Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I need to change my running title! Not much of a lockdown now and August has been very busy. We continue to take rapid flow tests, use our masks inside shops and avoid crowds. 

We started August with a three night camping trip to Wales with four of our five grandchildren. The weather was kind to us - no rain and warmish weather. On the whole the children were happy and kind to each other and to us. We played on beaches, followed the Alice in Wonderland trail around Llandudno, flew kites and made friends to play with on the campsite. We came home feeling less tired than expected and relieved that it all went so well.


After a couple of days at home and more rapid flow testing it was off to Norfolk for the Journal party. Thank you Sheila and Margaret for organising this and allowing us all into your lovely homes. It was so good to meet some of you and learn more about you. It was a very convivial event with lots of laughter. Sadly there was no one able to attend from outside the UK. We had supper in the evening at Margaret and Peter's with Michael, from the Isle of Wight, and then stayed on the nearby campsite belonging to the very friendly postman's father. We exchanged jars of marmalade with Margaret and Jeremy came home with a piece of special redwood from Sheila and Chris's pruned tree. It was all very enjoyable.


Then more tests and 4 nights in a posh chalet in Draycott in Somerset with number 3 son. We don't do luxury but they do! It was rather nice having a hot tub. We did a stunning walk above Cheddar Gorge and visited the Bishop's Palace gardens in Wells which were very beautiful. We chatted, ate delicious food and relaxed.


Today Jeremy went to rescue a pigeon. Number 2 son and family are on holiday in Scotland for two weeks. The neighbour who is looking after the cat heard noises in the chimney. Jeremy went, fearing the worst, and came home with a very friendly pigeon. It is now recovering, eating well and getting it's strength back. Our son had been concerned that Daisy the cat might get to it before we did! 


Covid seems to have been overtaken in the news by Afghanistan. It's so sad that all of the interventions to try to stabilise the country have come to naught. It makes you feel powerless. Perhaps no one should intervene but that seems wrong too.


It seems that we will all need a booster jab very soon. It looks like 12 to 15 year olds will also be vaccinated.  What about the rest of the world? We hear very little about Africa.


I hope you have all been enjoying the summer. Hopefully it will last a bit longer. My sweet peas are still glorious.

Photos: Jeremy's pens made from Chris & Sheila's redwood.  My sweet peas.


From S Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

I'm writing this very late, for the exciting reason that I've been to a private view for the first time in - well, your guess is as good as mine. The exhibition is Hannah Woodman's at Gray's Wharf in Penryn, and it's stunning: she's a wonderfully expressionistic landscape painter, and these are paintings from the last two years, magnificently displayed and completely absorbing. Do go if you're anywhere near - or of course there's still always online. 


St Just is very full indeed for St Just - which isn't desperately full by some Cornish standards, but enough for there to be traffic confusion in Fore Street & a sense of surprise coming into Market Square and finding it all over humanity: for a lot of the year there might be one or two people at most. Shopkeepers here have got together as St Just United in asking people to carry on wearing masks - and because I've barely left, I only realised very recently that masks aren't entirely standard anymore. I did go bare-faced on an open-top bus a few weeks ago, and it felt - I imagine - rather as women felt wearing trousers in the 1920s. 


That aside, there's remarkably little to report: I've been working slightly ridiculous hours on a bookbinding and an article on medieval lyrics, not quite at the same time, and apart from listening with horror and disbelief to the news, have been an entire hermit. I've enjoyed nothing happening (here); I've also enjoyed the sense that across the country things were happening gently again. Someone at the private view mentioned that the govt has now banned hugging again, which made me dread that this evening was after all just a happy interlude. Please not.


Hello from Eastbourne

Shirley-Anne Macrae

The good old days - for this weekend only! - By Shirley-Anne Macrae


The children are off camping to Dorset with Nick. They have done this every August bank holiday since they were toddlers. It is a get together with Nick's University friends and it used to be called 'Dads and lads' but then little girls were born and it's now 'Dads and lads and lassies'. Wives stay behind. They are not unwelcome but they are encouraged to stay away 😆. This is so the usual rules and standards can be 'relaxed'.  Just like the good old days.


The photos are always fun. The children run around while the dads sit around, with beer and those big cardboard boxes of wine. One dad was photographed last year settled into a chair with the box of wine wedged between his legs. He looked happy and comfortable and like he wasn't planning on doing much else. Their diet for the weekend is anything done on the BBQ, mostly sausages I believe, at every meal. Bedtime doesn't exist, they are up late into the night. Teeth are brushed though and there are token showers but they return home to me every year suntanned, happy, tired and incredibly grubby. They really need to let off steam and be children. Just like the good old days.

