From a very small Island
Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight
Wow - what a month August has been! Rotten weather at times, but that has been totally offset by "Party Time"!!!
After a trouble free drive in Romy the camper van, I spent two nights near Cambridge before moving on to North Burlingham, which is somewhere I've never even passed through before. I pitched camp for one night on a farm site right next to Sheila and Chris's delightful property. It was there of course that the festivities began, with a suitably lubricated lunch in the garden - and what a garden it is! Meeting people was the best part of course, without forgetting Ernie the dog and Sheila's chickens. We are certainly an interesting (and eclectic?) collection of people. I feel really privileged to be along for the ride. Conversation was lively and the hosts so very welcoming to all.
After lunch we moved over to Margaret and Peter's home - again a really gorgeous property. I found talking with Peter fascinating, partly because he has such strong recall of St.Chris. I can now remember, with Peter's help, such teachers as 'Humpy' Humphreys, whose existence I'm afraid I had entirely forgotten. Sad to say I never met Peter as a teacher. He and Margaret were there after my time, but must have encountered some of my contemporaries.
The day finished with a crab salad supper with Margaret, Peter, Dianne and Jeremy before heading back to the camp site. It was a very happy experience, and I hope we may one day all meet up again.
Following North Burlingham I headed for North Norfolk, and camping near Cromer at Roughton. The idea was to chase locations my mother might have known when she lived in Mundesley during the First World War. I went there armed with a few photographs from my late Aunt Sheila's collection. Sadly, I was not able to identify any of the depicted places with certainty, but must have been within a stone's throw. On the Thursday I drove home after a stopover in Peterborough.
Of course Best Beloved didn't come with me on this jaunt, so I really missed her company. She undoubtedly made the right choice though, as I think she would have struggled with so many people as attended the party. In due time we intend to make a joint journey towards Norfolk for an exploration, and hopefully also to meet Sheila and Chris, Margaret and Peter, not to mention others.
Back home life has returned to a more normal pace. Best Beloved and I have been able to spend quality time together, much of it at the beach hut. She has been busy with grandchildren, her youngest one, Rufus, paying a visit for a few days. I have been playing music a lot and have also managed to drive my 1932 Austin, 'Jo', from time to time.
Speaking of music, tomorrow is Play Music on the Porch Day, established by Brian Mallman, a Milwaukee USA born, Los Angeles based artist. Participants register and are then posting videos of themselves playing music outdoors (weather permitting of course).
The URL for the event is:
My one contribution so far is very amateurish, but can be found at:
It's also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/playmusicontheporchday
I must have forgotten much that could be written about this month, but will let it go for now. Thanks to everyone...
Jean, Melbourne Australia
We remain in hard lockdown in Melbourne as case numbers keep increasing, although with 64 new cases in Victoria today we are nowhere near the worrying state of New South Wales which had 1035.
The lockdown has a strong rationale because of extremely low vaccination rates so far. Out of all Australians over 16, 56% have had one dose and 33% are fully vaccinated. The drive to get people vaccinated, and for people to TRY to get vaccinated, is furious. Of course some people are sitting on the fence or resistant to the very idea, but the real problem is a lack of available vaccine. We can put this squarely at the feet of the Morrison government. There's a long way to go before we reach the 80% vaccination figure the government is saying we need to start opening up.
My group of friends is finding this the hardest lockdown – ‘running on empty' springs to mind. The daily press conferences of our Premier Dan Andrews and his team are something of a life-line. For a glimpse of how we're coping, watch the rendition of ‘One More Day In Lockdown’, on Youtube, a riff on Les Miserables ‘One More Day.’ That sums it up!
I’m trying to get an Exemption to Travel from the government so I can visit my daughters overseas and had two applications rejected so far. I’m building a case for the third with yet more documents. It’s not clear at all why some applications are approved and others not. Trying to travel out of Australia for citizens and permanent residents is not for the faint-hearted – unless for business or sport. First, getting permission to leave. The uncertainty around getting a flight back as the number of entries is capped. And the expense. At this point, it looks like you need a business class ticket for a return flight, and then there is the additional cost of hotel quarantine. For those of us with family overseas whom we’ve relied on visiting regularly, it’s daunting to think about the future travel landscape.
