Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
I have just listened to Tim Spector’s weekly report on the Zoe app which has reassured me that we are continuing to head in the right direction. I was worried about the upsurge in infections in some countries in Europe but he feels they are experiencing the second wave which we have already had. Also we are in a much better position with vaccinations and very few people over 60 are becoming infected here now. Having watched the crowds of people congregating in parks this week, without following the rules, I think there will be another spike. They seemed to be mostly younger people who won’t have been vaccinated yet. Maybe a combination of the beautiful weather, the frustration of a year in lockdown and ‘what the hell’. Are they also thinking that their parents and grandparents are now safe? The camera angle the photographers use always makes it look as if there is no social distancing at all.
I think I was even more appalled by the litter left behind. If the bins are full why do people not take their rubbish home with them? We have the same problem in the Peak District. The sides of the roads are littered with cans, bottles and take away packaging, including whole carrier bags full of rubbish. Why? From April we have to pay to have our green garden bin emptied so no doubt there will be bags of garden rubbish fly tipped to add to the problem. The council will then have to clear that up!
It has been a lovely week to finally meet up in the garden. We sat outside with four of our neighbours on Tuesday evening for almost three hours. We had so much catching up to do that nobody wanted to leave. Eventually, even wrapped in blankets, the cold sent us all back to our own homes. We also met with our eldest son and his family in a park in Macclesfield. It is a lovely park with plenty of play areas to amuse the children. It was also very quiet as the children there hadn’t broken up from school. Our youngest granddaughter, who is 2, insisted that I do everything for her. No-one else was allowed to push the swing or hold her hand. As we haven’t seen her since Christmas I was surprised and pleased. She spends one day a week with her other grandma who she absolutely adores. As a grandma that seems to afford me the same status!
The trees in the garden are full of blossom, the bees are busily buzzing and the first layer of my tulip planter is flowering. I can’t believe the other four layers will appear, especially the lowest ones but I wait with anticipation. Spring is my favourite time of year.
Susan, Kyneton, Victoria, Australia
It has been a very strange few weeks for me. Selling my home was difficult and emotional. It was made worse by a bad choice of estate agent who managed to do everything we specifically asked him not to do. Once they have your advertising money they know you’re going to have difficulty severing the relationship. I just hope he isn’t foolish enough to ask for testimonial of recommendation. The settlement is a long one, so we have some breathing space selling goods and chattels that we don’t want to carry into the next adventure. The first is my piano. A beautiful upright grand Ronisch. I’m hoping I like the man who is buying it for his son who is just beginning to learn the instrument.
The lovely thing about living in a small rural town is that getting into the countryside takes a few minutes. Today we spent it in good company picking almost 2 tonnes of Chardonnay grapes. They were taken to an excellent local winemaker for alchemy.
Autumn is the most beautiful season here. It is rarely windy and temperatures are usually in the mid to high 20s. All week it has been so and it is set to be the same for all the Easter holiday weekend. We’re heading in to the football tomorrow at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a 75,000 maximum capacity. The ground is divided into zones so if the worst happens contact tracing is seamless. I hope I’m not as edgy as I was when we went to a small crowded, and not well ventilated venue for a Melbourne Comedy festival show last weekend. It was the first “outing” to anything in 14 months. At least tomorrow will be out in the fresh air.
I thank heavens that our State Governments were responsible for the response to covid. The Federal government has shown themselves to be completely unable to roll out a national vaccination programme. They are nowhere near reaching their own targets. Queensland had another scare due solely to them following federal guidelines on PPE. At federal level it is not believed that the virus is spread by tiny airborne particles and in spite of the lessons from Victoria and NSW frontline workers in the sunshine state were using the wrong masks.
The Prime Minister continues to fight a rear guard action on gender politics which he doesn’t consider to be in his job description. He has surrounded himself with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment in the mistaken belief he could keep what has occurred on his watch from blowing back onto him. Whether it will lead to permanent cultural change is very much up for debate. Almost everyone we know is so sickened by it all that it can scarcely be spoken about.
