From Rural New York
Sandy Connors, USA
New Year’s Eve was a lovely evening ~ the radio had beautiful music and at times interesting commentaries on the past year ~ we said good-bye to 2020 with relief and hopefulness that the next year will be a better, safer one, while some have mentioned the resilience they were grateful to discover, the simplicity of a quieter life, the beauty in nature that brought such delight and comfort, and the kindness of strangers ~ all of which I also experienced and treasured during this strange worrisome year.
With calls and facetime visits with family and friends, the sweet companionship of the pups and the two cats, I enjoyed a supper of fresh mussels in a garlicky white wine sauce, and a baguette to sop up all those delicious juices, a glass of white wine ~ the evening was relaxing and special in its own quiet way. I woke at midnight to the sounds of fireworks set off by festive neighbors and got up to see them out the bedroom window on a bitter cold night with a clear sparkling sky above and just wondrous as the winter skies are.
While it has been a frightening year, and makes me worried about what the future has in store for the world with more pandemics predicted and the financial uncertainties for so many people who can’t work from home I think we all cannot but hope that things will get better but the world certainly seems very different from the one I felt I understood a year ago.
Wishing each and everyone a better safer New Year and thanking you all for sharing your own stories and experiences this past year ~ It has been such a joy and a comfort, sometimes bringing a tear or a chuckle or a laugh right out loud and we have made it through together!
James Oglethorpe, VA, USA
I wear the bottom of my trousers rolled
When I woke up I thought this was going to be my last Christmas.
I am getting older but I am not so old. I am not retired. I write, read, listen to music and walk into natural beauty every day with a loving companion. I communicate through Facebook, email, voice and video. So why has the pandemic made me feel as though I have jumped a few years into the future? I hope I reach seventy, even eighty, but not today.
I had a conversation with a wise friend the other day and told her about my malaise. She reminded me about her in-laws, whom I loved dearly, and the picture became clear. They moved from a town into a rural cottage close by, and that was that. Pretty much their only social input was their son, my friend and her children. It is how some people grow into aging. Alone together. Isolated through choice, circumstance, lack of mobility, and the death of friends. It is how we all are now. Floating detached in our bubbles from outside life and a multiplicity of relationships. No wonder I was experiencing such ennui.
A few days earlier I had been speaking with my wife about moving from the suburbs to the country, where we had hoped to become part of a community. It was fine but the pandemic had unduly lessened background input. Social, travel, weekly choir, the close proximity of others was now as nothing. It is how we are in front of the TV, semi-comatose, because we have audio visual and no touch. As sensual beings we are only half challenged. So we loll.
Sounds so obvious now, but this feeling of premature aging arises because, as social organisms, we are only living half a life. True, even for a relative introvert. As a result we are coming to experience a different perspective on aging. I am feeling old because there is a drought of external stimulus. Life in the pandemic is prematurely aging me, shutting me down.
This morning I got up with a new and resolute zest for life, unsteady on my feet, tennis elbow aching, tinnitus rising, but with a better understanding. Life is a terminal condition, but not yet. Please not yet. Now all we need is the vaccine, and we can regain our rightful place on the aging timeline, free to relish the joy of others and flourish once again in our real age.
Jane, just south of Norwich
I came across this journal in September when it was highlighted by Frances Mobbs in her W.I. column in the Eastern Daily Press. She described the pleasure she took from reading it every week. I too have been similarly “hooked” and with our morning coffee I read and share some of the entries with my husband. To know that contributors from all over the UK and the world are thinking, feeling and coping with their own personal challenges in this constantly evolving situation, is of great comfort.
Reading and enjoying the journal without contributing makes me feel as if I am peeping through your windows and I feel I should introduce myself. So, I am Jane, just south of Norwich where I live with my husband Chris, cat Libby and 2 hens.
Like many people, Chris and I try and have a daily walk and are very lucky to have walks from our door to the marshes and the University Broad and surrounding countryside. All have been heavily flooded this week but luckily where we live no homes appear to have been breached. But in the 40 years we have lived here we have never seen the waters so high. Today, the last day of this year and what seems like the coldest, the ice on the flood waters made a very wintery scene.
Crows and rooks are a regular sight on our daily walks, but we are never sure of the difference. For my gift to Chris this Christmas – we kept it very simple to avoid anxious trips to a crowded Norwich city centre – I made him a poster with old paints and a recycled clip frame, after researching a few facts about crows and rooks. (Shared here for you). So, if you didn’t know already – a crow in a crowd is a rook and a rook on its own is a crow.