There are still thousands of Australians living overseas who haven’t been able to make it back who understandably feel abandoned - by a government which in the last year and half hasn't managed to build quarantine facilities that would enable them to safely return.
Yet we are so safe and secure when compared to the people caught up in the tragic events in Afghanistan, how can we complain about anything? If there is a thread running through these events, it’s watching governments of every colour abandon their citizens or others to whom they’ve made a commitment, and that is profoundly disturbing, chipping away at some core belief this American-Australian has held on to for 76 years.
Mary’s projects mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
My sister, Beth, is a retired Software Engineer turned Bird Photographer. Last year she and her husband, Tom, planned an extensive series of trips, to multiple locations, worldwide, hosting bird life. Every segment of their carefully curated itinerary was cancelled due to COVID. She was heartbroken and very out of pocket. One trip involved visiting us in England, going on to Scotland and then on to Iceland. Part of that trip could be salvaged if the vouchers were redeemed within twelve months. So, hoping that the threat of COVID would have passed by Summer 2021, she and her husband arranged to visit us and Iceland this month.
Of course the threat of COVID is still with us and their journey would not be without hurdles but we all continued to hope. Earlier in the month our spirits soared when we heard that the need to quarantine had been lifted. But, much uncertainty remained: tests 72 hours pre-flight to the UK; tests 72 hours post flight; tests 72 hours pre-flight to Iceland; tests 72 hours pre-return flight to USA. At any one point a positive test would throw plans into utter confusion.
But their journey and their visit to us went ahead and what a glorious finish to the month for me. I am still recovering from the excitement. They flew from California to London and the next day took a train to Bristol where we met them. I am amazed how wonderful that hug felt.
Early evening the next day my eldest son and his wife arrived with their two little boys - the grandsons we haven’t seen since February 2020! The sound of their giggles as they bounded up the stairs to the flat will stay with me for some time. A little while later my younger son arrived and it felt like Christmas had come in Summertime. Then it was cuddles, Lego and supper and following that, four days of noise and glorious confusion. Only Beth and her husband stayed at the flat. The others lodged in nearby hotels but all the meals for nine were cooked and consumed at the flat. “I love Grandpa Simon. He cooks delicious food” whispered Ben, aged four.
The grownups visited an Art Gallery in Bath, in person, not on zoom. The whole group visited Slimbridge Wetland Centre where we lost each other near the flamingoes and found each other at WellyBoot Land. We enjoyed the swings and slides at nearby Brandon Hill. I took videos on my phone of Ben doing silly things. He hooted with laughter when watching himself. We drove to Portishead and hired paddle boats - hard work for the grownups as neither of the little boys could reach the peddles. We played grownup board games with “help” keeping score from Sam, aged six.
We were exhilarated and we are now exhausted. Another sister cautioned, “Mary - don’t try too hard to come down from that high.” I am still floating.
Thoughts from the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
I was all set to write my Journal entry a day early this month but yesterday I had a sudden onset of anxiety, a heavy feeling that events were unfolding somewhere which would change my mood entirely and had to lie down for the afternoon. Maybe it was a premonition, because later in the day we heard of the dreadful news from Kabul airport. Things were bad enough before, but this attack has made the world feel even more unsafe and has made it inevitable that many more people will not make it safely out of Afghanistan, it's heartbreaking. We had just attended our first Amnesty letter writing session since the first lockdown, where we agreed we were feeling let down by the US government's recent actions. I anticipate that very soon we will be writing letters of protest to the new Afghan government about human rights abuses.
Aside from that, we have been venturing forth more. Most people I speak to seem to be socialising more, not being quite as careful as before, going to family get togethers, pubs and restaurants, in spite of the infection rate being so high. Richard has been to a match at Elland Road and was one of about five people wearing a mask in the packed stadium. Is this the result of lockdown fatigue, I wonder, or are we just becoming careless because we're vaccinated now and feel impregnable?
