Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

The adventures of Margaret Rose, by Marli Rose Macrae


It was a few days before Christmas and Margaret Rose was excited. Santa always brought Margaret Rose and her sisters the same presents but in different colours. This year however, Margaret Rose's mother phoned Santa with a special request.


"Hello, this year the girls would like umbrellas. I would like to order a green tartan one with a pointy end, rather stylish, for my eldest daughter. The other two girls may have toy umbrellas. Thank you very much". And she hung up the phone.

On Christmas morning, Margaret Rose woke up before anyone else. She looked at the piles of presents. She saw on her pile a pink toy umbrella and a red one on her little sister's pile. On the eldest sister's pile though, she spotted a beautiful, green tartan, pointy umbrella, stylish. She wanted it so badly and everyone else was asleep so she swapped them around. Then she went back to bed.


When the sisters woke later that morning and opened their presents, no-one guessed that Margaret Rose had swapped the umbrellas.  


After breakfast, the family walked to mass and as it was raining heavily, the girls each took their new umbrella. What a shock Margaret Rose's mother had when she saw her with the green tartan, pointy, stylish umbrella.

"Where did you get that from?" she asked


"It was in my pile from Santa" stammered Margaret.  


"Oh no it wasn't!" replied her mother and at that, she took the beautiful umbrella from Margaret Rose and swapped it with the oldest girl's toy umbrella.  


Margaret Rose was extremely sad and her older sister was gloating. Next Christmas however, Santa brought Margaret Rose a red tartan, pointy, stylish umbrella.


I know this story because Margaret Rose is my granny! I miss her so much. I've been talking to her on the phone and she's giving me her vintage pearl ring after lockdown. She wants me to have it as she misses me too. As soon as I can, I am going to visit her with my knitting things and she can tell me some more stories. Her childhood stories are simply the best. I've been writing them down over the last few weeks and illustrating them.

Kites by Franklin Lewis Macrae


Half term has passed and we are now all back at school, or home schooling at least. It was a quiet half term. Usually, we go to Oxford but we couldn't venture very far because of the virus. 


We took our kites up onto the Downs. Mine was a nightmare, it kept on getting tangled and caught and wouldn't go in the air, but my sister managed to get hers as high as it will go, around 50 feet!! 

The next day we took them to the Long Man of Wilmington.  We flew them at the bottom of the hill, it was exhilarating and so much fun. Marli was desperate to fly them  at the top it was wayyyyyyy to windy so we just ran up the hill instead.  Normally there are bulls on the other side of the hill.  We run down as far as we can go without going into into bull field but they weren't there so we went all the way down.  Mum and dad stayed at the top.  We came back and had lunch and a fire.


Now that we are back at online school, we have one week of online learning left then we'll be back in the classroom. Lots of people prefer online school but personally I can't wait to be back.  I'm not really looking forward to the twice weekly COVID testing but at least I will be in school with my friends.  Mum is having a ZOOM parent-teacher meeting too; I've been working hard so it ought to be fine. 


Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

The decision has been made to move. It is fair to say that, in the almost two years since R died, I have flipped and flopped on whether or not to move. It’s not compulsory after all. Well-meaning people urged me not to move too soon. Most people I know who had been widowed, did not move but stayed living in the same house. I started to plan to move a year ago but the twin-prongs of a pandemic and lockdown rather nailed that idea on the head. And, with hindsight and rampaging deadly virus aside, I am so glad I stayed. I was fortunate, it was a glorious summer and I had a large garden all to myself. I was able to really get to know the garden and enjoy growing my own fruit and vegetables.  


R and I had talked about what might happen after one of us died. R was clear: he would move straight-away. His rationale was that he would ‘see’ me everywhere; I was part of the fabric of the house. After the initial shock of his death, I understood R’s logic. It was painful being inside the house so I would rush outside only to find that it was just as painful in the garden. I spent a lot of time going to shops, often only to buy one item. I had my own business and worked from home, going out to meetings. R had long since retired and he liked to wander into my study and sit on the ‘nuisance chair’, tempting me with offers of coffee and company in the kitchen. It was a wonder any work was ever completed! After he died, working from home just exacerbated the loneliness. So, for a while, I rented a ‘hot desk’ at an organisation where I knew some of the staff. What happens is that you slowly move forward and start to build a new life. And I did, and it’s been a joy. However, I live in a large house in a sparsely populated countryside.  