Stay safe and well. Enjoy your change of seasons and all the optimism that a vaccine offers. Susan xx
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
The grocery stores are full of Easter eggs, all arranged neatly near the entrances and by the checkouts. There are eggs, little fluffy chicks, bunnies and lots of plastic budding flowers. All very spring like.
And Easter, as heralded by the various Christian churches here, is all full of hope, rebirth, resurrection. That familiar intertwining of the closing chapters of the Jesus story with the seasonal rising sap of nature’s regrowth, another instance of how early Christian rites drew on existing pagan cults way back, is smeared all over the Easter holiday here.
Jarringly, since it’s autumn in the southern hemisphere, and all the stuff about hopping newborn bunnies and cute little chicks, the symbolism of eggs and all the rest of it is utterly meaningless. It’s just shunted onto life here. Enforced by a mind-numbing repetition, long ago rooted in colonialism.
It reminds me of how Archbshop Desmond Tutu described, with characteristic subversive candour, the way Christianity landed on South African soil. “When the Europeans came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray’. We closed our eyes and prayed. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.” Imposed spiritual values always have a sinsiter subtext.
Easter has seen some tightening of rules on movement and gatherings, an effort to forestall a third wave of the virus. The third wave is the worry of the moment given what’s happening in many other countries.
It's being exacerbated by the way rich countries sit on vaccine stockpiles and refuse to share them with poor countries. South Africa has to pay about $10 per vaccine shot, far higher than rich countries. It’s one reason why the vaccine rollout here is so slow and uncertain.
The lack of a global, coordinated approach to vaccine rollout will simply worsen the situation everywhere. I’ve heard people in rich countries say that the crisis is now over now they’ve been vaccinated. To me, they are utterly clueless. I’m saying this in the most polite, neutral way I can think of.
Meanwhile, at home here, we’ve this “Easter” gap in the school days. My kids love the extra time off. They hear and talk about how some people buzz off to church, pray about stuff, talk about Jesus waking up after he was killed ages ago. It’s just another myth, rumour, story spouted unintelligibly here and there. Chicks, bunnies and eggs. Thank goodness there’s some chocolate involved - some mellow fruitfulness!
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
Good morning from Good Friday 2021!
I’m sitting in bed as I write this, looking out on an overcast Easter morning. There’s lots of spring colour in the gardens and some early blossom - brought on by the summer-like warmth and sunshine at the start of the week. Alas, yesterday the temperature suddenly dropped and brrrrr there’s now an almost wintry chill in the air. That cold air will probably burn the flowers on the magnolia and camellias. There’s talk of frosts coming too (even some sleet and snow) - so beware all gardeners! The geraniums I got out of my greenhouse are now back inside - just in case!
Apparently this week, England reached another ‘milestone’ on the roadmap out of lockdown and we are now allowed to hold parties of up to six people “socially distanced” within our gardens. A friend rang last weekend and invited us to a small garden party on Tuesday. I said a provisional okay but must confess it was a lukewarm acceptance. As it happened, the party was then cancelled because one of the hosts developed a cold. I wasn’t dreadfully disappointed.
I feel reluctant to meet up with others just yet. If I’m honest, it isn’t concern about the virus - we are up-to-date with the vaccines and would comply with all rules of social distancing. However, we have developed quite a comfortable separation from others, a nice pattern of living that I’m not ready to give up. I do seriously miss shops, cafes and restaurants and well, just ‘going places’ but I guess that antisocial streak in me has found lockdown the perfect excuse to avoid people. I know that I must not let myself become too reclusive and make an effort. Then again, I’m hardly Mr Popularity so I won’t be buried under all the invites to reunions over a rosebud...