Happy New Year and thank you.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I suppose I should attempt some sort of review of my year in this journal entry, and what a year it has been. Firstly I should give thanks that I and my family and friends have only been adversely impacted by the lockdown restrictions, and not by the Covid illness itself. I am guilty of moaning a lot about the illogicality and illiberalism of the various lockdown and tier restrictions – but then I’m not in the “at risk” population.
I could complain about the government’s handling of the pandemic, but too much has been said already on that score – and I suspect that when statisticians retrospectively analyse the successes and failures of various countries, they will probably find that similar countries will have similar death rates, after adjusting for risk factors like age, obesity and the organisational structure of their respective health services.
I could also complain about the incompetence of the government and civil service in handling the Brexit negotiations, but in truth 2020 was too late. The big errors (such as allowing the EU to set out the sequencing of negotiations, and dictate the “nothing agreed till everything agreed” rule) had already been made by the May administration, and there was not a lot the Johnson government could do apart from try and make the best of a bad job. The end result is probably the best that could have been achieved in the circumstances.
I have written a lot about the impact of lockdown and the pandemic on our business – but now we can look back and see, very reassuringly, that not only have we survived, but we are thriving. A business built on direct selling should always do well in a recession, as our typical client base will be looking for new income generating opportunities. And a business that offers a safe, predictable and medically accepted method of weight loss – through formula food diets – really ought to do well when a virus that disproportionately kills the overweight and obese is stalking the land.
I’m now less than a year away from my retirement – with a clear plan to hand over the reins to my appointed successor during 2021. Our post-retirements plans have centred a lot on travel, which hopefully should become easier again by 2022. During this last year I travelled a lot less than normal, making just one business trip out to Saudi Arabia in February, and no holiday trips abroad. By comparison in 2019 I made five overseas flights, with holidays in Rome and the Algarve, plus three business trips. And I made a total of 11 trips in the year before, (23 plane flights) with holidays in Malta and Piedmont, and eight journeys for work, including flights to such exotic locations as Bahrain and Inverness.
But maybe a reduction in overseas travel will be a positive outcome of the pandemic – certainly I don’t ever see business travel returning to the levels it was before Covid struck. I think we will see a more widespread acceptance of working from home and video conferencing, with what might have been many years’ worth of changes in the ways of doing business compressed into just a few months.
2020 was the year we said farewell to my mother-in-law; the year I only saw my own mother three times; the year my son and his girlfriend bought their first house; the year we only had two short domestic holidays (Suffolk and Edinburgh) – but appreciated them all the more; and the year in which I was prompted into creative writing (in this journal) for the first time in nearly 40 years.
I am looking forward with optimism and confidence to 2021- I hope you all are too!
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Gavin Williamson's recent bonkers decision regarding school closures had a far-reaching effect on a member of my family, N, who teaches at a large secondary school in East London.
The Head Teacher at the school where N works decided, after receiving intelligence about the high and growing incidence of Covid 19 locally, that the best course of action to prevent spread of the virus in the school was to close it a few days prior to the planned Friday Xmas term end. Notes went out to everyone to that effect but then Gavin Williamson stepped in and forced them to stay on at school - by threatening legal action!!!
Within 2 days numerous staff members, including N, tested positive for the virus. Quite properly, the school closed. Consequently my relative has had to spend the entire Christmas period in isolation from his family being looked after remotely and has only recently tested negative allowing him to start returning to normal life. Fortunately N was asymptomatic but I haven't heard how the other members of staff are. Hopefully none of them have suffered any short or long term health effects - but how can anyone know.
I have researched Gavin Williamson's credentials for the post he holds and I'm honestly not impressed either by his actions or his prior experience in the education sector - he seems to have none.
All staff working in schools and universities have been expected to cope with every crazy whimsical notion thrown at them and manage what is a vital element in the future of this nation, but in this extreme time made even more difficult by an inept minister. I taught (and managed) in a college for 10 years so I know how challenging it is at the best of times, but the demands this government have put on them all seems to have been unnecessarily increased through poor communication and lack of trust in the professionals who run our schools, who know the population they serve and how they can best respond to local conditions. And why are they still having exams when other nations have decided against them for this year.
By all accounts there will be a dramatic increase in mental health issues within our young population but it wouldn't surprise me at all if there is the same problem amongst the teaching profession and recruitment to this sector, which was at a low point prior to the pandemic, may get even worse. It may only be the lack of other jobs that draws people to teaching in the future months and years.
On a lighter note, this was the extraordinary gift I received from my husband on Christmas Day.