The loneliness took its toll after September. Shorter days; more time inside; then another lockdown followed by a third. Decision-making was helped along the way by the continual structural problems that are part and parcel of living in a cottage built in the 1750s. Front door which wouldn’t open or, once prised open, wouldn’t shut. New door had to be made. Then the garage doors decided not to shut. This meant I had to drive the car out and then walk through house and into the back of the garage in order to pull the doors shut from the inside. Studio doors also refused to shut. And the niggles kept on coming. However, there are other issues things that override pactical things. For example, I don’t use over half the house. And there are no neighbours except one family who live at the end of a long farm driveway. So, my plan is to move to somewhere with a bigger community. Living in the countryside has been a wonderful experience but I have mostly lived in towns or cities.  


Since early January, we have been renovating. The “we” means that one of my sons, plus a few professional people, do the expert bits and I come along in the slip-stream to do the easier stuff. Hopefully, the work will be finished by the end of March when the house will be marketed. Heaven knows how long that will take. And then, of course, there is the task of finding a new home. A new chapter to be discovered.  

Found a wonderful free app this week called Radio Garden. It’s a digital tool that allows you to dip into the world’s 30,000 radio stations. A practical lockdown accessory. The app shows each station as a green dot, you simply scroll around the world and home in on a station. Friend in New Zealand and I were both able to listen to the same programme on her local station, Radio Ngati Hine. Two grandsons are tuning into Spanish stations to expand their spoken skills. And it’s fun. Whilst I didn’t stay long on the heavy rock playing on Trendy radio in Krosno Poland nor the Greek music on Radio Skid Row in Sydney, I spent a long time listening to Radio Junction somewhere near Lucknow, India. And imagining the day we can travel to India once more.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

I watched a wonderful film last week on BBC 2, Edie with Sheila Hancock as Edie an 83-year-old woman that wanted to climb mount Suilven in the Scottish Islands. She was amazing. Heading out from Inverness to Bheinn Suilven she made it, what an achievement.

The following programme was Sheila Hancock, Brushes up the art of watercolour. Two wonderful programmes from BBC2 for a change. So inspiring. It made me think that I could do more in my 83rd year when Covid is at bay.


It cheered me up as just after submitting my piece for last week’s journal a free magazine landed on my doorstep with a memorial of another person I knew who had passed away, he had helped me when I was writing my book.  I was shocked it was the second person I knew to die in a week.

The other thing to land on my door step was my new vacuum cleaner. I have a cordless vac that I have not used much but now doesn’t hold the charge. I worry about this as there are so many of these for sale and a new battery for this cost £90. The battery is huge and we already have mountains of waste. This is so unacceptable.


I read with interest Mary, Norfolk's piece on isolation hospitals, I was thinking on the same lines recently. Re Covid 19. We had a wonderful Isolation hospital, at Lodge Moor in Sheffield right next door to the moors. A wonderful place that was pulled down to build a housing estate. During the 1950s there were 17 Teaching Hospitals in Sheffield scattered all over the city. each one for a specific illness. TB, Child Birth, General. Broken bones. Mental. Dental etc, nearly all closed now with one or two very large hospitals that deal with most illnesses. We’re very lucky in Sheffield now having the wonderful Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Plus, Weston Park cancer hospital and St Luke’s Hospice. Children’s, Child birth and Dental hospital. The trouble is the parking situation is terrible for all of them.


The warmer weekend brought my daughter Sarah and her husband here to put up 2 new bird nest boxes in my garden one for blue tits and one for Robin plus a bat box. They spent all Saturday afternoon putting them up such a joy. With the warm weather I will love doing a bit of gardening instead of sitting and hibernating. What joy after all the snow and ice? The sunshine is lovely today but its deceiving with the wind chill. This morning I saw a blue tit already looking in my new nest box. Signs of spring. Wonderful.



Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

In recent weeks I have commented quite a bit on the challenges that Brexit is creating for businesses like mine that export food products into the EU. The latest issue is that each country seems to be interpreting the new regulations in a different way. So once we have lined up all the necessary paperwork, including lots of beautifully stamped documentation from a government approved vet, confirming that the skimmed milk powder in the products comes from a herd that is free from foot and mouth disease, and the haulier has collected the product to take it to Holland or Czechia or Finland, we still have no idea how the delivery will be treated once it arrives. My colleague who heads up our export team has been in regular contact with officials from the Dept for International Trade over the last three years. He detects a fear amongst officials that in a few months’ time it will become apparent that there has been a dramatic, and potentially permanent fall in the value of UK sales to the EU. In simple terms the EU has not granted to the UK the access rights that it happily grants to other countries. It is now easier for an Australian bank or food manufacturer to do business with the EU than it is for a UK business. This reflects both the EU’s fear of a potentially more nimble competitor across the North Sea, and its objective of ensuring that the UK is seen to suffer for the impertinence of daring to leave. As a small act of resistance against the EU’s imperial ambitions, I am planning to start my own trade boycott of the EU, shunning French, Spanish and Italian wines in favour of New World produce. If I could only drink Argentinian Malbec and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc it would not be too great a burden to bear!

I am disappointed by the government’s overly cautious roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions. I feel for business owners and employees in the hospitality sector, who have been deprived of the opportunity of  reopening in time for the Easter weekend. And we seem to forget that all those businesses casually described as “non-essential” are anything but “non-essential” for those who rely on these activities for their livelihood. I hope that with the dramatic decline in hospitalisation and death rates as we move from winter into spring, and as the vaccine programme continues its remarkable success, the government will have the courage to accelerate our reopening. I never imagined that I would find myself living in a country where it was illegal for me to visit my mother, or sleep with someone I was not already living with. In case my wife reads this, I should hasten to add that the latter example is purely hypothetical. But to all intents and purposes the government has made extra-marital sex illegal for most of the last year. What a mad world we live in!


I spent last Saturday helping my son erect a stud wall in the house he and his girlfriend are renovating in nearby Leamington Spa. The house is a 1930s semi, that has hardly been touched for the last 40 years. We made reasonable progress, and of course there will be many weekends and evenings of work for them (and support from me) before they get the house ready to move in. The builders have done some initial restructuring work, and an electrician and a plumber are lined up for March. The lease on their rented apartment finishes at the end of May, so that sets a deadline for us to work towards. I include a photo of Thomas fixing a "nogging", which the horizontal support between studs in a wall or joists in a roof. My brother who lives in East Lothian tells me that in Scotland they call it a "dwang". So that is two new words this week.



From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

I had forgotten how much the changing seasons meant to me. I had lost all sense of such things. Certainly the sounds and smells, the warmth on my back, the birdsong and budding life everywhere is invigorating this spring in a way I hadn't anticipated. As a child I took all that for granted I suppose and then for years it was set aside as one struggled to earn a living, acquired property and furniture, fed and clothed children, socialised and argued about politics and art. I can't help feeling that, hard though it's been sometimes, it's not been a bad thing for me to feel that as, these adult encrustations of acquisition and ambition were being stripped away something of value was being restored. Now I write that I wonder if I'm not overstating it in my constant quest for narrative drama. I am after all, always inspired by the spring and I always forget that I am - always it surprises me with its stealth and suddenness - just when you're walking along the road thinking the winter will never end you get a whiff of mimosa. What is perhaps so bloody marvellous about it really is the way it does just seem to go on, indifferent to virus or vaccine, hors de combat.  


I've not done much this week but read "Jack', the latest novel in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead quartet. I read it as I used to read as a child, with a passionate commitment and total absorption, longing for it to come out right but knowing that it couldn't, not quite. I've read the whole quartet now and think they're a major achievement, although I found Gilead itself, the first one, more admirable than engaging. As they progress they become more human and Jack himself is one of the most lovable characters I've ever come across in fiction. Every sentence is beautifully balanced and modulated and I've heard her say in an interview that she seldom revises but is sometimes pleased if she's written just one sentence in a day. I think of Shakespeare of whom someone (Ben Jonson?) said that 'he never blots the page'. Thoroughly recommended (M.R. not W.S.)


Also been absorbed in the test match from India which was over in two days in most dramatic fashion. Watched it for three hours this morning and did a heap of ironing. In the end we were thrashed. 


I'm going to stop now because I'm boring myself. I hope you're all managing ok and, like me enjoying the spring .



John Underwood, Norfolk

Paint it black


“I see a red door

And I want it painted black

No colours anymore

I want them to turn black”


…sang the Rolling Stones, and Ally and I have been taking a leaf from their book as we slap on black preservative paint on to our nearly ten year old raised bed sleepers, and not a small amount onto ourselves. We think that we will get a few more years out of them before the heavy job of replacing them, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. The weather has been kind, and we have been in the garden for a few days in a row, painting, tidying and pruning. The finished beds do look smart - too smart for us really - and they really make the existing planting look lively.


