Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

Last time, I wrote about my friend Karima, who was then in ICU in a Joburg hospital battling covid. Sadly, yesterday (Thursday) morning she lost that battle. Her funeral was held later in the day, at about 4 pm, according to her family’s Muslim customs.


Her death was covered widely in the news here, and the eNCA TV channel Karima worked for broadcast many moving tributes to her.

Her death leaves an aching void in many people’s lives, including among those in the wider media community, in which she was a great champion not only of the rights of journalists and for freedom of expression but for creating a demonopolised, people’s media in South Africa.

The above link covers quite a lot of this.


I hadn’t seen Karima for some years, but we were in contact a lot by social media messaging. She was a lovely friend to my young children, Gracey and Masana, always sending words of love and encouragement to them whenever I tagged her with photos of them. 


I ‘chatted’ to her often about the dangers of covid and my worries about the precipitous decisions of the authorities concerning the reopening of schools. Karima had asthma and followed all the safety protocols for avoiding infection. The fact that she anyway caught the infection has sparked even more worry among us at home about safety at school. Gracey and Masana didn’t want to go to class today, scared of picking up the infection and bringing it home. I find it hard to convince them that they’ll “be alright”. There’s now no lockdown homeschooling option available to parents. If kids stay away from school for more than a few weeks, they get deregistered from the school system, and I don’t have the resources, time or ability to school them at home properly. I think a lot of parents here face the same predicament and fears.


The vaccine rollout is currently focused on inoculating healthcare workers, the ones working directly with patients. I think that the rest of us will be able to get vaccinated in four or five months.


I’ll leave it at that for now, write more next time.

Stay safe everyone.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Our friends living in the coastal village of Walberswick say that last Saturday was worryingly busy. People everywhere! Ice cream-licking people! Tee-shirts, shorts and sandals people! Smiling, happy people meandering on the beach! The first really sunny spring-like days of 2021 I guess. Warm too. Unseasonably. 


The TV news said the same about many of the local beauty spots - people in their hundreds descended on the seaside towns and beach villages. The police issued warnings and on-the-spot fines. So what brought it about? Just the sunshine? Desperation? A need to break free? The hopeful messages coming from Downing Street? The good news about the vaccination programme? People thinking they’d take a shortcut on Boris’ roadmap to nowhere? 


Well, I’ve got that roadmap but I’m still a little lost. I don’t really see any shortcuts. Feel like I’m standing at the signpost but just staring up! Hoping to be enlightened! Not bemused. Just trying to make some sense of what is safe and what is not. Someone may have fired the starting gun and others may have raced away but I won’t be running anywhere. A gentle stroll for me!  


Took the pup, Lucy, to the vet this week. All well. She had her planned surgery and seems to have made a very rapid recovery. Collected her the same day - initially a little drowsy but soon back to her old self - wanting food, making mischief. Has chewed a hole in my favourite sweater. Is chewing the bottom of my pyjama legs as I type this! 


So, on that note... it is cheerio for now xx


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

It’s a miserable day today so I’m writing earlier than usual - on Thursday. 


I have been out for a walk, collected my eggs and had a chat with my egg friend. We sat outside so didn’t chat for long as it was too cold. She was radioactive and checked to make sure I wasn’t pregnant! She went for a PET test yesterday which involved injecting her with a radioactive liquid to show up any cancer cells in her lymphatic system. She will need some more chemotherapy and hopes Covid won’t delay her treatment. The number of people in hospital is going down rapidly so hopefully it won’t. She has had the disease for a few years but chemotherapy is keeping her healthy. 


Schools go back on 8th March which must be a huge relief for many but a worrying time for many others. Our oldest granddaughter is an anxious child and the thought of returning to school is very daunting for her. She is twelve and can’t bear the thought of having to wear a mask all day. She feels she is suffocating when she tries to wear one. I have sent for some silicone inserts to hold the mask away from her mouth to see if that helps. I feel so sorry for her and for other children feeling the same. I know it is important for children to be back in school but I would feel happier if all the adults working in schools had been vaccinated. Maybe they should also have postponed the return for a few weeks until more of the population had had their first jabs. Making those decisions is so difficult.


My four year old granddaughter told her mother that she didn’t want her to be her teacher any more. ‘That’s ok,’ responded her mum, ‘I was thinking of resigning my post anyway.’ 


My daughter-in-law, who has asthma, had her first jab on Monday and felt very poorly for a couple of days. I wonder if this means her immune system is working very hard and she will be getting good protection against Covid or if it is an indication that she would have been seriously ill if she had caught the disease – or both – or neither!