I am therefore at home alone with Saskia.  I have no plans and I like it like this.  I've a pile of magazines and plan on some gardening and planning for the winter.  I've been looking forward to the 'me time' but every year, the same thing happens, that is, I feel guilty at wanting the 'me time' and I pine for them to come back. I'm planning a lovely dinner in the garden for their return.


They'll have a ball though and so will Nick. He's been working from home since the start of the pandemic and has very little interaction with anyone outside this house. He'll love seeing his old mates, drinking beer and eating sausages for days.

Just like the good old days 😉.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Chris, our very nice decorator, is here, painting the exterior of the house. The upstairs windows are open, and it is surprisingly chilly for late August. Having had the same green  - a sort of 'Racing Green' and cream colour scheme for almost thirty years, I (we?) thought it was time for a change. Nothing dramatic, just a slightly different shade of green, with grey/blue overtones. Having trawled through the c.140 shades classed as green on a trade chart, I narrowed it down to a choice of two. Now it turns out that the usual supplier has run out of the base paint needed to mix the colour (delivery problems ...), so had to start the whole process again with a different brand of paint. More next month - maybe even a photo.


The main excitement recently has been the Journal party. It poured with rain half an hour before the start, but in the end the weather was reasonably kind, and Sheila/Chris and Margaret/Peter generously allowed us to invade their houses as well as gardens. Very interesting to meet some other contributors, plus a successful zoom call with two from abroad. Unfortunately we didn't manage to sample all the many delicious cakes as we were having supper with some friends in Norwich (who produced an equally delicious meal).


September is almost here. Not much sign of 'normality' yet, with Covid figures still high, although singing and ballet is back on the agenda. The news is currently dominated by the awful situation in Afghanistan, to which there is no easy solution. Holiday restrictions, mask-wearing, potential Christmas food shortages (really? it is only August!!) pale into insignificance by comparison. Count your blessings.


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I have been reading ‘The Ruins Lesson’ by Susan Stewart. I bought it at the Ruins exhibition at the Sir John Soane Museum. I had not fully appreciated what big business ruins have always been since classical times and that the ruins we see are really ruins of ruins. Stewart argues that ruins have special interest in times of conflict and financial collapse. This is salient. 


On the same day I went to the RA to see David Hockney’s latest exhibition ‘The Arrival of Spring’ and subsequently read his latest interviews in ‘Spring Cannot be Cancelled’. Not as memorable as ‘A Bigger Picture’ but nonetheless an event. The title of both exhibition and book hit the opposite more optimistic end of the zeitgeist spectrum.


I was in London doing jury service at the Old Bailey but rather than being assigned to a diamond heist I was assigned to a Nightingale Court. Superbly organised I learned so much about our judicial system and was incredibly impressed with every aspect - not least my fellow jurors. On returning to the bookshop this week I encountered a delightful book by Henry Cecil illustrated by Ardizzone. The image is exactly as I saw it… but not in red.


London was quiet - it always is in August - and I felt completely safe on buses, underground and mainline trains. It was good to recognise that there was comfort outside my comfort zone. And stimulus!


On the domestic front Mum is not well; my sister in law is not well; a dear friend has died and another is about to. But next month we celebrate our Ruby Wedding Anniversary (a gem of a teapot rather than a trinket!) and our eldest niece is to be married.



John Underwood, Norfolk

“If Paradise is half as nice as heaven that you take me to…


…who needs Paradise, I’d rather have you” sang Andy Fairweather - Low in the the song by Amen Corner in their 1969 hit. One of my “Desert Island” top ten, and a song that I would like played at my funeral at some some in the distant future, (and possibly with “Smoke gets in your eyes” at the crematorium ho ho). More Paradise later.

We have been rather busy over the last month, spending time with my mother whilst my sister and family took a much needed and anticipated holiday, and minding my son’s dog whilst they were away too. The grass seems to have grown exponentially (a much used word these days), the vegetable garden like everything in the universe, is tending towards chaos, and the apple crop is a disaster, except of course for the early apples which are not “keepers” and are good for about a week before they become floury and soggy. We usually have our apples pressed and made into juice, and often have around eighty bottles a year from a few trees. Last year our neighbour told us that it was to be the last year that the local farm was going to be pressing apples. Horrors! I’m hoping that the pommier (did I just invent a word there?) - he who crushes apples - meant just my neighbours apples, as she sells her apple juice locally in competition to the farmer. Every year we have the pile of early apples that we hardly use, but manage to have the rest crushed. 