Bought from a local artist, Chris has managed to impress me yet again with his thoughtfulness and it's nice that he can still surprise me - even after 47years together!
Thanks Gatesy - I absolutely love it. x
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
My youngest daughter Sarah works for the Cancer Support Center in Sheffield and just before Christmas she had her lovely hair plaits cut off for the charity who make wigs for people who have lost their hair due to medication chemo. I felt so proud of her.
I have had a very emotional week. My lovely new friend Shirin Jacob via the journal posted her link last week to Jussi Bjorling singing Silent Night, it was the most beautiful rendition I have ever heard and I followed on by listening to my husbands favourite duet of Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill/Pearl Fishers. In the depth of the temple.
Au fond du temple saint from the opera Les Pecheurs de perles by George Bizet 1952.
We played this at my husbands funeral and I sat in floods of tears listening alone with my memories.
My sister in law has been taken into St Luke's Hospice for her last few days of life. It's no fun getting old.
Christmas eve went well our three families on zoom. Sarah did a video of past Xmas Photos and we had a quiz from Ellen my eldest daughter and my middle daughter Karen and grandson Sam was with me in my bubble, all very enjoyable after all. Christmas day I cooked dinner for Karen and Sam, the first time for a few years but all went well.
From then on I have been alone watching too much TV and eating too much and doing a Jigsaw that was a present. The diet starts in the new year.
I still await my vaccination. It's a worry now as so many people are suffering from the new strain of Covid.
I have stayed in as the weather now is too bad for me to take my daily walk. Today we had our first snow that settled. It will stay on my road longer as I am 500 foot above sea level. Oh dear my doorstep visit from my daughter will have to wait a few more days now.
I do hope that we get our Spanish Seville oranges in February so that I can do my batch of Marmalade.
Which reminds me not to burn my pan as I think about Susan in Australia multi tasking. It reminds me of doing the same and my husband saying to me that one day I will set the kitchen on fire. I boiled the pan dry steaming my Christmas puddings - fortunately they tasted OK.
Happy New Year everyone, lets hope this vaccine works for us and we can all get back to some sort of normality.
All my best wishes to Margaret and Sheila who do a stunning job with the journal.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
It is New Year's eve and we are looking forward to the year 2021, assuming it will bring lasting progress in getting hold of the pandemic. The vaccinations have not had a glitch free start here, as the supply is behind the schedule. In addition, the numbers of infections and especially deaths are really high and several politicians have remarked that the lockdown will most probably be prolonged after January 10th.
The educational ministers are going to discuss the setting for the schools next Monday, and for Hamburg it has already been said that schools might be closed until Febtuary. My grownup students can certainly face online lessons, but they are not quite as efficient as ordinary lessons and it is more difficult to include all of them. Nonetheless, work is possible for my husband as well as for me and we are really grateful for this, considering the situation of some of our friends who are severely affected economically.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
It’s Wednesday afternoon. This morning I spent yet another enjoyable but quite chilly hour on a bench having a socially-distanced catchup with a friend. The thermal cups purchased earlier in the year have been much used. Can’t remember when I last met up with anyone in a café.
New Year’s Eve tomorrow. Time to reflect on Zozo, as we like to call 2020. This came about because last year a friend with rather artistic handwriting wrote on a card ‘Look forward to see you in ZOZO  and our granddaughter asked us ‘where’s Zozo’!
For our next street newsletter I looked out an account of the New Year in Beverley from a newspaper dated 7 January 1905, which began like this:
'The Old Year kissed the New Year,
And the Old Year gently died,
and yet we seem to have become thoroughly immersed in this year’s business. Somehow people always seem to be glad when they have done with the old year. Whether it has brought them joy or sorrow they look forward to a new period of time and are anxious to leave the things that are behind and press forward to the things that are before.'
This is certainly true as we leave behind 2020 and look ahead to 2021. Rather than reflect on the horrors of the plague year, I decided to look for some positive things.
National/International: We now have two vaccines that have been approved. A trade deal with the EEC has been agreed. The USA did not re-elect Donald Trump as President.
Local: The theatre should survive thanks to Government funding. Both the town’s two great medieval churches, Beverley Minster and St Mary’s, have received funding towards major restoration projects. (St Mary’s has a series of beautifully carved new corbels depicting the heads of characters from The Chronicles of Narnia!) Many shops and houses have been repainted this year.
Personal: We are both well (possibly fitter than before with all the extra walking) and no family members or close friends have been seriously ill with Covid. Plenty of jobs in the house and garden have been crossed off the list. We have finished our book on East Yorkshire & York, for a series modelled on the old ‘Shell’ guides, although it won’t come out until later next year.