On a radio phone-in I overheard while in the local post-office / hardware store (one of the shops deemed essential retail), a woman rang in to say she has been indoors for a year and is now experiencing panic attacks when leaving the house. I was rummaging around in the nuts and bolts section of the store when the radio presenter suggested that the woman could perhaps try ‘little steps’ to help her get outside and over her panic. You know the sort of advice - ‘walk to the garden gate and back, then walk down the lane and back and gradually rebuild confidence’. But the woman replied that she was herself a ‘mental health first-aider’ and that wasn’t the issue. Some chirpy little pop song was then played as I left to go to the supermarket so I’ll never know what was ultimately recommended. But it set me thinking - how many others will be experiencing anxiety and yes, fear as we go forward in this world of Covid insecurity? What will convince us all that the world is safe again? It seems like we are going to be in this messy, blurred-edge, unsure state for quite a while.
Who or what will come to save the day?
Yesterday I read that the actor Laurence Fox (Detective Sergeant Hathaway in the Lewis series) has announced he will be standing against Sadiq Khan in the forthcoming London mayoral elections. He is planning to "fight against extreme political correctness". He has repeatedly criticised the British government's response to the pandemic and encouraged people to disobey social distancing rules and other public health restrictions. He has reportedly been visited by the police after joining anti-lockdown protests and also made some controversial comments about Meghan Markle. I wonder if the Queen has invited him as one of the six in her lockdown garden party. Now there’s a thought, eh?
Right, on that note, it is time for me to start the day. Lucy, the new pup, needs a walk and I need my breakfast!
Take care, good folks. Stay safe and well xx
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
On Wednesday D should have had his second (Pfizer) vaccine, but it has been postponed. It would have been a 9-week gap (mine is 12 weeks) between the two vaccines, but locally they seem to have put back some second vaccine appointments to get more first ones done.
We couldn’t have wished for better weather at the beginning of the week, perfect for meeting friends outdoors in line with the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions. We had a visitor for coffee on Tuesday morning, and I had three friends here yesterday. Such a shame that in some areas across the country the freedom led to copious amounts of litter, mainly cans and bottles. Much colder today, and certainly not the weather for sitting on the new garden bench and coffee table, ordered on Tuesday, that arrived this morning. I don’t think we’ll venture to the coast until the school holidays are over.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
The next chapter has begun. My house renovations are almost complete, so it is time to sell the house. The pandemic, government restrictions and the chancellor’s actions have turned house selling into an “interesting” experience. After this week’s flurry of activity, I am wondering what the next few months will offer.
The first UK lockdown brought the housing market to a standstill as government regulations banned house viewings. The upshot was that estate agents, removal companies and conveyancers shut down and the housing market, much like the rest of the economy, went into deep-freeze. Spring is normally the time when house hunters are out in droves.
Rishi Sunak gave a green light to the market by announcing a temporary reduction in stamp duty in his July 2020 budget. It worked. When restrictions were lifted, there was plenty of suppressed demand straining at the bit. People started moving again, trying to get house sales completed before the stamp duty holiday ended. Sunak has repeated this action a few times since and, on each occasion, it starts another round of activity to try to beat the deadline. Currently stamp duty holiday will end on 30 June 2021. This information I had overlooked before I started. According to my estate agent “house conveyancing is crazier that I‘ve ever seen”.
One thing is clear, whilst it can be stressful for the seller, it can be overwhelming for the buyer. Buying and selling houses in England has changed since the pandemic arrived but one aspect remains the same: potential buyers cannot put in an offer unless they have funds or the promise of funds. If the finances are coming from the property you are selling, you need to have an offer on your home. If finances are coming from a mortgage, that is also fraught with problems of job insecurity, furlough and job loss.
So here’s how it went for me. The estate agents turned up with two drones (I neglected to ask why they had two) and spent four hours taking photos and videos. How many photos do you need? It was a warm day so I spent most of the time in the garden. I had to be tidied. Tidying is a process whereby all signs that someone actually lives in the house are removed. It seems that throws are passé. Bathrooms finish up looking like showrooms. Not a toothbrush or toilet roll in sight. My son came over, more for moral support, but he did his bit of tidying. I had to message him afterwards “where are my slippers? have you seen my recycling bin?”
