death for anyone to suffer. Of course, its big business again who don’t care as long as the profits keep rolling in.

Saltburn, Redcar with vertical pier, Ormesby hall. Beach huts on Saltburn promenade. 



Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



The glass half full

is in two minds


and has to make

a quick decision


whether at once

to pour itself away


or wait and see

what may be added.


It fears the permanence

of standing empty


up there on a shelf

and out of use


so to stay down here

must be the better option


trusting that hope

will fill it to the brim.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

We are on Anglesey, staying in a holiday cottage overlooking the beach in Rhosneigr. Another trip postponed from last year going ahead at last. Our two eldest sons and their families are here too, staying in holiday lets close by. So we are having lots of lovely family time but still have our own spaces to retreat to. The weather hasn’t been great, lots of strong winds and rain, (although the rain held off until Wednesday) but we are a hardy bunch and it certainly blows the Covid cobwebs away. When we have had enough of that we sit in our window seat and watch the many kite surfers who are loving the wind and don’t mind the rain. Wales is strict about face masks and they have to be worn in all shops, restaurants etc., but once you are in a restaurant everyone has to remove their mask to eat and as it is half term the restaurants are full of families with young children who don’t have to wear masks anyway. So not so good. We have eaten out once but didn’t stay for dessert! The other problem is that there isn’t a lot to do in Anglesey when the weather is bad so everyone with children goes to the butterfly place, Pili Palas, or the Sea Life Centre. We chose Pili Palas where booked tickets are required presuming the numbers would be restricted and it wouldn’t be too crowded. I think their numbers were based on the fact that they have a huge new outdoor adventure playground where they expected their younger visitors would spend a lot of their time. They didn’t - heavy downpours all day kept everyone indoors. 


Over the last month we have been out and about, Festival of Thrift, our local Arts Cinema (Northern Lights) twice. We have been careful and have only been pinged once. Our third sons’ wife has also been pinged once. She is incredibly careful and living a very restricted life due to health concerns and can’t imagine that she has ever been within two metres of anyone for fifteen minutes apart from close family members she is bubbling with. They have people living below them. Maybe through the floor?

Earlier this month we finally made it to Devon and spent a wonderful week with Mary and Simon. We had been preparing for doing some indigo Shibori dyeing ever since we attended a course two years ago. With Jeremy’s help we set up our work station, with everything we would need, in a large tent, in an area of Simon’s garden he had cleared especially for us. We were both nervous about making the indigo vat. We read the instructions and then had to re-read them and confer with each other at each step of the process. The vat was made in a tall swing bin which was inside a dustbin. There was lots of insulation under and around the bin and a tight fitting lid with more insulation over the top. It needs to be kept warm which is tricky in October. We were prepared for failure but we had success! We had stitched and pulled up the stiches, wrapped fabric around cylinders and bound it with string, pleated and folded fabric, used resist blocks and tied chick peas into silk scarves. There are so many different techniques and we wanted to try as many as possible. My favourite piece was a charity shop linen jacket which I deconstructed, dyed, re-designed and put back together. But everything worked - which I was not expecting. 


I am ending on a high this month. I have had a week of not looking at the news. Last week it was all so grim. I am being an ostrich this week for the sake of my mental health.



Hello from Eastbourne

Shirley-Anne Macrae

Testing times by Shirley-Anne Macrae


I have COVID and I am writing this from my bed. It's not as bad as the first round of COVID I had back in February 2020 however I can categorically say that it is not a doddle either and I feel very poorly. I am counting my blessings for the vaccinations I had though, it could be worse.


It started with the children. My phone pinged. It was a text from Marli's school to say that half her class had confirmed COVID cases. That same day, she complained of tummy pain and by bedtime, all was not well with her. Furthermore, Franklin, who is a glowing advertisement for good health, retreated to bed at the earliest opportunity. I did lateral flow tests on both and both were negative but I thought I would keep them home anyway as they were clearly unwell. I informed both schools and that's when it became complicated.


School number one

A power crazed office administrator barked that if Marli's test was negative then it was just a common cold, which was not serious and she should attend school. She emphasised that the school's absence statistics must not fall below a certain level. Furthermore, year six pupils are still expected to complete SATS tests and therefore every day counts if the school is to maintain excellent results! "So get her dressed and get her in". I thanked her and said I would keep them informed and then I hung up before she could spout more nonsense at me. I felt a bit tired and hot.


School number two

Much more reasonable here. Keep him home! Get well soon! I asked for the passwords so that he may log on to lessons remotely, should he feel up to it. And it was an interesting response. No. Franklin would only be eligible for online learning if he had a positive PCR test. I was told that this rule has been implemented because there are families and students who can't be bothered getting out of bed. They will say they have COVID so that they may learn from the under the snugness of their own duvet. It seems this suits an awful lot of folk. Abusing the system to stay at home! Who would have thought it possible? Why would you not want your children out of your hair and at school? I thanked the receptionist and wandered off to find some paracetamol, I was feeling a bit under the weather. My husband was due back from Pakistan and I had been holding the fort for a few weeks, I was stretched thin and tired I told myself.  