Happy New Year to fellow Journal contributors and editors. Hope you all get your vaccines soon! xx
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
The year went out with a bang. We are on the island with a couple of friends. Supper at 8 pm, a short respite and then dessert at 1130 pm. At midnight we went to the garden to view fireworks from every direction including wonderful ones from the top of our little mountain, set off by a brave Viking who climbed up there in the pitch dark and biting wind. We could see Ålesund in the far distance totally lit up by the exploding stars. Magical.
Before I leave 2020, I need to recap.
Grateful for life in Ålesund. I am in Acceptance of a different perspective rather than the Resistance that I had for the first two and a half years, wondering why they were so different!
I’m grateful for my husband who puts up with me, cooks often for his lazy wife and always kisses me good morning and good night, no matter whether I’ve been a good girl or a grumpy grinch.
I’m grateful for Instagram, through which I became acquainted with several lovely people. Margaret Steward introduced me to the Plague journal through which I’ve corresponded with a handful of kind people who understood that I was going through a depression in the summer and wrote encouraging notes. Barbara Warsop teaches me every day how to be better. Writing for the journal gave structure to the weeks and forced me to pay more attention to what was happening. Thank you Marie Christine, Mary and Catherine for our conversations.
My New Years resolution is to pick up Barbara in Sheffield and meet Annabel and Margaret in Norfolk next year. Let us pray that COVID goes missing and we can congregate in Margaret and Peter’s garden.
What do I want? I want to be more patient and less exacting of myself and others; to loose the eight kilos; to speak fluent Norwegian; to be a kinder wife to K and a more thoughtful friend to my little circle. To be able to visit the UK next year and most importantly, to meet my best friend, Ralitsa, in Lisbon, our favourite city.
May we have more acceptance and gratitude in our hearts; may we enjoy good health and the fortitude to stand firm in the storms that we occasionally meet; that we are open to new opportunities and that our dreams come true.
View from the Top of the Hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
Happy New Year! I'm sure most of us woke up this morning thinking "thank goodness that one's over". If only it was that easy to turn the page and start afresh but here we are, Tier Three and in semi-hibernation, keeping calm and carrying on, watching the sky as it changes each day and treasuring memories of happy times.
The PM got Brexit done, so now Britain sails forth alone on troubled waters with a few more fish and a border in the Irish Sea. The excitement of the vaccination programme has been somewhat dimmed by the government's pronouncement that they are going to give as many people as possible the first dose to spread the benefits more widely, thus delaying the second dose to those who were considered the most vulnerable or essential. Pfizer have expressed alarm that they have not seen any science to justify this decision but the UK's “top scientists” agree it's a good idea. I predict that Pfizer will say their efficacy guarantees will not apply if the vaccine isn't administered according to their instructions and threaten to sell our supply to the French, at which point Boris will have to do a U-turn and revert to Plan A. Except that the second dose of the Oxford vaccine is supposed to be given after three months so we could all have that instead and ditch Pfizer. We are awaiting a reply on what the “winning formula” is that makes the Oxford vaccine more effective than the initial estimate of 70%. Is that the three month timetable or some additive they have just decided to put in the latest batch? What was the point of the “robust and stringent” trials if we are going to ignore the advice given?
The Nightingale hospitals are apparently on standby for imminent use, the only problem being the lack of staff to man them and the minor detail that some of them have been stripped of their beds, incubators and oxygen. The Harrogate one has been used this summer for cancer screening or some such and has not yet been deployed for Covid cases. Perhaps they are going to bring in the Army to man the intensive care beds, having given them a one-day first aid course and some PPE. They already know their way around the Nightingales, having been employed to build them in record time and at huge expense.
The Army will be spread thin, as they are also to be deployed “remotely” in the plans to test school children. Why remotely, are they not allowed near the children? Someone said yesterday that the number of soldiers allocated adds up to half a soldier per school, that doesn't sound enough.
Schools were going to open, then they weren't, now they are again but only when teachers and pupils can be tested, which is supposed to happen in about a week. The poor teachers must be quite dizzy. I seem to remember saying way back that the plans for opening schools safely should include extra class room facilities to enable social distancing. I am sure we all experienced the post-war provision of education in “huts” to provide enough space for the expanding school population. The problem with that is that inner city schools have been stripped of outdoor space by the austerity cuts of recent years, so no space to build the huts. They could of course use library buildings, so many of which have been closed. I expect that teachers, like nurses, are in short supply.