As well as resuming our Amnesty group activities, this week we started having the grandchildren to stay over. It was absolutely lovely to spend time with them and in many ways easier than in the past as they're a year older and more able to amuse themselves by reading or drawing, without begging to watch cartoons all the time. We had a table tennis tournament, played chess and cards, went to the park and for a walk by the river. The elder one climbed to the top of the rope climbing frame in the park, which he never felt up to doing before, and stayed up there for ages talking to a girl, a sign of things to come! One thing that hasn't changed is that they still eat us out of house and home in a succession of hot dogs and pizzas. The family is currently staying in an air B&B while their house is having a loft conversion done. I've just returned from a site visit with the builder and it looks a bit sorry for itself. (See photo!) Hopefully it will all be worth it for an extra bedroom and ensuite.
The highlight of the month though has to be the Plague Journal party! Many thanks again to Margaret and Peter, Sheila and Chris, for their hospitality and their adaptability in the face of the inclement weather to make it a moveable feast from Sheila's kitchen and garden to Margaret's kitchen and garden. We did our best not to get lost enroute! It was really amazing to meet everyone and put faces to names, I barely needed the crib notes I had secreted in my bag. Thanks to Sophie for encouragement with my writing, to Michael for his cheery response to my inappropriate joke about prayer books and to Peter for the books. It was lovely to see Nicky on zoom and to speak face to face for the first time in over 50 years. She hasn't changed! (Well, not much anyway!) Earnie lived up to expectations. I'm not going to attempt to list everyone I spoke to in case I miss anyone out, but needless to say I will be reading your entries this month with fresh eyes and even greater enjoyment. Alas I did not get photos so I dearly hope that someone has some to put in the Journal.
I must just mention the book I have recently finished reading, “Pale Rider” by Laura Spinney, the story of the Spanish Flu of 1918. One thing is certain about the Spanish flu is that it didn't start in Spain, but almost everything else is uncertain. The identity of “patient zero” or the first victim, is still unsolved. It could have started in China, where a similar epidemic was contained in 1910, and carried to North America and Europe by the Chinese Labour Corps, the thousands of Chinese labourers recruited to dig the World War I trenches, or it could have begun in Europe, transmitted from wild birds to humans, or in Kansas, where there was an early outbreak at a military camp. It may have killed 50 or 100 million people, no-one can be sure. (Incidentally, swine flu may have been given to pigs by humans, which is ironic). Work continues in the field of gene sequencing on preserved specimens from 1918. If you haven't read this book, it's a fascinating insight into what we know and don't know about the 1918 pandemic and the history of plagues in general, particularly poignant as it was published in 2017. No doubt many people are already working on books about the 2020 pandemic, perhaps they will quote from our Journal in a hundred years...
Nicky, Vermont, USA
It has been an eventful month… consumed with adjusting to seeing mostly out of one eye. I had what the ophthalmologist told me, not bothering to mince words, was a stroke in my right eye. The upshot is that my vision in my right eye is quite blurred. He said I’m lucky to have any vision at all, given the amount of damage in the eye, and then showed me a photo, in full color, of my eye, clearly delineating the wreckage in brilliant oranges and reds. And despite all this I like the man, and trust him. Which is a good thing, given the only treatment is to have injections in my eye once a month. Not to improve my vision but to hold onto the remnants of vision I have. Which is important because it is what gives me depth perception.
Yes, I can still drive. It turns out that as long as one eye works one can drive. Of course I’m living in terror that the same thing will happen to my left eye.
It turns out that my right eye was much stronger than my left eye, and I’m right eye dominant, so I’m learning to see out of my left eye, learning how to use glasses more strategically. For a while I thought I couldn’t read, which, given I read while doing almost everything, left me totally at a lost. Then B. found an old pair of reading glasses and with gross magnification I can read. Phew. And I’m learning how to use the computer and enlarge what it is on it, etc. etc. Next computer I buy will definitely have a larger screen.
