Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Beethoven's Sixth Symphonie

I am always impressed by the amount of time, dedication, energy, of each musician in an orchestra and their background of musical culture stretching back to childhood. An energy and talent which must be renewed through successive generations. When the orchestra is assembled, what a prodigy of human excellence and sensibility! Before the lockdown, I had never seen an orchestra as close as we can see it on the computer screen - the faces and hands of the musicians, one after another, playing while the camera navigates among them. Such concentration, sometimes emotion, in their expressions. I think of a friend, the member of a choir, who once told me that the most acute moments of her life were when she was singing in a concert, her own voice being part of such an improbably marvelous total. On line concerts are such boon at any time of course, but especially at Covid time.


Thomas Grappy’s bio vegetable shop, round the corner. L’épicerie du Petit Jardin. 

Visit to the bookshop

Museums, cinémas and concert halls being closed, the way to discover something exciting is to go to a bookshop. We usually go round the corner to the second-hand bookshop run by Lionel - I have written about it several times already. 

But this week I went, at nine in the morning, to a bookshop for new books and was almost alone there. I spent a long time there, visiting all the sections. 

In the French literature section, about a hundred new books on the tables. I didn't know the names of most of the authors. It was a strange feeling to discover this new world. A lot of books had a coloured paper belt with the name of the author in large letters, to catch my attention. Rather too many of them to make me believe they were all first class authors. That paper belt used to be for the Prix Goncourt or Prix Femina or for truly famous authors. That they are now on so many books may be a sign of the "democratisation of fame". I notice that many authors are working "in the publishing industry". Does that mean that if you want to be published you have to be in the trade? It must help.

I tried some authors, unknown to me, whose books had been placed at the front of the table, I thought they must be considered the best. 

I love reading the texts on the back cover, I read about twenty of them after the titles had attracted me. My problem was that what was written there was mainly clichés. Some of the sentences are quotations from book reviews. I guess it might be difficult for a reviewer to write something original and meaningful about a book which is not. 

Here are some examples in my translation: "in this tender and extraterrestial testimony, the author questions our solitude and humanity", "this work should be discovered because it's new, generous, and ambitious". Another writer " is good at depicting the others who surround us, with their qualities, faults, contradictions, darkness and sometimes their humour"... Several of them were described as "concentré de poésie" - making me think of "tomato paste", as in "concentré de tomates". Sauve qui peut!

I tried Rob's test of reading a paragraph at random, not much luck there either. The worst started, "practicing literature is without danger, I am still alive". I thought: "Yes man, me too, I haven't lost my life, just my time".

A bit disappointed, I went on to the travel section to see where we could travel in France, to discover new places when the government gives us the green light of déconfinement. We will go in the eastern part of France near the Swiss and German borders - so many things to discover there. It's as far as possible from the sea, where everybody is aspiring to go. I also looked at a guide of caravan parks, one of my dreams not shared by you guess who. 

Then I went to the cooking section, to look for a "light" gastronomic cookbook. Covid has made us believe we need to be lighter in case we end up in an intensive care unit. Many "chefs" have written one while the restaurants are closed.

The homemade craft section is rather large. Many people are starting to try their skills during this extra-time which the pandemic has given us. A lot of knitting and sewing books might have been revamped from the sixties or seventies. I love the books with small embroideries you can do quickly and very "kawaii" - in fact some of them are by Japanese authors ("kawaii" means "pretty", "cute", and is largely used by young people who know about Far Eastern tastes and manga). It reminds me of Rob's mother, who, when she had a hole or a stain on her favorite clothes would embroider a little flower to cover it - I remember one of her skirts which had at least ten flowers.

In the popular medical section I noticed one book " Mitochondria", written in order "to improve the dynamics of your cells". That's a piece of junk science, the idea seems innovative, but there is still a very long way to go before you can stimulate your mitochondria. All these scientific terms have entered the common language with Covid and the vaccines: DNA, RNA m, spike protein... In any case, the only way to improve immunity known is with the vaccines. 



A little while ago, Rob received a form from the UK Government, British embassy, Paris, called "UK TRANSITION". This actually translates as: more paper work and red tape caused by Brexit. Transition is obviously the new buzz word, applying to everything from nationality to climate change, sex, electric cars...When you want a euphemism, go for the word TRANSITION. And everyone in the communication industry and media will smile at you and think that you belong. Rob is "transitioning" from living in France to... living in France. Thanks to the great care the English government and fifty two percent of English people have taken of him. And now we have to spend at least two stressful hours in order to find ourselves in exactly the same place as before. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 


P.S. An hour later, the transitioning process has been achieved or it seems so. It has turned out, so far, to be easier and quicker than we expected. Rob is now definitely signed up for "transition". He won't have to go into hiding, not that that would have been much of a change. 