I heard that students are going to go back this term. Give me strength! Last term half of them were penned into their halls of residence the first week and hanging “HELP!” signs from the windows. If I had children at uni I'd be busy acquiring extra laptops so they could study at home.
It was lovely to see the population of Auckland celebrating the New Year last night, New Zealand being the only country in the world, as far as I could see, able to encourage unmasked frolicking and mingling. I just hope there weren't any British backpackers there, incubating the new “UK strain” of the virus. I was quite ashamed of their antics in Sydney this week, partying away in the park as if they were in Benidorm in normal times. I've kept a close eye on events in Australia this year as my son lives in Sydney and have been quite impressed by their handling of the pandemic, compared to our chaotic efforts. The only stain on their record was the rather brutal quarantining of the apartment blocks in Melbourne, which should have been handled much better.
So many things could have been handled better but there we are. I do feel sorry for the world leaders who have been thrust into a position they could never have envisaged. Those who seek power must use it wisely and well or be forever remembered for their mistakes. We elect them and they have to get on with it. Well, actually, I didn't personally elect this bunch and I definitely had nothing to do with Trump getting into the White House, so I can happily blame those who did!
What will 2021 bring for us all? Let's look for a light in the darkness. I'm just surprised a new religion hasn't come forth to promise salvation. Oh, perhaps it has. The people of the world are now looking to Science to save them. Vaccines are the new manna from heaven. If only scientists would all agree, that's the thing. Just like a religion, to split into sects and schisms with differing views.
Well, I look for hope under every rock and here is a lovely quote I found, attributed to a 'Chippewa Indian':
'Sometimes I go about pitying myself,
and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky'.
Stay safe, stay well and look to the future, journal friends!
John Underwood, Norfolk
A group of us had decided to throw a New Year’s party for the village, and booked the Village Hall. We turned up to decorate it with paper streamers and rigged up a balloon net and spent a puffed half an hour blowing up balloons. A mobile disco had been booked, and the local pub agreed to run a bar. We advertised in the Parish News and sold tickets in the pub and village shops. The event was to take place in the corrugated iron clad “Old Tin Tabernacle” which was the venue for all events; the Good Companions jumble sales, the film shows with projections on large double bed sheets stapled to the cross beams, the Players pantomime, the village talent show, which featured a bird imitator who was nicknamed “The Ten Linnet Interlude” by a local wit. “Here is a throstle in a hedge”, “A cheeky Robin darts near”…. Every one sounding the same…
The hall smelt of damp, the kitchen of damp- and something undefinable; the sort of waft that you might encounter after something evil had brushed past you, with a tang of bleach overlaid. Sausage rolls and mince pies were laid out on cheap aluminium trays under tea cloths for later.
The local doctor had offered to do a turn. He had a portable Dansette gramophone, which gave out quite a surprising noise, and he played 1950’s Rock and Roll records, slipping them from their brown paper sleeves with a surgical precision which showed that he had done this before. Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Tommy Steele. Be-bop-a-lula-lam-a-lam-shoo-waddy-waddy. Brilliant. Our neighbours took to the floor and jived, showing a side to them which we had never imagined. They danced with almost stern faces, concentrating fiercely, performing a rite and duty, an offering to the gods of music and joy. They were wonderful. At some stage, the balloons were released, and we batted them and stamped on them as required by custom. People drank, threw up outside, spilt beer, slipped in spilt beer. Cigarettes were ground into the wooden plank floor. People engaged in shouted conversation, competing with the music. A youth turned up wearing only underpants with “I’ve just come in my pants” written in lipstick on his chest. This was judged to be going rather too far, but it was New Year’s Eve after all and the whole village was at play.
We slunk into the hall early to clean up, nursing fearsome and ugly hangovers. Getting there first was the thing. You could get a lot done before the sluggards turned up, and then glory in your self righteousness. Sausage rolls trodden into wine and paper streamers. Burst balloons to pick up, shrivelled and wrinkled survivors to burst. The old sisal brooms, two feet wide and more were brought into play, and bin bags were filled. The smell of stale tobacco and alcohol. Paper plates were found tucked behind pipes, abandoned drinks were discovered in the toilets, on outside windowsills, many adorned with drowned fag butts. The kitchen was cleaned, bleach was employed. What was that smell? If you had arrived early, you could leave the toilets to the late-comers. “Just the loos to do, see you in the pub later” you could call out breezily. “The mop is in the cupboard”.
Here is the solution to the Crossword included last week.
Below are the links to the Quiz mentioned last week.