I booked some PCR tests. The PCR testing centre is at a former children's theme park on the beach, named 'Fort Fun'. There was a lot of chat in the backseat about how tests were not fun and a better venue ought to have been found as 'Fort Fun' would never be the same again, its image would always be tarnished with traumatic memories. Indeed, we could hear some toddlers screaming in another car as their harassed parents attempted to perform the tests. Anyway, I digress. The next day (efficient!) my phone pinged and I was informed that both children's tests were negative. Mine, on the other hand, was positive! How is that possible? The tests have since been repeated, with the same results. Marli has bounced back but Franklin remains poorly and I look and feel dreadful. My only consolation is that I had a wonderful haircut a few day before, (in anticipation of my husband returning home) and it's the type of haircut that looks wonderful when you get out of bed. It has of course crossed my mind that I was infectious at the salon (and at Sainsbury's and the café and the junk shops I frequented). None of us were wearing masks. We're all sick of them but I can confirm that when I am safe and recovered sufficiently to go outside, I will be wearing mine again. 


Interestingly, handsome husband is required to do several PCR tests after his return from Pakistan. Each has been negative. He has clearly responded better to the vaccine than me. He's still confined to the house though, until we are all clear. Half term is a bit of a washout, with lots of telly and dozing. And other than that, I've nothing interesting to report 😆


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

The introduction of 2G (access only for vaccinated against and from Covid recovered people) as a prerequisite for many places (certain restaurants, concert halls, football stadiums etc) shows efficacy. Last week the last student in my class announced to have been inoculated. 


The infection rates are steadily rising again, but we have a vast north south division – Bavaria and Thuringia being mostly affected, here in the north numbers are comparatively low. The new government to be has promised not to proclaim any further lockdowns or closures of schools.


We spent a couple of days at the Baltic Sea in early October and went on long walks along the beach and through the forest, it was nice to be away from home for the first and only time this year. I started to read Virginia Woolf´s "To the Lighthouse" there and attach a photo of one of the lighthouses that we came across on our short trip.



Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

October Week One… back at the stately home living in for a week to complete the library job started before lockdown. We finished it and felt triumphant but sad that we won’t need to return.


October Week Two… floored with the non Covid cold… anxious for the first time that it might be Covid and so submitted to LFTs… so difficult… every time I stuck the swab up a nostril I sneezed! Went for my flu jab and was sent home as too poorly! Lolled about with hot water bottles and Sherlock Holmes… I particularly like the insights into his lifestyle… mentioned to husband that we might as a matter of course like to impale items for our in tray with a dagger on the mantelpiece! 


October Week Three… had to forfeit attendance at the funeral of the second of husband’s close fishing friends who died at the beginning of the month… husband read at funeral and then drove straight to the Tweed for his final few days fishing this year. Caught a nice twelve pounder which he dedicated to Philip and in the full tradition of Mortimer and Whitehouse released it with the words ‘and away’.

Read Ferdinand Mount’s ‘Cold Cream’ and Tristram Hunt’s ‘The Radical Potter’. Made note to self to visit Barlaston.


October Week Four... Back at the bookshop. Very very busy. Increasingly frustrated by grazing families refusing to wear masks. At the end of this week we are meeting friends for lunch at Sculthorpe Mill before going on to the new twilight exhibition at Houghton Hall and then on to Kings Lynn to take a train to London. Saturday sees us at a swanky Mayfair Indian restaurant for a feast before the armchairs of the Curzon Cinema for James Bond. A Halloween brunch and recital in Clerkenwell on Sunday will be lovely and civilised before returning to Kings Cross.


Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

Dear Marie-Christine, I was so sorry to hear of your recent diagnosis. As for advice about taking care of oneself, I am trying to learn how to do this too. Simple and probably obvious things like trusting your ‘gut,’ spending time in the natural world and with those you love all seem to help. Sending you the warmest thoughts from Melbourne.


Over the last month, Melbournians have continued hanging on in lockdown, waiting for the vaccination rates of those over the age of 16 to reach the magic number of 80% - signalling when we could emerge from our ‘last’ (so it is said) lockdown and when the borders could open.

It's been an odd month; it felt taken up with waiting, with very little happening, although in the midst of some of the most glorious spring days imaginable – roses, lilacs, all the flowering trees overwhelmingly in bloom. Then, last night a violent wind storm brought down trees and power lines. Sometime this month my computer got hacked and I lost my pandemic project - 95 pages of translation. Dramatic and disturbing. And then, with things improving in the vaccination stakes, the news turned its focus to the climate summit and the question of what kind of plan the Prime Minister would take to Glasgow. Turns out it’s a plan that’s not a plan. 


At 6pm this evening, our lockdown indeed ends. And from November 1st, you no longer need an outward travel exemption to leave the country. Australians returning to Victoria will no longer need to go into hotel quarantine for 14 days if they are fully vaccinated. It feels unreal. I’ll finally get to visit my daughters – what joy!