Pass the Cognac. 


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I spent a very absorbed morning last Sunday reading about the highs and lows of everyone’s year of Covid. What a strange year we have all had to cope with. How varied have been the experiences. We are all still here which is wonderful and most of us have had at least one vaccination. I suppose that shows the age of the majority of the contributors.


Our drama group celebrated a year of Zoom sessions last night. Apart from three physical meetings in the village hall and one in our garden the rest have all been virtual. We do lots of improvisations. At first we struggled to keep the dialogue going but now our director has to show us a thumbs up sign to tell us we have said enough! There are a lot of talented women in the group which is useful when you need a job doing. I was given some upholstery fabric by one member. This turned out to be exactly what I needed to cover the seat of a Lloyd Loom nursing chair which has been in my family for as long as I can remember. I had always intended to recover it myself (I inherited it about 12 years ago) but wasn’t confident I would do a good enough job. I had even bought a book on upholstery some years ago!. Anyway, another member of our group is an upholsterer and within a week of taking the chair returned it beautifully recovered. I am so pleased I asked her to do it and so pleased to have given the work to someone I know.


I have been busy clearing up in the garden during the sunny days this week. Planning where the vegetables will go and imagining the bumper crops I will have is exciting. Unfortunately my plants don’t always meet my expectations but at this time of year I still have hope. My sweet peas are looking good in their toilet roll pots. I have just set loads of mangetout and sugar snap peas in more pots. If they fail I will buy plants from the garden centre later. Another member of our drama group is an excellent gardener who gives me her spare plants and tells me what to do with them which helps.


We will take our 7 year old grandson out for a walk tomorrow. The three grandchildren who live locally take it in turns to walk with us. We were surprised at how keen they were to join us. I think it is not having to compete with each other for our attention and the fact that we can target the walks to their interests. Fred loves geocaching so the plan tomorrow is to set up his own geocache site.


On Monday we hope to meet up with our eldest son to celebrate his birthday outside. His birthday is on Sunday but the rules do not allow meetings between two households until Monday.


We have a few events in the calendar now which give us something to look forward to. We have a family party planned for the end of June, a camping trip booked for August and a weekend folk festival and birthday ceilidh in September. They can all be cancelled easily but by then all adults should be vaccinated so hopefully life will be more normal and they will go ahead. 


My neighbour told me that she had been reading about the importance of our social contacts. Obviously seeing our family and close friends is important but apparently the day to day casual interactions with other people are also important. So those chats with the delivery people are necessary, for them and us. 


I hope you all have something to look forward to.


View from the top of the hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

Last week's Journal, the anniversary issue, was such a treat. Thank you all for sharing your experiences of the past year, it was so moving to read. I don't think I had really grasped how different it must be for people who have had to lock down on their own, but reading their accounts has made it very real to me, so especially grateful thanks to you. Several of my friends are on their own and each in their own way has put on a brave face and seemed fine on the phone, but yesterday I had a socially distanced face to face talk with a friend who thinks she is losing the plot. I was the first person she had spoken to all day and she really needed the company. I fully realised for the first time how lucky Richard and I have been to be able to share this experience and come through it together. Actually, without his cooking I would probably have starved.


I've been busy again with home schooling activities for our grandchildren. As they have always been home educated, they look forward to seeing their friends at the drama group or at weekends but don't have the buzz of returning to school to get excited about. They are just finishing off a combined history and geography project on Russia and are about to start my latest contribution, which is on the history of the guitar. There is so much to learn that I am splitting it into sections. I get so involved in their projects that I can hardly sleep, trying to work out the best way to get them involved. I find myself waking up in the night, exclaiming “what about Django Reinhardt?” I hope they'll get something out of it. I must say I didn't know that Django could only use his thumb and two fingers on his left hand, how amazingly resilient people are... I would never have guessed from listening to him. The boys' activity is full of links to Youtube videos of people playing the oud, Flamenco and Delta blues! It's made me wish I hadn't stopped playing the guitar years ago but I think my stiff fingers have gone past the point of no return. Then I think of Django and wonder if I should give it one last go.


The farmers have been busy emptying the slurry tanks in the cow sheds and spreading muck on the fields. I thought I would test my sense of smell and ventured out for a walk - I think my olfactory apparatus is working fine, but it was very windy! I'll have to make the most of these couple of weeks when the weather is a bit warmer and all the fields are still empty of cattle. I love to see the hares doing their mad March thing and racing away up the hill. There was a bit of excitement the other day when two ladies arrived in a Land Rover, wanting permission to go up the farm track to the moor to film the hares. They'll do well to catch them on camera, they are very quick! In the garden the female woodpecker hasn't been coming to the feeder, so we're wondering if she's sitting on some eggs. They often perch on the corner of the barn, from where they can see when it's a good time to fly over to pick at the peanuts. We haven't seen the barn owls up here lately but one flew in front of the car as I drove along the lane last week so perhaps they've moved house. I gather they like to have a second home.


