Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

I enjoyed three chamber music concerts this week. It was the Norwegian Akerselva Chamber Music Festival and it was on Zoom. I would never have given a Zoom concert a try if not for family reasons. Our son Thomas played the piano and his fiancée who had organized the festival and played the cello. They are on the left top and bottom in the picture. All works from women composers. Everything about it was fabulous and was among the best concerts I ever heard. And on wednesday evening, also on Zoom I watched a lecture from Uppsala Medical History Society about Shubert´s Winterreise. Some of the music was played and his illness and death from Syphilis was discussed. So it was a more cultural week than normal (I watch youtube and TV series quite a lot.) Today late in the afternoon I take the train back to Uppsala and look forward to meeting my husband Georg again and to a calm weekend.


This picture is from Akerselva chamber muscic festival. Thomas is top left and fiancée Marit bottom left


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



is not the shrill command

of a union leader


but the gentle persuasion

of this morning’s sun.


Runners pass by

in their sheathes of lycra


and a cyclist’s helmet

catches the light.


A brightness glows

in the chatter of children


and dogs out walking

tug at their leads


while the park is already

a field full of folk


as that line from Langland

shines in their midst.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

The Covid week has been dominated by an unholy wrangle among EU politicians, disgruntled at what they see as unfair distribution of vaccine, voting  to give themselves the power to block vaccine exports beyond EU countries. Since that includes component parts of the surprisingly complicated recipe, it effectively stymies vaccines and components inbound to us, both for injecting and manufacture. The UK reasons that a) we have contracts for supply that should be honoured and b) we funded some of the research and have a prior claim. In any case, the disparity between doses in and doses out is a fairly insignificant 10 million... mind you, I won’t think a million here and a million there insignificant if it affects supplies of Pfizerjuice. I’ll be wanting my second dose of that in April.

Anyoldhow, Oxford/Astra gets a special mention in all this from EU worthies desperate to look good at home: honour supplies to the EU before you export further abroad, they say, or else...

O/A/Z respond by saying they are by far the most supportive and will seriously consider their “at cost” approach in future, such is their pissed-offness.
They offer, for comparison and illumination the EU pricelist of those currently approved for use, per jab:

Moderna $18

Pfizer €12

O/A/Z, ex UK £1.78


By prudently over-ordering (450m doses) and thus hedging our bets, albeit at enormous expense, we are secure as long as the normal rules of commerce apply. Pfizer comes from Belgium, or will if they’re allowed to export it to us. Moderna is American.


The threat of importing the Covid variants continues to worry (or is it used by the Gov to worry us?) and Public Health England warns “the balance of risk could shift” and we should be considering placing the whole of Europe, S Ireland and America on the risky list when it comes to border control. No sooner said than done: truck drivers inbound will now have to take a test and only allowed in if negative. Plus, quietly, the emergency powers associated with herd control are extended beyond the summer to end September. Just as deadline looms, there’s another one of those ‘softening up’ moments: we’re told the period of declining new infection numbers is over. We’re on hold, infection-wise. Summat’s up...less relaxation than promised?

Here, we continue with our cheerful pottering, hardly daring to think of next Monday when trips to the coast can resume - and with it the indulgence of sitting for an hour or so, fishing.

In the meantime, locked down, there’s been a bit of roofing, a bit of roadmending (half a ton or more of roadstone, raked into the annual potholes) a bit more fruitcage building and window insertion to the Potting Shed, a giant polythene curtain rigged over a peach tree at guru Bob Flowerdew’s suggestion to minimise damage to emerging buds and flower bed attention and more mowing. And then some mowing. This place is all therapy. Just lacks a bit of sea.


In an odd sequence of the unexpected, Margaret’s nice little Mazda, over which I hesitated when it was available - and lost - a year or so back, was snapped up by a Gardener we share. She (Rebekah the Gardener) wants to sell, and it’s been bought by our son’s Lovely Partner Sophie, who has generously added me to her insurance so I can go on jaunts as a sort of introduction fee. Margaret, in the meantime, quite likes the idea of having it back...


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

Wednesday 24th March

The sense of shock was palpable, mourners sat close together without wearing masks. It’s only now that I am describing the scene that I realise no one wore black, everyone was casually dressed except for the man leading proceedings who wore a jacket. It must have been a humanist ceremony because I can’t recall the mention of God and no prayers were read. I’ve been to a funeral today. Just virtually, it took place in Cairns, Australia. My uncle died suddenly less than two weeks ago. His young teenage son found him in bed, I think he died from some sort of aneurysm. I’d already decided that I didn’t want to ‘watch’ it, it felt odd, but my sister and cousin said it wasn’t at all morbid, just moving and heartfelt. So with a mug of tea in hand, I clicked on all the relevant links and traveled to the other side of the world.

Tony was my dad’s youngest brother, the adventurous one of the family. He lived in Holland, Germany and Australia. He was always sporty, athletic and healthy, that’s why everyone was so shocked by his sudden death. He became a father in his early fifties, he and his wife had three boys together. His eldest son Josh who is now 20 took my breath away when he stood up to speak. He looked just like a younger version of my dad! Choked with emotion he had to hand his notes over to the jacketed man to read out loud. Tony’s friends and colleagues shared anecdotes and memories and it was clear that he was held in high regard by all those who knew him, some vowing to be there if ever the boys needed anyone to lean on. That made me cry! Tony’s wife and middle son are in Germany, and due to COVID restrictions were unable to be at the funeral.

After the readings a short film of photographs was shown, lots of smiley pictures of family get togethers and holidays, before the coffin was carried down the aisle. Both his sons were pallbearers. I’m so glad that people were allowed to sit close and hold each other.

