Hello from Eastbourne
Reflections, Shirley-Anne Macrae
The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur and I haven't paid much attention to the news as I've mostly been sleeping. However, I'm up and about a bit more and today I collected Marli from school. It was sunny and warm and I definitely notice a buzz, a vibe if you like, in the air, that I don't think was entirely due to the lovely weather.
People need people. I think that's what I've taken from this last year. I can err on the side of the misanthropic but I have missed just seeing people. Our postman has been like a therapist to my neighbours who live on their own. For the last year he has stood at a safe distance and had a little chat with each of them. I hope when they are giving out knighthoods this year and years beyond that as well as the NHS staff they include the postman and the other people who staffed supermarkets, etc. They didn't have the luxury of being furloughed, they were on the front line, facing the unknown but stopping to have a little chat. People need people. They provided the people, literally as well as lifting morale. And I'm so looking forward to meeting you people at the party! I shall miss reading the journal each week and feeling a connection with you all. We've all unwittingly shared something extraordinary during a frightening, unprecedented time and the journal, like my postman, has kept us going. I do think the virus has changed us all in different ways and this Indian variant looms. I'm ignoring that and enjoying the moment and the people, especially my lovely parents.
See you all soon and thank you Margaret and Sheila.
Reflections by Franklin Lewis Macrae
The last year has been manic and crazy. We would never have believed it if someone told us this virus would cause a pandemic. For some people, COVID has been dismal and depressing. Some good things came out of it for me. I mastered the Rubik's Cube as I had so much time on my hands. We went up to the Downs many times and to our secret place, 'Beastie Cove'. It is exhilarating to be up there and the natural world really helped me through the difficult times. I also made new and better friends when we eventually returned to school as they mixed us up and put us into bubbles. I'm grateful for these friends and perhaps wouldn't have got to know them otherwise. It was a horrible experience though and I'm glad it's over.
Monday was our mum's birthday. Granny Aye and Pappa came to visit for the first time in months and they spoiled us. They took us out to lunch and we really enjoyed seeing them again. Mum couldn't come so dad stayed home with her but that was good as granny bought us lots of sweets that mum didn't know about.
This is my last Plague Journals entry which I feel is a shame but it also means that the COVID situation has started to get better, which is a good thing. Goodbye for now and see you at the party!
Reflections by Marli Rose Macrae
This is the very last entry of the Plague Journals! This year and the last year have been tough and I sincerely hope that this never happens again. Reflecting on the COVID year, the best thing that happened was Saskia - my cat. She has brought me so much joy, especially on bad COVID days. I have also spent more time than usual on the Downs. It is beautiful up there and has given me so much enjoyment. It is stunning and phenomenal to be up there and makes you feel lucky to be alive.
I have intensely disliked not seeing people and I know that many people have had a melancholic year because of this or losing someone. I have not though and I am lucky for that. Expressing my feelings in this journal has helped me.
Monday was mummy's birthday and I gave her some tiny spoons that I bought in the charity shop. We had a mini party with panini, crisps, jelly and fruit pastels. We used the vintage jelly mould we found in the charity shop, it is a rabbit mould and I'm not sure we enjoyed cutting into it! Granny Aye and Pappa came to stay too. I was overjoyed to see them, it was sooooooo much fun. She told us outrageous stories about chocolate oranges and my fuzzy wuzzy gloves characters. She spoiled us and taught me a new fair isle stitch, we giggled together at strange characters, sang outrageous songs and had so much fun, she really makes us laugh. She is an eccentric and kind woman. Mummy has been unwell and laughed so much she had to ask granny to stop as it was hurting. Due to the Lockdowns we haven't been able to see anyone we love and now that we have seen them it makes me realise how precious they are.
The Plague Journals have boosted my confidence with my writing. I would like to be a successful children's author when I grow up and the Plague Journals have helped me improve my writing and stories. I've reflected back and reread my entries and I can see the difference in my language and creativity. Thank you Margaret and Sheila for publishing the Plague Journals. I'm looking forward to meeting you and seeing your beautiful, old, haunted house and cats. I will miss writing for the Journals but the world is now safer and that's a good thing. We are getting back to normal.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Standing on the quay waving my hankie as the Plague Journallers sail away, back to all points of the compass, some to ports only imagined by me, all to lives as yet unknown by any.
I pray that they are good lives, and that the ships might yet occasionally pass in the night, waves of recognition aflutter on distant decks.
Until then, BON VOYAGE!
Formerly from St Just
Jane G, Banbury and St Just
I’m writing this very fast and very late, having missed the final deadline… And how strange it is: I’m at my desk in Banbury, where I was before it all began, surrounded by books relating to the same (gargantuan) article on medieval macaronic lyrics. It reminds me of the end of MacNeice’s The Strings are False: ‘And everything was just the same. And everything was entirely different.’ At least, I thought it did, but it turns out that isn’t the end; it must be the end of the skater fable enclosed somewhere within the narrative, which I don’t have time to look up. (And so it's also misquoted.)