Talking of which, it looks like the caravan sites are hoping to open at Easter, as a dozen or so of the touring caravans have been brought out onto the site. During the winter they're kept in a secure spot behind barriers of tractors and trailers, presumably to prevent theft. It will be lovely to see the campers and caravanners back enjoying the country life, although of course we do rather enjoy having it all to ourselves in the winter. A year is a long break, I hope we don't find it too much of a shock when they all start arriving, blocking the lane with their caravans and putting their rubbish in our bins...


Meanwhile, I am getting ready for another book sale in April, stocking up with book mailers and sellotape. The sales seem to come round more quickly these days, despite only having them three times a year. There have been quite a few pre-sale orders already today, with a bulk purchase of books on Impressionism, a collection of Thomas Traherne's poetry and prose, a copy of Pickwick Papers and a collection of little illustrated children's history books, plus some volumes of history and political philosophy which I'm selling for a friend. A busy afternoon of packaging awaits, so I must get on.


Stay safe everyone and, for those of you in England, look forward to meeting outside next week if the weather isn't too awful.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

As the clocks go forward and spring arrives my mood changes into joy at getting in my garden.

So last week forgetting I have been sedentary for 6 months I go at gardening with gusto. Seeing a large stone had fallen in my pond I decided to lift it out, now I can hardly bend down. Will I ever learn?  

But just sitting there was a joy listening to the birds singing. I wondered if the blue tits were going to accept my new Bird box, and then I saw one almost enter and it started to give me angry tweets at me sitting where I could see it. Soon as I moved it was in and out my new box all day. Wonderful. I could hear a song thrush but can never see it and the blackbird has sung to me all week. Followed by Dunnock, Robin, and all the twitters, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, and lots of Siskins.


I was watching from my window one day and thought that’s not a bird on my feeder. No, it was a beautiful field mouse just sat gorging on my sunflower hearts. I wondered also if my newts were back in my pond and was overjoyed to see one.

I have been able to walk up the lane again and for the first time since winter saw the two little owls back in their nesting area. It made my day. My friend came again for a walk so things are really looking up. 

This year I have decided that I am just going to enjoy living in such a lovely place with a wonderful view. Where I can see my family and friends in my garden. I am so fortunate to have a garden.

I don’t think anything is going to change yet re covid. I had my fist Astra Zeneca vaccine in January and await my second and my three girls have now all had their first one.


The wall where the two little owls sit
and the building where Covid permitting our art group meet.

Politically not much has changed in my life time. Many times, have the government of the day tried to crack down on our democratic right to demonstrate against wrongs in our society.

As we saw in the news this week many demonstrated peacefully but there are always a few that go too far as we saw in Bristol. I think the young people must be feeling like caged lions after the yearlong lock-down.


We have always had to fight wrong doings in society and I was very pleased to read in the news that this week after 49 years of The Campaign for Truth and Justice for the Shrewsbury 24 have finally won their case. We must not forget that our health and safety laws were won by men such as these alongside the trade union movement.

The sun is shining so off up the lane for me.


Tropical thoughts Part 2

Paul Lowden, Malaysia



One platform, one voice, one rhetoric.

A crowd stirred to nationalistic fervour

Needs only a single figure to provoke

A thousand years of glory; a sly feeding

Of vanities, patriotism and fears.

How easy too for biblical tub-thumpers

To whip up God, the Queen and Country

In a glorious trinity of loyalistic fever

And watch thirty years of trouble unfold.

Now today the same blunt monster feeds on

False reports and waves its flags, mouths

Cheap slogans, tongues jerked on strings,

Blind as guzzling slugs. Many tongued Rumour

Has its claws firmly fleshed in their hearts

And, played on like a pipe, they dance

Triumphant to another tyrant’s tune.


Cotswold perspective

Rosemary, Rodborough Common

This week I am feeling annoyed at the demonising of the Oxford AZ vaccine around Europe.

Millions of the Oxford-AZ doses have already been administered in the UK to its citizens all of whom are more than happy and grateful to have received this life saving vaccine. 

I also feel saddened for the Oxford-AZ scientists who have given their vaccine to the world on a not for profit basis. They have pledged to make their jab available at cost price “in perpetuity” to low and middle-income nations. Whereas all of the other vaccines that are available will make lots of money for those involved.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine costs £3 per jab = £6 per person

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine costs £15 per jab = £30 per person

The Moderna vaccine costs £28 per jab = £56 per person.