Thomas Browne in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica published in 1646 “and are to be sold in Ivie Lane” writes about apples rather well, in particular about the supposed forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. “That the Forbidden fruit of Paradise was an Apple is commonly beleeved, confirmed by Tradition, perpetuated by writings, verses, pictures; and some have been so bad Prosodians, as from thence to derive the Latine word Malum, because that fruit was the first occasion of evil…”
He writes further about a fruit called Adam’s Apple by some and “somewhat rougher chopt and cranied, vulgarly conceived the markes of Adam’s teeth” and concludes his discursive essay brilliantly; “Since therefore after this fruit curiosity fruitlessly enquireth…” Round of applause for Mr Browne I think.

In Afghanistan we see the terrible results of male egos on display. American, British and other nations led by privileged men (largely) some professing Christian beliefs, trying to suppress suicide bombings carried out by other leaders of men professing belief in Islam. And failing. The suicide bombers are thought to believe that their martyrdom will take them to their new life in Paradise, and the Christian clerics talk about the life after death in funeral services for the victims. 

It was not the fruit of Paradise that led to the destruction of men women and children in Afghanistan, but sadly, in that unhappy torn country - to quote Browne- “their tranquility was of no longer duration then those horary and soon decaying fruits of Summer”.

All things trend toward disorder. The second law of thermodynamics states that “as one goes forward in time, the net entropy (degree of disorder) of any isolated or closed system will always increase (or at least stay the same).”

It was never going to end well.


Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

I have eaten a lot of cake this month! The catching up with friends and family has inevitably involved cake including a 1st birthday Teddy Bears’ Picnic cake beside the UEA Broad and a slice from a cake made to look like a felled tree complete with iced sponge axe – for a surprise 50th for the leader of Chris’ Conservation Volunteers. And of course the wonderful selection of cakes at Margaret and Peter’s when Plague Journalists, lucky enough to be able to attend, gathered together in South Burlingham at the beginning of this month –  such a good start to August.


As our own personal world slowly opens up, the world news seems to get grimmer by the day. I find it easy to become anxious about the big news items way beyond my control. The situation in Afghanistan dominates the news and it was heartening to hear that Norfolk will be taking in a number of refugees. County Hall are asking for contributions of household items, gardening implements and clothes and the Bishop of Norwich is extending his Syrian Refugee fund to include those from Afghanistan which is used to help the refugees settle into our region – the chance for local people to assist, albeit in a very small way.


How much easier it is to focus on local news items and one that has brought light relief this month is the appearance of Banksy pictures along the East Anglian coast. These pictures have been verified by the artist except for the latest in Harwich of a young boy with a blue NHS mask attached to his fishing line. Banksy’s pictures have created a lot of interest and brought even more visitors to our region. The coffee shop in Cromer which our daughter Alison supplies with chocolate brownies is situated on the seafront just above a Banksy painted on the sea wall of homeless hermit crabs faced with a row of empty shells and a sign held aloft by a crab that reads Luxury Rentals Only. The coffee shop is doing a brisk trade and Alison’s brownie business has benefited from increased orders.


I escaped from the busy Norwich streets last Friday morning when I opened a small wooden door on Charing Cross and entered Stranger’s Hall Museum for an improvers drawing course. For three blissful hours our group were given the chance to explore this beautiful Tudor Merchant’s House and sit and draw whatever we chose, from open doorways and flights of stairs to beautiful carved woodwork or an ancient four poster bed . The artist leading the session was on hand to give advice and encouragement. Stranger’s Hall has just opened to the public again, on Sunday afternoons.


Life is moving forward but certainly in a different way. We and our friends continue to be cautious and masks were worn by all in the Museum during the drawing course.


The garden has grown very wild and followed its own course this month! The topsy turvy weather and lack of prolonged sunshine seems to have caused an abundance of green growth but not so much colour. Except in our front garden where the Japanese anemones perform reliably every year. We’ve allowed some sections of lawn to grow wild and been rewarded with plenty of insects including grasshoppers (a few have ventured indoors and one even hopped upstairs to the bedrooms this week). Oscar, the ginger cat from next door, appreciates our wild front lawn too!


Good wishes to all.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans




Rising competitively

like towers in San Gimignano


they arrive outside our gate

when least expected.


Random, self-seeded,

flamboyant, top-heavy,


suddenly overnight

a weight of blossom.


Leaning over, bending

in a grounded cluster


they bow not deferentially

but proud and self-assured


then, each like a fallen tower,

they lie there humbled 


in a residue of leaf and stalk

competing only to be swept away.