We are now a monthly journal...



A small blackbird

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Nice to be writing on Thursday again.


Back to our Journal, monthly now, I find the new version more manageable, and I was not good nor comfortable at the WhatsApp group. We are out of the lockdown but I can even tell you what's left of it in France - just wearing a mask when you are inside of any building which is not your home, and on market places. Everything being so blurred in my head. I feel so tired. Having a baby around (and her parents and the friends of the parents and the all family coming to see baby Flora) for the last two months doesn't help to rest! 


I was having my "Vie de Château," at home, feeling a bit like the "sleeping beauty" despite the prince being by me most of the time. I enjoyed being a kind of "prisoner" in my own home. Now it's different, we can go out when we feel like it, my problem being, that I don't feel that aspiration very strongly. That's why I am changing my "Vie de Château" for " A small blackbird" which is my name in French. My aim is to try to live like a blackbird, flying outside, observing life cheerfully, and being musical. The last two days, it's Beethoven variations on the "Magic Flute" and Schumann Fantasiestücke opus 73 and putting my bicycle back on the "Loire à vélo" track.


The end of lockdown made me feel really reluctant, uncertain when I go out. It's strange seeing people faces again, I am not sure I like it 100%, somehow, I don't really want to see everybody passing by. It's just a part of a feeling of vagueness, still looking to adjust my personal compass. I could not have expected anything like that. 


Football news are everywhere. Even if I feel not much concerns about it, I wonder why the UK is not "one nation" in football? Wikipedia told me there is only one rugby team for Ireland, apparently for historical reason.


I feel very perplex about many things that I was not conscious before Covid. Certitudes concerning our society has disappeared: economics - which part of society will lead the waking up?, cultural - with strong "woke" culture, so judgmental -, political and diplomatic confrontations, renouncements to consider that what's unifying people, priority to what's dividing us... Can humans survive without "charity"?  I am not talking about the money aspect of it, more like 1 CO 13 - in the King James Version (in the new version the world love replace charity). Even if you are not Christian, worth it and it's a very short read.


The open door of  Chez Thomas' small vegetable shop, in the stairs taking you up to the château. Let's hope that the open door of lockdown will take us to such a beautiful garden. 


For the Nancy Mitford's fans: the "water" entrance of Madame de Pompadour's chateau in Ménars by the Loire (my usual bike ride).


“Survival” diary

Susan, Kyneton, Victoria, Australia

♥️ I am looking forward to an update on everyone’s news. ♥️


On the Covid front the more contagious variants of the virus are causing concern in a couple of local jurisdictions. Melbourne and Victoria are emerging from various levels of lockdown while Sydney and Wollongong are teetering on the need to be in lockdown. Hotel quarantine continues to be the origin of all our cases. The next few days will be interesting. The Federal Government continue to be a basket case on the vaccine rollout. The Prime minister continues to embarrass internationally on climate change. The local residents of Cornwall seem to have a great many restrictions on movement due to the G7 meeting being held and our blundering PM on a family history jolly in the area I find rather tactless. He is after all only sitting on the sides of a meeting from which he was excluded. While other Australians returning from overseas are forced into various versions of unsafe hotel quarantine arrangements the Prime minister used his official residence. I’m sure we would all choose that, but we are not permitted to do so. Perhaps his views of the suitability of current arrangements might have changed if he had opted for a better and more democratic look. 


Our search for land and a roof over our heads is proving challenging. Melbournians are moving into the regions in unprecedented numbers. Selling more valuable properties in the city has caused an astonishing increase in price, and also demand for real estate. While we try to quietly work through the pitfalls of a property we view, it is suddenly swept up and away. Real Estate agents are oozing hubris. It is making me look favourably on a caravan and taking off on the open road like Toad. We have a little less than four months until settlement and face the reality that the rental market is also under extreme pressure. Thanks Covid. Huge sigh. 


Our region is still cleaning up from a violent storm. I cannot convey the ferocity of the wind. There are no words sufficient to describe it. We missed out on the flooding that caused havoc further south, but the size and numbers of trees torn asunder was truly heartbreaking. Friends were left for days without power, electronic communication or safe drinking water. Our preparedness for disaster was really shown wanting. I expected it when I lived and farmed out in the back of beyond. That it should occur within an hour of the centre of Melbourne still shocks me. My little shopping strip with its hard working and enterprising shop owners was shattered, coming as it did on top on the latest lockdowns. They described their once viable businesses as only earning a “hobby” wage depending as they do on free movement between Melbourne and the regions. The storm was really the final straw. Then gratitude kicks in as the restaurants rejig their menus to make simple, hearty food for the hundreds of volunteers clearing roads and helping people whose houses were damaged. Still makes me teary. 