Thank you, Jane, for your Bara Brith recipe. I made it on St. David’s Day and it is delicious. I didn’t have sour cherries but used up some dried cranberries and glace cherries left over from Christmas. It is definitely still soup weather so I am including my favourite, and very easy, warming soup. When we lived in Cornwall my friend used to make it for me whenever she felt I needed a ‘pick me up’. With four young boys that did happen sometimes.

Heather’s Chick Pea and Sweet Potato Soup

2 tins chick peas

5 small sweet potatoes

1 small onion

3 cloves garlic, small piece chopped ginger

1 tsp chilli, 2 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1 stock cube

Fry onion, garlic and ginger. Add cumin, coriander and chilli and fry briefly. Add chick peas, cubed sweet potato and a stock cube. Cover with water and simmer for 20 minutes. Liquidize. Serve with fresh coriander if you have any.


It’s World Book Day today so I’m including a picture of the lion from the book How to Hide a Lion



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

It is cold and dry with wonderful sunshine on Monday and Tuesday. I have started to work in the garden, cleaned the windows and the house, saw my mother - mainly outside - and took my brother's and his wife's reluctant and stubborn dog for a long walk. It was hard work (the walk...).


The Prime Ministers of the states and the Chancellor have agreed on easing some restrictions despite low vaccination rates and rising numbers of infections. The good news is that AstraZeneca's vaccine has now been authorised for people above 65, this gives hope for acceleration.


A former student asked me to write a letter of recommendation for an application and it was a pleasure to help her. I hope she will be able to enroll at her dream university.


Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Today we’re five days into the March Arts Marathon and I’m astonished at our success. We threw a party and people came! Thirty nine artists and writers and musicians signed up and are creating every day and sending their work to the people who sponsored them. And they sponsor each other. The artists lift everyone up. All to get alyssum seekers out of detention, (for detention read jail, terrible conditions) and into homes and lives in a new country. And lawyers to keep them here. Each artist has this wide web of friends and supporters who think the cause is worthy and who love getting pictures or poems in their e mail every day.


And I’m writing a poem a day and painting each day, which is utterly exhilarating and daunting. It’s not called a marathon for nothing. I’m maybe discovering that after fifty years of writing poetry (I started at St. Chris, giving them to Peter to read, I must have been fifteen) what I love is painting. If I have to choose. Does one have to choose? Each day with limited hours but still, words intoxicate like colors bring joy. No choices. And here I am thinking aloud and up to deadline. 

And in the real world B. is fully vaccinated and immune and, to her great joy, went shopping today for the first time in a year, returning with what she wanted and needed, not what I might think she wants and needs. 

I’m imagining a world tour, like the grand tours of old, only expansive, England of course, Amsterdam to see the Van Goghs and because I’ve never been, Croatia because we saw a picture, then Israel and our dear friends, India if B. is willing, (she lived there for years) Japan because I’ve almost always wanted to go, then arriving in Perth, Western Australia, to see my aunt, and then New Zealand to stay with my cousins. And then, continuing in the same direction, San Francisco to see a dear friend and eat dim sum and and and… Then home. Vermont. Well, one can fantasize. And now the virus has died down a little and I’m almost vaccinated (second one next week) I’ll start buying lottery tickets.

And yet again back in the real world, the snow and ice pile up against the house, it’s bitterly cold, the driveway is utterly treacherous, and I barely notice because of the afore mentioned daily writing and painting and the receiving of paintings and cartoons and poems and stories from all the artists. It is a good life.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Progress continues blissfully on the UK Vaccine Front - we’re up to 21,000,000 now and we get reports of unexpected levels of immunity from single doses. At the same time hospitalisation and deaths are steadily reducing (except on the Isle of Man) and the two things give rise to considerable optimism that the cautious ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown won’t be compromised.


It seems very poor reward that, particularly in the face of such progress, now is chosen to announce a pay review for the NHS - a slim 1%. 

Health Minister Nadine Dorries doesn’t exactly win friends by saying she’s surprised they’re getting a payrise at all while the nurses announce they’re so bitterly disappointed/insulted they’re considering strike action and their Union Royal College of Nursing claims to have a £35m war chest available to fund it - and suggests a meatier 12.5% as a start point.


First France, then Germany come to their senses and allow the Oxford/Astra vaccine to be used on their 65 year olds in the face of increasing demand, and Italy makes a name for itself, refusing 250,000 doses of Italian Oxford/Astra destined for Australia to leave at the last minute. They’re the first EU country to use a ruling that export deals don’t have to be honoured if the manufacturer is falling down on home supplies.

Meanwhile, the Prof heading the Oxford team that developed it, Sarah Gilbert, has been awarded the annual (Prince) Albert Medal in recognition of “contribution to global common good”, joining the ranks of Winston Churchill, Marie Curie, Alexander Graham Bell, Tim Berners Lee and Stephen Hawking.