Emmanuel Macron claimed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was "quasi-ineffective" for over-65s, just hours before it was approved for use on all adults in the EU.

In Germany they have been giving it to people living on the streets as others do not appear to want it.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended using the Oxford vaccine until further notice.

In an empty Belgian vaccination centre, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was said to have been dismissed as a 'low-budget Aldi' alternative.

Public Health Scotland examined data on people who had received either the Pfizer jab or the one developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca. By the fourth week after receiving the initial dose, the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines were shown to reduce the risk of hospital admission by up to 85% and 94% respectively.

Europe has now entered its third wave - this is politics gone made.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

I'm worried this Friday morning - no reminder from Margaret in my inbox! Not really of course, and after last week's marathon I'm hoping she and Sheila are having a well-deserved lie-in.


So what about this past week - what has been happening? It feels as if quite a lot has been going on in this neck o' the woods. There have been Zoom meetings, three of those. There has been music - I'm practising a few old-time american songs on banjo, guitar and voice. There have been two really delightful meetings with best beloved, one at my home and one at hers. I met with my youngest for a park bench picnic (was that legal I wonder!). Several walks have been undertaken, the longest being to the beach hut. The Irish language study remains on hold, but I did join best beloved last Saturday on a course session about Scottish family history.


Family history is a bit on my mind. Some years ago I did a lot of work on my own family and that of my late wife. It was very interesting, but I got to point when I had to put it down for a while - I thought I might become a bore! Now, with the recent discovery of the film clip of my mother (see this journal two weeks back), my interest is piqued once more. Incidentally, there are developments in that story, but I know little yet. I will hopefully provide an update soon. Anyway, I have decided to revisit my family trees once more, so that should be interesting.

On the wildlife front, there has been little sight of squirrels in my garden, but that seems normal at this time of year - perhaps they are busy with 'family trees' too! A pair of robins are nest building, although I haven't located the site yet. Whilst I was walking the other day I photographed a big corvid, which I think was a raven. Certainly it was very large and black, but it wouldn't oblige by croaking at me - the way I usually identify them positively.


Easter approaches and some easing of the rules it seems, although I shan't change my habits by much. Best beloved and I are thinking of beach hut days though, and it will be great if we can spend happy time there. We both dread a descent on the Island by holidaymakers, because we think that likely. I was talking on the phone with someone in Cornwall the other day, and they have the same dread exactly it seems.


Be happy everyone...



Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

It was very interesting to read the bumper anniversary edition of the Journal last week. What a year it has been. Looking forward to putting the clocks forward on Sunday, so the evenings will be lighter. We’ve made the most of some good weather this week and worked hard in the garden. A trip to buy plants was a welcome treat. On Monday the rules change and we can entertain a small number of people in the garden, weather permitting. It was a good incentive to tidy  up!


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Last Friday - I had my first dose of the vaccine. Everyone told me that it would be a well organised experience and how right they were. Nothing but praise for the staff at the centre - a slick process. Met by friendly volunteers, checked in by a cheerful receptionist, a minute to walk to the charming vaccinator and her helper, an explanation of the vaccine, rolled up sleeve, didn’t feel the jab, a leaflet to read, a card to carry and then ten minutes sitting in the sunshine before leaving. “Bob’s your uncle - done and dusted - oh and here’s the appointment for the second vaccine”! 


I had to travel to the vaccination centre - well over twenty miles - and for me, that was the best part of it. A sunny drive through country lanes to the pretty town of Harleston (pictured). We took a picnic lunch and made “a day of it”! Well, it was our first time out of Suffolk in weeks, the first proper day out in 2021! Harleston itself is a fine South Norfolk town with some pretty architecture, excellent cafes and good independent shops (when they’re open of course). We walked about and enjoyed what felt like parole - smiling (with our eyes mostly) and waving at people who were socially distanced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say anti-socially distanced!


I felt tired on Friday evening and then on Saturday I felt grim. Joints ached, head ached - oh and that low back pain in the kidney area. Pottered about but went to bed after lunch and slept all afternoon. Got up for supper. Appetite totally unaffected! Dozed all evening and then slept all night! Much better by Sunday morning.


No other news from me. A nice week of sunshine and mild temperatures. Gardening mostly. Some friends are very concerned about whether they’ll be able to travel overseas this year. It is looking doubtful. Bad news from Europe. Then, yesterday I saw Boris Johnson on the evening news. He was talking with a reporter and began “The people of Britain need to be under no illusions”...  oh no, I thought, here we go again and promptly turned off the television! 


Stay well and safe xx