My husband’s work is starting to be impacted by lack of free movement over the border. He was locked out of NSW at the beginning of the latest outbreak and missed an important conference. Colleagues who attended it were forced to isolate at the end of it because a couple from Melbourne had broken border restrictions to travel north for the winter. Not content with breaking the law they shopped, they dined, they went to movies all over the state. Honestly some people defy belief. 


I hope you are all well. We are receiving mixed messages about the situation in the rest of the world. I will be looking forward to hearing the news from old friends about the real situation. 


I’m in South Korea on Netflix atm. I recommend “Stranger” if you have some rainy days. We are right in the middle of very cold and very wet weather so it has been an entertaining companion. 


I also recommend the Tokachi Millenium Forest written by Dan Pearson with Midori Shintani. Inspiring and uplifting. 


I have a new car to collect next week (barring another lockdown); a Mini Clubman with those lovely rear baker doors. I hope it is fun to drive. I’ve a feeling we are going to be moving quite far afield. 

Susan x


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Hello there! How nice to be in contact again. I hope you’re all well and life is being kind. I am looking forward to reading more from you soon.


It has been an uneventful few weeks for me since the last journal entry. We have had a few days out, some good, long walks with the dogs, several trips to the garden centre, a visit to the dog groomers - ‘same old, same old’. As usual, the garden has kept us busy. It has been a good year for flowers - the peonies, poppies and roses have been super and right now, we have cornflowers and love-in-a-mist, delphiniums, foxgloves and alstroemerias all in bloom. The vegetables have been going great guns too (except for the broccoli - a real disappointment) and we have already had several yields from the potatoes. Of course, with all the sunshine and rain - the weeds have been rioting away so there is plenty to do. Today I am thinking that I need to mow the lawn and start pruning in earnest. The heavy rain before last weekend battered a lot of the flowers and there is a mass of dead-heading waiting for me...


Socially, life is gradually returning to a pre-pandemic state but there is a feeling that it won’t ever be quite the same. We’ve not lost any friends to the virus but we see and hear much less from people we once knew. We are not planning any holidays just yet although we feel much more relaxed about going out, meeting friends, resuming everyday activities. We are ‘double-jabbed’ - and that isn’t meant to sound smug - but it is a good feeling. Largely protected - we hope. But still my ‘inner recluse’ says ‘stay at home, be wary’. 


A couple of weeks ago, an ex-colleague rang to ask if she could call in on her way to the supermarket - and we spent a jolly hour or so in the garden as she regaled us with tales of her family and friends and their exploits. One story she told concerned a middle aged couple she knows - the wife is a nurse who was working on a ‘covid ward’ at the outset of the first lockdown. Evidently her husband’s anxiety was such that he insisted his wife live separately. Indeed, he stopped all contact with her (except by phone) - packed her clothes in bags and left them on the front doorstep. It seems so extreme now but I guess back then - fear was very high and there was much panic. I think back to some of the incidents I witnessed - aggression in bus queues and squabbling in supermarkets and people getting hostile about face masks, hand gels and arrows painted on the floor! Such is the theatre of human life, eh?


And talking of the theatre - how about the live comedy show that is British politics these days! The pandemic must have hidden a lot of the effects of Brexit and reduced the impact of many new policies that are undoubtedly being put in place. All the same - what on Earth is going on? The Dominic Cummings malarkey - telling tales of a government in utter chaos, a cabinet of name-calling incompetents, and all the misleading and dubious goings-on with government contracts being awarded to the friends of MPs, lies about costly NHS supplies, failing systems of Track and Trace, massive orders of unusable PPE. The scapegoat is Matt Hancock, it seems. What was it that the Prime Minister allegedly called him? ‘Fuse-less’? Something along those lines anyway. 


I am still unsure why there has not been a ‘global response’ to the pandemic and to vaccination, why there aren’t world-wide policies about overseas travel, quarantine times, keeping people safe etc. Surely it is in everyone’s interest to share knowledge and pool resources? Or maybe I am just being naive. 


Anyhow, enough from me now. Time to crack on with the day. Take care of yourselves x



Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



The mower humming

in a neighbour’s garden,


hammering of woodwork

into place,


a rake engaging

with resistant gravel,


the snicker-snack

of polished shears.