The agents did such an amazing job with the photography, the house was virtually sold before anyone had visited. The house was put up on the website at 11 am on Tuesday. There followed the most manic two days of viewings. The estate agent put me on speed dial. House selling is one of the few areas where people are allowed into your home. Of course you need to follow social distancing and put safety rules in place. I was lucky, the weather was glorious; all doors were flung open to let fresh air in. Everyone brought masks, except one who was a GP. I had a supply ready.
Most of the people viewing had offers on their homes and were desperately trying to find a new home before their own house sale was completed. Stress levels were high. One person was so keen to view, he came at 8:30 pm; garden tours by torchlight was interesting. It was exhausting. After the first few visitors, you just want to cut down the talking. Would “here’s a house” suffice? Maybe not. By 11am on Thursday, the house was ‘sold’ in so far as I have accepted an offer. The conveyancing may take some weeks. Now all I need to do is find a new home.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
We moved to our home on an island an hour and half away for Påske week. My husband spent summers here as a child and teenager with his seven cousins and two aunts and their husbands. We took over his aunt’s home six years ago and have slowly done it up.
The cats are still adjusting. Sofus has his favourite chair and has claimed the sheepskin as his blanket. He has mastered the art of relaxation. Julius stays under the couch.
We went for walk in the rain today, Good Friday. The air is so fresh and crisp. Three degrees. Hints of spring. We pass beautiful old ‘hytta’ and some old barns and stabbur - old food storage structures balanced on a pile of irregular stones to discourage mice (the red barn on the left).
The 450 hedging plants have arrived. The nursery forgot to tell us. And they informed us that we can only book the van to transport them the day before we take the plants. If it happens to be available. My husband has taken leave on Friday. We will have to scramble for an alternative if the nursery van is not available. The reliable roadworks contractor on the island, Bamse, had agreed a long time ago to dig a 25 by 25 cm trench around the house and remove the turf. He is not well enough to plant. The boat club boss agreed last year that he was going to get the neighbours to help us plant, but has now decided that he won’t help us unless he gets cash to both dig and plant. This tough talking 80-year old who runs the boat club is very unsteady on his feet and we have no idea how many years ago he last used his little digger. Dear husband made the executive decision that we will stick with Bamse and plant the hedge ourselves. I hope my husband’s tricky back and my heart will hold up. We have asked so many people to help us in return for renumeration, food and board. Silence. I’m starting to understand that perhaps I shouldn’t have begun on this garden adventure. Ironically, it was meant to heal me and take away some stress. Much better to just watch Monty and dream.
My daughter, Tara, commiserated with me last night. She was surprised because when she visits her in-laws weekend home in Suffolk, they enjoy a very strong sense of community with fairs, bake sales, and drinks parties.
Wishing all of you a wonderful Easter from us on Lepsøy.
Nicky, Vermont, USA
The March Arts Marathon is over. It has been consuming most of my time… a poem a day and a painting a day. But I survived, and the fundraiser was a big success. The organization has been able to get three people released from detention and into the Central Vermont community because we raised enough money to support them. That’s in addition to the family of four the organization is already supporting. Quite amazing. It costs a lot of money because asylum seekers are not allowed to work, and there are considerable legal fees and medical costs… and then there’s just the costs of living: housing, food, clothes, rent. So I’m very pleased. The artists were amazing, found lots of sponsors, and by all accounts had a good time. There will be a gallery of their works up this weekend. Next week I’ll send the link. It’s fun to see what people have been doing.