Wednesday has me watching Ms Sturgeon on and off most of the day as she gets grilled - quite heavily at times - by some Committee or other over the inconsistencies bedevilling the Salmond case. She puts up a spirited defence, and I find myself ending the day believing her more than Salmond, though along the way I quite forget I don’t really give a toss - what I really want to know is the truth behind the gruesome suspicion they were an ‘item’ at one time - but of course no one takes advantage of Parliamentary Privilege to ask her that. Later, we see her being given a bit of a roasting by Ruth Davidson (Con) in Parliament, but NS sprawls, relaxed to the point of insolence, smirking the while. Methinks a Deal has been Done.

As the week progresses, the focus moves to next week’s school opening (that’s fully opening of course, some schools never closed) and measures taken to maintain a safe environment - pre attendance testing, twice weekly on-site testing and classroom ventilation. The tv has a graphic cartoon of figures among whom is an individual oozing particles in a red cloud, making cross infection seem an inevitability - I guess it will be unless testing heads it off. My reservation is that from day one, footage of professionals swabbing victims clearly shows deep penetration and consequent wincing/gagging. Is a youngster going to do that to themselves? Would anyone? Are they going deep enough to harvest the germs to test?



Raised Bed #1 of the Walled Garden Six takes 17 bags of compost, two at a time via a 250m round trip with the wheelbarrow. I may have to limit myself to filling one a day.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Kyneton, Victoria, Australia.

Firstly Sheila, I think we all need compensation! My chap is being particularly feral at the moment or maybe it is that tempers are stretched here. We have discussed for some time selling our house and building something quiet and sympathetic to the environment and to the challenges of a warming world. I am sure all the diarists in the other hemisphere hear me scream when I open the gas bill for the heating. Horrendous. I love our very old glass and the shadows is casts when the sun shines, but it isn’t double glazing. I do love this house and the garden I have made around her. I forgive her for being paid (and named) for a massive diamond discovered in South Africa and mined using slave labour. I forgive her current name, in honour of a local squatter who stole his land from the First Nations people who had occupied the land for centuries. She is a resilient old bird. I would have liked to wait until the spring and slowly said my goodbyes and sent her off when I think she is looking her best, but best advice tells us the time is right. 


My last few weeks has been spent finishing some small painting jobs and getting everything shipshape. Dean came to work his magic on the hedges last Friday. Photographs were taken on Monday and the house went online last night. I must remember to sent the link to Dean (aka the Hedge Barber) his hedges look simply incredible from the drone shots. Today I cleaned and polished from 7.30 am to 5 ish when I threw myself out the door (quietly so Meg wouldn’t know I was leaving her behind) to take a walk at double speed in the cold wind. First viewings are tomorrow morning, so it will be an early start to mow the grass and get everything swept and tidy. We laughed over dinner at the real estate agent telling us they would take all the stress out of it. 

Politics is horrible at the moment. We are involved in a couple of particularly nasty scandals involving the (alleged) sexual assault of a young women in Parliament House, a second involving our Attorney General and an assault that is alleged to have occurred thirty years ago with the victim unfortunately taking her own life last year. The Attorney General was only named as the person accused in the last few days. At an annual bbq we attended last weekend someone asked who we all thought it was... every woman at the table answered with one voice and we were right. The Australian Parliament is a toxic environment for women and has long known to be so. 

The first of the vaccinations has begun here. I don’t think we have a coherent strategy with our choice of vaccine for the general population. If we ever expect to socialise with the rest of humanity I think we may have backed the wrong horse. 


I have been following all your stories, but I have found the past few weeks very stressful. Meg and I have a general reluctance for change. Don’t tell my husband, but we are both hoping the house and it’s limitations don’t suit the punters!

Classic FM are playing an overnight of music by Hildegard or inspired by her, so perhaps tonight sleep won’t be so difficult to find as it has been.


PS stay on your soap box Harris, it is the same brand as I use. 


I changed the wallpaper on my iPad today to this photo. I have some lovely zinnias flowering, but not as wonderful as these which I grew last season.



Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

This week was intensive, productive and a bit stressful. Yesterday I went shopping for black-coloured face masks for the funeral today of a dear colleague. Inside the old church I was alone in wearing a face mask and since I am fully vaccinated I took mine off. Örjan died from malignant melanoma at only 58 years and his youngest child in a second marriage is only 7 years. It was a beautiful ceremony but since only 20 guests were allowed I was one of only three colleagues who could attend. At the hospital a simultaneous ceremony had been organized. A 20 year old daughter is a poet and she managed in spite of tears to read a vey fine poetic speach. After the funeral we followed the car with the coffin to the old graveyard. We all laid roses on the coffin there. Then I learned that it was even more sad, since his wife has now been diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer. So it it important to treasure life and keep in touch with friends and family to minimize regret.