I had my first ‘jab’ last Thursday, then went straight to work. On Saturday I went along to a community garden project in my local park and spent an hour litter picking, which equates to an hour’s workout - bending and stretching whilst walking around! On Saturday afternoon I had to put myself to bed, I was completely exhausted!! My energy levels are still low, so I will have to take it easy this week. Apparently fatigue is one of the possible side effects.

I am trying not to absorb all the news stories lately, I spend a lot of time on my own, and they can be overwhelming. The one that keeps coming to mind is all the space junk floating around the earth! Over 8,000 metric tons! I don’t even know what that looks like, so I googled for images. Modern day humans are just dumpers of stuff! 

Hope you’ve all had a good week, stay safe xxxxxxxxxx


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

Norway has had a sharp spike of 35 percent in cases of Covid and the government has advised working from home in addition to other measures.  


We are going to stay on the island till the week after Easter, with our puddy cats and my husband’s two huge computer work screens. I am feeling anxious as my husband’s daughter and partner have just been infected and I worry about us as well.  


I was sharing this with an old friend in London but she immediately switched to Norway’s problems with the Astra Zeneca vaccine, it’s impact on confidence with the rest of the world and so on and so forth. I tried to calm her as it was late at night but woke the next morning to an article she sent from The Economist on how Europe’s vaccine caution costs lives. At which point I lost my cool.  


We’ve known each other for 25 years and she has a very bad habit of playing the devil’s advocate in any discussion. What I’ve learnt from Ralitsa, my friend in Singapore who is a therapist and coach, is when someone is sharing a problem with you, the first response is to just say ‘I understand’. Even if you don’t. It calms people down. It’s not Lying. You Understand. It does not necessarily mean that you Agree. So you aren’t compromising yourself by Understanding.  

It’s important to do this in conversations with teenage children, partners, friends, patients and difficult customers. Calm the conversation. We all need to be understood. I needed someone to understand my anxiety about getting sick. Not immediately discuss the politics of Scandinavia versus Astra Zeneca.  


After some time of calm understanding, I could have got into a cerebral discussion about vaccine side effects, anti-vaccine campaigners, confidence issues... Instead, the conversation became heated and pointless.  


Vaccination is a good idea. Britain has done so well with 41 percent of its population vaccinated. We have 5,3 million people strung out over 1,752 km (Britain 1,407 km), many in very remote areas. Norway has managed to vaccinate only 824,447 of its population Only 10.33 percent have received one dose. And of these, only 4.96 percent are fully vaccinated. Norway will follow, in the future, Britain’s example of manufacturing vaccines. So, well done Britain.

I don’t represent Norway and I understand that they need a bit of time to investigate the 6 deaths and 137 serious side effects from Astra Zeneca out of the 120,000 vaccinated with it so far. We will soon find out the government’s decision. Sweden and Finland will continue to use Astra Zeneca only for patients over 65 years (The Disposable Hanky Group). Both as a doctor and as an individual, I’m glad a government is being transparent and investigating a side effect. It’s not meant as a personal affront to Britain. We are all in this Covid mess together. A death from Covid or a known side effect of any vaccine affects All of us.  


And let’s put things in perspective and get upset at the number of poorer people in third world countries with continued poor access to vaccination, medical care, food, water and education. There are bigger fish to fry, not just our little nationalistic ones.



Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Just ordered some oil and will have to go dirty for a few days as I only realised last night the tank is practically empty.

It’s been a bit of a week this week. 

Had a conversation with my friend Carolyn about how nice it would be to have a big studio and just paint pictures if you could live off that and you didn’t have to have stressy interactions with other people. Subsequently I volunteered / suggested / begged doing some watercolours for an up coming exhibition. Now I’ll have to get my paints out. Talk about adding stress to ones days.


Johnny the postman is at the door with a parcel. It's violet creams. A couple of Easter presents. No, there isn’t a spare one! Shirins violet creams were so delicious. A certain amount of fear whether my immune system would react but no, I’m immune to them.

Do you want one of my buns? I say to Johnny.

I just made some blueberry muffins for breakfast and they are still warm. He went off happily with two balanced on his pile of mail.

Anyway I only wanted to say hello. I’m going to finish my oil cloth order. 

Finish preparing my table for the beautiful paintings I haven’t done yet and do some serious weeding so I can plant all my bargain bulbs from Lidl.

See you next weekend.

Love Annabel xxxx



From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

A short piece from me, for a slimmer journal after last week’ s bumper 50 contributions. I hope you enjoyed them all, and thank you everyone who contributed.  


This 28th March issue encouraged me to glance back at entries for a year ago about now. It was interesting how tentative and unsure most people felt at the beginning, routines not yet established, shopping still a problem, restrictions still unclear. And many contributors writing who no longer do so now, probably leaving when we went weekly. I wonder how they all are? If you are reading this, do join us again, if only for a week. I really enjoyed some of our old contributors contributing to the anniversary issue last week and hope some of them continue.


My big adventure this week was a visit to the dentist. Two extractions later, I’m writing this the day after. It was strange how unworried I was at having two masked faces looming over me for 40 minutes. Never mind all the pulling and wrenching..

I’m nursing a sore mouth, stitches and a rather large dose of antibiotics. And I’m hungry!

Hope I’m up to a good supper tonight.


So from Monday in the U.K. ‘the rule of six’ returns. I really hope warm weather arrives, too, so that we can meet friends in our gardens without bundling ourselves up in winter clothes. Enjoy a heatwave if it arrives! And next week, it’s our Easter edition.