Now we are packing up to travel to Ithaca where we have to dismantle our house there so we can sell it. Thousands of books to find new homes! And lots of other stuff. It’s been hard to pack to go for what will probably be a month. We’re out of practice! And we want to take so little stuff so we can return with precious things we don’t want to trust to the movers. Assuming we find movers. So that is today’s adventure, a long drive. It will take out about eight hours. There is snow here, but none in the forecast. I hope everyone is doing well.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Saltimbancoes, Quacksalvers, and Charlatans
Our European neighbours seem to be somewhat in a tizzy (tisane?) about the efficacy of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. It is and isn’t suitable for over 60’s, it does and doesn’t cause blood clots, especially in women, and although the U.K. and Austria have not imposed any restrictions, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Canada have suggested that younger people avoid the jab or have imposed other limitations. Some countries, seemingly reluctant to offer the vaccine to their own people, at the same time wish to avoid exporting any to the U.K. where more than 30 million people have been inoculated. It is tempting to think that the governments of the various European Countries are suffering from a bad case of envy. They see a successful campaign of vaccination in Great Britain and have realised that they missed a trick in early approval and ordering of vaccines. And this in a country that has recently left the European Union - there is no way that Britain can be seen to succeed where Europe has failed. Trashing the not-for-profit Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and disrupting the supply chain smacks of shabby snake oil salesmen rubbishing each other’s wares on the street corner. Thomas Browne, Norwich physician and divine of the C17th and author of amongst other works “Pseudodoxia Epidemica: or Enquiries into very many received Tenents and commonly presumed Truths”(1646) gave me the title to this journal entry, and he wrote how “there are too many, whose cryes cannot conceale their mischiefs: for their Impostures are full of crueltie, and worse then any other, deluding not onely unto pecuniary defraudations, but the irreparable deceit of death”. If I were an investigative journalist, I would be tempted to “follow the money” and try to find out if there were people rubbishing the AstraZeneca vaccine because they had interests in other profit making vaccines, or simply because they don’t like the very idea of medicines for free. I’m no apologist for our current government as you might have become aware, but I have to say that they have failed completely to make a snafu of the process of mass inoculation, contrary to my every expectation, and it seems that much of Europe seems to agree.
Thomas Browne had a fine turn of phrase. He wrote that wee “are oft-times faine to wander in the America and untravelled parts of truth”… the America of truth… and this in 1646. And writing of ‘dissuasion from radicated beliefs’ ; “we are very sensible how teaching years do learn; what roots old age contract with into errours, and how such as are twigges in younger days, grow Oaks in our elder heads and become inflexible unto the powerfullest arme of reason.” Indeed.
My current copy of Pseudodoxia Epidemica is a first edition in a rather wonderful recent-ish binding. I bought it from a fellow dealer who had apparently not discovered the healing properties of leather polish, and had left it rather scratched and tired looking. With a few applications of my next door neighbour’s own brand of snake oil, (beeswax and turpentine cream) the binding glowed. The binder, Lucien Broca (1839-1910) initially worked in Soho, London in the mid 1870’s, ending up in Gerrard Street in 1904. It seems that he bound the volume for the Yates/ Thompson/ Bright bibliophile family, and he certainly went to work on the book. It has a speckled calf binding, and a gilt spine in six compartments with a gilt label. The inner margins and page edges are also gilded, and Broca has added his tiny name stamp to the front free endpaper. The speckled calf is difficult to do well. The random sprinkling of Indian ink or leather dye has miraculously achieved a uniform result. One smudge or blot would have ruined the whole binding. Rather in the way that some Politico-Saltimbanco-Quacksalvers are attempting to spoil the reputation of the not for profit AstraZeneca vaccine to draw our attention away from their own blots and smudges.
But I might be just wandering in the America of truth, with inflexible Oak in my elder head. And perhaps it is indeed a flawed vaccine, and somewhere down the line those of us inoculated with it will grow another nose or two, sprout extra useful fingers or just drop down dead over the Sainsbury’s cheese counter, our last fleeting thoughts of ripe Gorgonzola. Just saying.