These are sounds

sent out to advertise


an industry elsewhere,

the evidence of up-and-doing


to be overheard by conscience

on an unproductive day


that finds remedial action 

determined to begin.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Welcome from the Third Wave. Well, of course it doesn’t feel like a Wave compared to Waves that waved before. More like a Wave in Waiting. Scenes of unbridled mingling at beaches and football matches and 10,000 moshing at Donington Festival suggest we might have trouble to come, though having thrown the JabDoors open to anyone over 18 and received encouraging response, maybe, just maybe we may flatten the Wave. Then there’s Silverstone - 140,000 are expected to descend on that for the British GP... how does that work then? And Thursday BJ bounces on screen and encourages us (just as Angela Merkel promotes the idea visiting Brits should be quarantined anywhere in the EU) to cram into jets and get off to some of our old favourites...


Enough of waves already, here we are again, unexpectedly.

I missed looking for crumbs of info for my contributions, missed diarying the daily happenings here - and couldn’t bring myself to pen them without an outlet, so let much slip through my fingers. One old crumb that was so extraordinary I did note it was Matt The Unfortunate getting it spectacularly wrong in The House. Asked what level of vaccination uptake there is in Delta hotspot Bolton he responds “in the tens of thousands every day”. In fact it’s not even ‘tens of thousands’ per week. 2 tens would be 20,000. So in fact 1.7 tens then, since there were 17,000 that week. Not unnaturally he faces renewed calls for his resignation, unsurprisingly he resists the temptation. And now he suddenly finds himself as the centre of attention in an office sex scandal as he rekindles an old student liaison that involves less than strict social distancing. Who’d have thought it? Ol’ Hapless Matty... though wait a minute, maybe he was pounced on by Gina - it happens, so I’m told. Of course, there are calls for his resignation, and of course he will resist.


Apart from a sudden burst of growth in pretty well every garden aspect - particularly grass, and we have lots of grass - the most notable happening around here was firstly the arrival of a lovely, earnest Ringing Team to weigh, record and ring the Kestrel chicks. There’s only two now, one having become a supper for the others, but I guess that’s Nature, red in tooth and claw. I read each chick needs two or three voles a day to thrive, so I guess any variation of an unrelenting diet of vole might be an experiment too tempting to resist... They were very vocal, very charming.


Secondly, we’ve started the annual chore of yurt-raising ahead of our season start at the end of this month. By the time you read this it’ll be furnished and burnished into a little palace again from a heap of sticks and canvas. Careful design means a 16 foot circle takes, somehow: carpets, a large double bed, a three seater sofa, a woodburner, table, 2 chairs, hamper, desk, chest of drawers, wallhangings and a small chandelier. And it still always looks bigger on the inside than it does out.


I’ll end this offering as I very much started the first, 18 months ago: it comes to you from a beach, this time the ‘wreck end’ at Gorleston where Friday finds me lobbing a variety of seafood into the briney in the hope some other seafood grabs it. Due to the wonders of the age I can send my copy and pics to Sheila at HQ while I stay here for a bit, like a coiled spring, ready for action.

Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

The big oval-shaped park near us, not long ago totally overhauled and provided with new swings and other equipment for kids to play on, is crowded day and night. During the long and cold winter nights people light fires there to keep warm.


It’s now a fortnight since I had my first Pfizer jab and I’m counting on it offering increased protection as time goes on. I’ll get the second jab at the end of July. 


I had registered online to be vaccinated at the beginning of May, received a confirmation SMS telling me to wait for further instructions and then I waited and heard nothing. In the end I decided to goto KT Motubatse Clinic in Block XX of the nearby township of Soshanguve (the township is divided up into blocks, each tagged with a single or double letter of the alphabet) where they’re doing jabs and asked the manager there. The place is a vast echoey hall of some kind, commandeered at first for testing and now for vaccinations. 


Sure, the manager, a senior nurse, said, I could get the jab then and there. Take a seat. He checked my details from my earlier online registration on his tablet and I joined the queue of township folk, all of us in our 60s. After a couple of hours I received the injection. I was with my young kids, Masana and Gracey, who had been sitting to one side of the hall, restless and bored. They were off school that day.


I walked out into the slanting winter sunshine with a sense of subdued euphoria. After over a year of real fear and worry at the prospect of falling ill, it felt as if I’d turned a corner, that all of us emerging from the clinic had.