In the midst of this adjustment I took a plein air painting class, an outdoor painting class, which was a humbling experience on many levels, but I did get much more comfortable painting outside, bought a decent easel, and found that the eye problems are not nearly so acute at a distance. Perhaps I’ll become a master of blurry paintings.
My unvaccinated relative is still unvaccinated and coming up with all kinds of conspiracy theories about vaccinations. I’m trying to think of how to convince her to read any legitimate news media, but no ideas so far. I remember when she was a teenager and learning to pilot planes I cultivated the art of not thinking about her flying a plane. I need to cultivate a similar level of blanket denial about this, but so far no success and so I worry. And fume. In the meantime the virus is alive and well in VT, and we hear of lots of breakthrough cases, some of which made people miserable, but non of which have landed people in the hospital. We’re back to wearing masks everywhere, being careful. We all know the drill.
People who are wondering about the big move might be interested to know that the upstairs of our house is livable, and downstairs my office/studio and the laundry room are functional and there is stuff everywhere else to be sorted. The eye problem did clarify that I should get rid of all the scraps of fabric that I had been saving to make a quilt. Off they went to the garbage yesterday. They smelled musty otherwise I would have taken them to the re-use place. I haven’t figured out yet if I can actually sew, but I have figured out that if I can I only want to sew what I really want to sew, which turns out not to be a very scrappy time consuming quilt. Quite liberating.
A high point of the month was zooming in to the garden party and getting to see everyone. It’s odd really, getting to know people through language but disembodied. It was fun to put faces to names to lives, even briefly, and to see again Peter, of St.Chris fame, and Linzy, my friend from forty some years ago. Ooops. Fifty some years ago. We can’t be that old.
I hope everyone is doing okay and I look forward to reading about your lives this month.
Susan, Kyneton, Victoria, Australia
It was lovely to catch up with all the news from last month and I am looking forward to news of “The Garden Party”.
The smug self satisfaction of our country with our lucky position apropos covid has evaporated. The simple task of driving international aircrew from the airport to quarantine should have been a straightforward task. It beggars belief that the driver should have done so without being masked or vaccinated. In so doing the NSW government welcomed the Delta variant into our country. I can no longer recall if this is the sixth or the seventh lockdown. It is a situation that has no clear way out. The States are united in their disapproval of the laissez-faire approach now taken by NSW and geed on by the commonwealth. It is profoundly disheartening.
Before the situation imploded we decided to take a few days away at the beautiful seaside community of Port Fairy. A day in to our visit the snap lockdown was declared, so we believed we were obliged to immediately return home. Thirty minutes in to the almost four hour trip back we had a four wheel drive utility fitted with a Bull bar plough (at 100 kms/hr) into to the rear of our car. No one was hurt. Meg was asleep at my feet and was hit by one of our mobile phones that became missiles on impact. We were all a bit shaken, but the next three hours spent on the roadside waiting for assistance gave us ample time to compose ourselves. I thought I might actually lose my life when the tow truck driver gave us a lift to the nearest major centre. Neil had no seat belt squeezed in the middle of the front seat and Meg sat perched on my lap. I felt like our noses were actually touching the windscreen and I could hardly hear anything over the soundtrack of eighties Americana. I forgot to look if it was a cassette. Priceless, if only the speed of the truck had been a little lower. My poor Peugeot, who gave me years of faithful, trouble free service was a right off. A lapse of judgement as someone reached for a drink bottle from the floor of the passenger seat. I’m so relieved we don’t travel with our dog in the rear of the car, because she would be broken or dead if we had. We stayed on in Port Fairy for a few more days. Once the car had been declared a write off, the organisation of the hire car by the insurer and our roadside assistance company became more complicated. Happy days. At least they were spent walking along long beaches, breathing in salty air and socialising (covid safe) with lovely dogs and their human companions.