Meanwhile, in government the whitewash brushes are being dusted off again, and fetched from their current home in a shed in Barnard Castle. The High Court in London ruled last week that Matt (as opposed to Satin or Gloss) Hancock breached his legal obligation to publish the details of contacts signed during the COVID Pandemic . Something like ten billion pounds was spent without any tender process on PPE and test and trace, (now called “have a quick shufti and give up”) in what was called a “wholesale failure” of the Department of Health and Social Care. You would hate to think that any of those contracts were given to friends or Conservative Party donors wouldn’t you?


In other dramatic news, “Mr Potato Head” and “Mrs Potato Head” are apparently to be made gender neutral “Potato Heads” in future. Some might think that this is half baked idea which chips away at the very fabric of society…


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



Bare boughs

are the loss of thought


that fell from them

leaf by leaf


until a mindlessness

in silhouette


reached up alone

towards an empty sky. 


In good time

what must return


will be companionable



and the discovery

of fresh ideas


as dessicated leaves

are swept away.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

This was probably my last school day from home because after the spring holidays which take place during the next two weeks schools in Hamburg are supposed to reopen. I hope this is not going to be limited to primary schools as my vocational students would also appreciate being back in the classroom.


The news is still mixed, though. The infections are on the rise again, but people are getting very impatient with the slow progress in vaccinations and with all the restrictions. 


The equivalent to "The Sun" wrote on a front page the headline "Dear Britons, we envy you." Which is a bit shortsighted, I think. Luckily, the vaccination process is fast, but the headline doesn't take into account the high numbers of infections and the - sadly - high numbers of mortalities. The headline just reflects a part of the truth.


The weather was extremely mild during the last days and all the children of our neighbour's were out on inline skates, bikes etc. and enjoyed the sunshine. I look forward to cleaning our home from top to bottom next week and working in the garden, apart from school work on my desk.


Corona diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Covid deaths in the UK -around 122,00


27th February 2021

Gosh don’t the days go by quickly. 

The big news is I have sent my accounts off. Thank God for that, I hate doing it and it’s such a waste of time. Probably somebody else could do it in about ten minutes but it does my head in. I’m not even doing them I just have to send everything to the accountant!

Actually the other big news is I had the jab on Sunday in Norwich. Very well organised and unlike all the brave over eighties on the telly, who said it didn’t hurt, it did. But I didn’t have any major effects. My arm is still a bit tender but nothing much. A politician on the radio said something about the over 60’s the other day and in the next breath he said the elderly. I don’t feel elderly! An outrage. I had the Astra Zeneca vaccine otherwise known in Belgium as the Aldi vaccine. 


Had to go to Norwich again on Monday for work and saw the builders and met Lisa who measured the windows for the curtains and blinds. There are a lot of windows and I have Duchess tastes. Oh God, it will be expensive. I sat in the big hall and had a pot of tea and it was almost like going out apart from the fact that no one else was there.

I popped in to the M&S to get some nuts and to get to the food bit you have to walk through the knicker department. It’s open and you can buy pants! Who knew?


We’ve had some nice walks apart from one where we met 3 huge marauding Great Danes who scare the... out of me. They were fine but they are just so fast and so big, twice the size of Earnie and they race towards us at speed. 


My client is coming round tomorrow morning. May not let him in if the weather behaves but I still did some major hoovering this morning and mopped the floor. I think I only clean when someone’s about to come over. Subsequently the house is an absolute tip.

Better go to bed as I’ll have to be on the ball in the morning. 

Oh, Harry has been talking to James Cordon for the Late Late show and he mentioned being hounded by the press.

The queen was on a zoom call talking about the vaccine and she said it didn’t hurt at all. She was wearing a lovely pink jumper and looked very pretty. She was positively chatty encouraging the GBP to go and get their jabs. Poor Prince Philip is still in hospital.

Huge row between Sturgeon and Salmond in Scotland. 

Oh and I havn’t got time time to discuss the road map or the lovely box of booja booja chocolates that I received and the special biscuits that Earnie got. Mine have gone already!


Saturday morning

The sun is shining and the sky is blue though there was a frost last night. I’m going to set the garden up for an outside office.

Better go, still got to get dressed and move all my mood boards outside.

Take care everybody,

Love Annabel xxx