Subdued because we were at the start of a third spike in infections and while I felt some sense of relief, there was nothing to feel good about really. The clinic manager told me that kids were falling sick in greater numbers than before and several local schools had been closed. 


Block XX, where the clinic lies, runs into “extensions” of the township, which contain what is politely referred to as ‘informal housing’ — shacks build of corrugate sheet metal, no electricity or piped water. The spike in infections seemed to be taking a heavier toll in this area of cramped dwellings than had been the case last year.


Now, a few weeks later, this third spike is still rising steeply. If you look at a graph of the three infection waves or spikes we’ve had, the first two shoot up, reach a high point and then drop down dramatically. But this one just takes off almost vertically and flies off the y-axis.


The government is loath to impose a hard lockdown, fearful of the economic devastation it would cause. Ideally it would lockdown everything for a few weeks. But the rocketing unemployment and poverty caused by the full lockdown of last year have been too much for communities, where most people depend on small cash livelihoods earned day by day.


The local municipality has been trying to save electricity by shutting off most street lighting at night. We’ve had a spate of power cuts lately, power generation here is still partly based on infrastructure created in the bad old days to cater for a privileged minority.


The park is dotted with fires at night. Homeless folk, many of them made destitute by the pandemic, sleep there in makeshift tents. Kids no longer play in the park during the day or go anywhere near it. It’s not safe. The swings and other equipment have been vandalised, wrecked. There’s a lot of boozing, drugs, fights. And all shot through with rising Covid infections.


Burlingham blog

Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK

Virologists are looking at whether COVID-19 and flu vaccines can be administered at the same time. The study started in early May and results are expected during the summer. Assuming, of course, there is a summer in 2021. If the study is successful, people would be given a two arm vaccination: in one arm a booster Covid dose and in the other a seasonal flu vaccine. Ouch! 


This is a very short blog, not least as I moved home less than two days ago and do not have any broadband access until next week. And life consists of working through unpacking 120 boxes. Oliver, aged nine, loves this. He thinks each wrapped item is like a lucky dip. I wish I could be so philosophical. My composure lasted until the amount of unpacked kitchen items became greater than the amount of new kitchen cupboard space (photo).


Saying goodbye to my old home and neighbours was a real wrench. As the removers were loading their vehicles I took a last walk down and took a final photo of my house from across the fields. Oh South Burlingham how you will be missed. 


There was a potential tricky crossover at my new home when we arrived to find my sellers removal company woefully behind. About three hours late. All was quickly resolved by my removers who stepped in and helped out. Really generous of the team who were already tired from loading my furniture all morning. The rest of the move was remarkably uneventful. New neighbours have been welcoming. And family and friends have popped round. It is a joy.


The Minister of Health aside, have people started hugging again? Maybe it’s just us privileged two-jabbed folk, but I confess to hugging lots this week.




John Underwood, Norfolk

Back to normal?


We have been keeping fingers and everything else crossed over the last month, in the hope that a trade-only book fair can take place in York. It will be an opportunity to test drive Book Fairs under Covid conditions and to meet up with friends and colleagues from around the country and hopefully do some business. The event had been planned for Covid conditions - a large airy venue, no members of the public present, masks to be worn, Covid testing, NHS app downloaded, social distancing to be observed and hand sanitiser to be on every stand. The capacity of the venue is huge, and there will be a small  percentage of that number present if the Fair goes ahead as expected next week. I have been busy binding books, writing descriptions and contacting potential customers from among those exhibiting. We might sell a few things, but the real excitement is the opportunity to buy some of the wonderful things that fellow dealers have been stashing away for the last year.

Ally and I decided to spend a few days in Yorkshire before the Fair, and so we have booked what seems to have been a small pigsty which adjoins another small pigsty. We certainly know how to push the boat out…

And talking of which, our boat is out of the water while we are away. We are having new cushions made, and some work done to replace a rather poor repair which had been done to the decks. We saw her out of the water yesterday, and for a seventy year old wooden boat, she looked pretty clean and rot free. Back to crossing fingers again, as the boat yard will be keeping us abreast of progress while we are away, and we don’t want any surprises.


It feels so strange to be going out and about doing normal activities with other people. And the fact that it feels strange is disconcerting. How did Ally and I manage to become so averse to the opportunity for going out for a meal, taking a trip to the pub, going to work? Will it ever feel normal again?