View from a town formerly known as crazy

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.



Well, March 4 has come and gone, and as far as we can detect, the Fake President is still in charge from the Fake White House studio, sanely and soberly administering the accelerating rollout of a massive vaccination program and equally massive economic relief package, while our Dear Departed Leader is left to growl at gatherings of the Faithful in Florida. Indeed, in this town formerly dominated by Crazy, the best the Remnants of the Faithfulhood could do to rile up the populace was to insist that the Senate clerk read out loud, word for word, the entire mind-mumblingly dull 1000+ page economic relief bill. Sad times.


In contrast, what a crazy good time was had by all down in Orlando at the CPAC convention over the weekend. It's true that a casual observer might easily have confused the attendees with the animated and costumed denizens of the nearby tourist destination for which Orlando is better known. But the squat Golden Idol of Dear Departed Leader (tastefully decked out in Red, White and Blue Stars and Stripes shorts) around which the Faithful gathered to worship was a clear sign that this was something different. Indeed, the confabulations unspooled over the course of the weekend exceeded even the most fevered imaginings of Mr. Disney in his "Fantasia" phase.


And, as old idols fall, new heroes spring up to grab the banner of Crazy, holding it proudly aloft to rally the Faithful.  I refer, of course, to the gaping hole left in the national psyche by the abrupt departure of Rudy G. from the airwaves. Luckily, in times of crisis the nation has always produced leaders who rise to the moment, and thus is was again at CPAC. Senator Ted "Hot Buns" Cruz, just back from basking his backside on the beaches South of the Border, gave a star turn, ranting incoherently - but what a manly, vicious sneer! - about Radical Socialist Democrats insisting that the Faithful wear four - make that five! - face masks in a transparent effort to suffocate Freedom. The man may be insane, but you have to give him full marks  for sheer gall and effrontery: Hot Buns began his crazy talk by saying that it was good to leave chilly Texas for the warmth of Orlando, even if it wasn't quite as pleasant as Cancun.


Speaking of Texas (in journalism we call that a neat Segway; or something), there was simply no way the proud citizens of the Lone Star State were going to let those upstarts from Florida dominate the Crazy all on their lonesome. Seizing the moment, Gov. Abbott announced he was ending the state's mask mandate immediately. Never mind that the state's hospitals are still on the verge of collapse or that the number of COVID infections is still alarmingly high. No, Sir. This is the moment for bold leadership and Greg is second to none in the cause of Crazy. In reply, the Fake President made his first serious political mis-step since pretending to take office. he (never with a capital "h") said "this is no time for Neanderthal policies," thereby endangering his base of support among cave dwellers everywhere, and earning a rebuke from AOC herself for engaging in cancel culture against law abiding, disadvantaged troglodytes. Somewhat confusingly, this was interpreted in certain quarters of Lamestream Media as a spirited defense of the Faithful.


In short, everything was working just as The Founders intended. No risk that an all powerful central government would ever have the wherewithal to quash the Crazy. As the feds have become achingly dull, the locus of crazy shifted to the states. And a sorely tested nation was given a new birth of Crazy just in time to ensure that life as we know it would carry on undisturbed.


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Thank goodness for a week of garden graft to keep away from the dreadful preoccupation the nation seems to have with conspiracy theories! It’s like being in the Fourth Form at Mallory Towers without the Midnight Feasts!!!  


For the record I will not be watching the Markle Debacle on Sunday and I have been more distracted by the design of the strange coffin-shaped court in Scotland than by the crass rhetoric of the big fish involved. In both cases, we know the outcome and for our national identity it won’t be happy or glorious! 


[Home Thoughts creekily descends from her soapbox ...]


So back to the garden. It’s all about clearance. The rake has become my tool of choice and although I am pleased with what I am doing I am also conscious that I am destroying the whimsical smudges and blurs that have been allowed to develop at the edges of our patch. That said, I am delighted to have engaged (they would say conscripted) my ever loving husband and parent to help me gather a considerable number of outlying snowdrops and consolidate them into a more accessible place. A contributor to Instagram likened this activity to stitching a blanket - a happy domestic analogy!  The second project is an homage to David Nash involving two blocks of wood once used in a boatyard, a pile of my specially reserved gnarly logs which I just could not bring myself to burn, and a large pebble. The third project has been to remove two small but prominent clumps of bamboo which have impeded easy progress through the bamboo grove.  


Other highlights include the celebration of Mum’s 68th Wedding Anniversary last Sunday which called for champagne and husband’s jab on Wednesday which called for Dalwhinnie!