We have been forced to make some major changes to our thinking in light of the of the increasingly complex covid situation. My husband is no longer able to travel freely between NSW and Victoria and can’t work effectively. We have decided to move to southern NSW. The climatic changes will be dramatic. Summers are extreme and the climate is very dry. The home we are buying is everything I said I would never do again. A complete renovation is required. The garden is a blank slate and has a plentiful water supply via a reliable aquifer. It will be Mediterranean with citrus, olives and pomegranates. Well, that’s the plan. It is close to a beautiful river and a red gum forest, so all is not lost. My days are being spent packing boxes… and more boxes.
The day we left for our ill fated break I had my second AstraZeneca vaccine. Neil has his next week. That felt good, even though it is not the magic bullet that the politicians tell us it is.
Take care. It is going to be a long haul.
Sheila, Norfolk UK
I was so busy socialising on the day of our Plague Journal Party that I completely forgot to take pictures. But it was a joy to meet all who attended and I was touched to receive gifts, particularly the flowers, wine and the hamper of IOW produce - you know who you are and I thank you most sincerely.
Chris and I have lately been consumed with a family get-together here. Our gathering last year for my 70th was so gratefully received by family who had not seen each other for so long that they asked if we could repeat it this year. What a joyful occasion it was too even though the weather was not ideal.
During the long weekend, (many were camping here) I offered the opportunity to make some glass with me in the studio. The attending children were quite young - the eldest 11, the youngest 6. They were wonderfully enthusiastic and although all clamoured for attention at the same time, I (along with the odd parent) managed to keep them occupied and productive. Although I did all the "cutting", I was impressed with the lack of inhibition in creating their pieces. Adults are often far too cautious and nervous in creating but these kids were totally without hesitation and just excited at the range of materials to use. To be honest, I've never seen them concentrate so hard for such a long time on one thing.
Their work has now been distributed and pics of some are featured here. Unsurprisingly, they all want to come back and do it again and the parents are among the keenest now they've seen how easy their children made it look. I wonder if their kids' success will inhibit or encourage the parents, and if their kids are the onlookers how the adults will react...
Afghanistan - I agree with you all. So angry at how the troop withdrawal has been handled by our government and the US. So concerned for all the people left there at the mercy (if they have any) of the Taliban. Religion has a great deal to answer for even in these 'modern' times. Honestly, I despair!!!
From the Editor
August is nearly over, and here in the East we seem to have missed out on Summer. A heavy grey lid of weather has been clamped over us for as long as I can remember (my memory isn’t as good as it was), and this week the early mornings have the scent of Autumn.
Sadly, the weather wasn’t brilliant for the Journal Party. But it didn’t seem to matter, though I did wonder ‘is this a super-spreader event’ as everyone packed into our kitchens rather the gardens! But we all survived, as far as I know. And it was lovely to meet everyone who was there, and thank you for all the edible goodies and flowers. And cake!!! We managed to Zoom Nicola and Hilde as well and finish with a crab supper (thank you Annabel and Earnie!) with Dianne and Jeremy and Michael J who were camping nearby.
The awful news of the moment has been dealt with already by many of you. Afghanistan makes COVID seem almost a minor problem. Though I think our politicians think both are minor problems.
I’ll just pass on some good news.
Stephanie, who has written for the journal earlier in the year has a new collection of poetry out with Bloodaxe in September. It’s called The Conversation and I think it’s her best collection yet. John Mole, who has regularly been giving us a poem for every edition of the Journal is having them all published as a pamphlet by Shoestring Press this Autumn. More details later. And Robjn Cantus, who has also written for the Journal, has had his book on Lucy Aldridge published: Before and After Great Bardfield. I treasure my copy.
Here I am in decorating mode, painting a room downstairs so we can move our bedroom down for the winter, and stay snug. I find painting walls very soothing, but I’ve run out of paint, so I’m off into Norwich to buy more. And this afternoon Rob the tree surgeon is coming over to advise on pollarding the lime which takes so much light from the greenhouse and cutting garden. Next summer perhaps the dahlias will enjoy more light, and maybe even more sunshine. Let’s hope so!
Here’s to a golden September!