But are things more the same, or different? Going out into town at the moment feels slightly like the aftermath of a nightmare, the sort that spills over into the next day. The shops are open, but why is everyone masked? And why do I need to write a note to myself as a reminder that if I’m going to teach, I have to go to Oxford – at least occasionally? The sense of there being a world out there that’s not an invention is still rather fragile – made the more so by the lurking variants and the lurking government’s probable responses. But for now I do have a bit of a sense of the two edges of time closing up like the edges of a wound, faking continuity. This isn’t necessarily a good thing; it’s how whole years get lost. And although in all Covid-related ways I’ve been extremely lucky, it’s also odd that two very significant deaths – of my friend Paul in March last year, not of Covid, and Smokey in December – don’t fit the national narrative. There must be a lot of people who feel this, but all in different ways, so that it’s not easy to link up the pieces. Which isn’t to say that the large and dreadful narrative isn’t important, because clearly it is – just that it’s not all-encompassing.
This is now so late it will need to be held over till the next lockdown if I don’t submit it. But I’d like to send a final photo of Smokey to go with it, because she also wrote for the journal and its ending means one of the many connections with her is ending too.
Goodbye and good luck to everyone – at least for now –
Jane (and Smokey)
Nicky, Vermont, USA
I’m sad to write the last entry. What a difference this journal has made for me. I’ve realized lately that not only have I missed interacting casually with people I don’t know, like shop assistants, for example, but there’s been a whole other world of loss that this journal has helped assuage. The other night I dreamed I was being introduced to people I didn’t know, I don’t remember the context now. A fair? A party? A class? It doesn’t matter really. When I woke up I realized that I haven’t been introduced to any new people since the pandemic began. No new friends, no introductions, no worlds opening up before me. Except this journal where my fellow writers have so generously invited me into their daily lives and thoughts and feelings. I am so grateful. You have added depth and texture and meaning to an otherwise bland and predictable and isolated but frightening year and half. Thank you so much.
I am suddenly much more relaxed, even though my office/studio is a maze of desks and bookcases and everywhere in the house there are boxes to stumble over or bump into. The movers arrived yesterday with all our stuff and by a miracle and a lot of sweat and muscle we were ready for them, and it went seamlessly. Now to untangle all the puzzles of what goes where in our small and simple house. But there’s no deadline on it, we can muddle along as we wish.
Yesterday in my unfamiliar relaxed state I went down to the local farm to buy zinnias that they start in the greenhouse. The dog fence is now up, and I’d like some flowers in what used to be the little herb garden back there. At the farm I met a friend who had been part of our small group organizing postcard sending to encourage voter turnout during the last election. We sat together, both unmasked, at the picnic table, and how lovely it was, how unusual, to do the usual. This morning my very small zoom exercise class is meeting in person in a friend’s huge garage. We’re all vaccinated and had planned to meet outside but it was almost freezing last night, the kind of weather that often comes to reprimand those foolishly optimistic gardeners who planted their tomatoes or zinnias outside before the end of May. And given it was very hot a couple of days ago, I suspect there might be a lot of tomatoes and zinnias covered by old sheets this morning.
That’s not all the news, but that’s some of it. The weather. The moving. I’m sorry to say good bye, and I hope we will stay in touch in another way. My love and gratitude to all of you.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
I’m writing tonight from a comfy old arm chair in my mothers cottage. Yes I have been asleep, it’s Friday night.
I’m here with my lovely mum and she just made a delicious curry. I drove down to Dorset yesterday and it wasn’t a bad drive, only 6.5 hours. As I entered the county of Dorset, every body seemed to be in shorts. They’re in summer mode. I have still been in complete winter garb so far. Cashmere hat, 2 jumpers, anorak, 2 pairs of gloves and wellies. It was a shock seeing a girl in a vest and shorts.
My friend Raff said she had been out of Norfolk the other day and on returning into the county, Norfolk is about a month behind the rest of England. The weather has been truly rubbish.
The other day I planted some seedlings in the rain until I was just a drippy mess and had to get in the bath again.
My mum and I went down to Bridport at lunchtime as she was going to the hairdresser. My car broke down at the top of the hill. You have to go up a steep hill from her cottage and my car is from Norfolk and it doesn’t like hills and when we got to the road at the top it conked out. A sweet couple stopped and took my mum back to get her car, a speedy drop-head mini. Meanwhile I remembered that it did that last year. Though there was a quarter of a tank in it I put the can in the back of the car in and eventually it started. So I went to Morrisons and filled it up. The local garage said go back and do the hill again now you have a full tank and see if it breaks down again! So I did and it didn’t!! Very Dorset!
So news this week. Dom. Wow! Dom has astounded the world with his 7 hour excoriating testimony of life in Number 10.
Oh he went for it.
Failure, chaos, lies! It was quite refreshing listening to a politician say something as it is. He sounded quite truthful but who knows but he said everything we all thought. Everyone has gone from hating him to liking him a little bit.
Boris got it in the neck as did “his girl friend” but Matt Hancock really really got slammed. He tried to defend his position the next day but the script is changing to “he implemented the testing” etc. Do you remember the words, “We have put a protective shield around the care homes”. Nonsense said Dom. A serial liar, he should have been sacked for at least 15 things. Tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths down to the delays in lockdown, releasing sick people in to the care homes and on and on he went about the total ineptitude of the Government, of Boris of Matt. Boris being totally unsuitable for the job. Their lack of realisation of what was going on and the seriousness of it all. Lies that everybody leaving hospital would be tested. Lies about levels of PPE.
And on and on and on!
It doesn't seem to have made much difference though. Their ratings went up!
Boris has been cleared of breaking the ministerial code over his flat renovation but he has had a bit of a ticking-off for not knowing where the money was coming from when he started it.
We seem to be creeping into a third wave. Maybe another lockdown! The numbers are going up again.
So this is the last piece. I wish everyone good luck and farewell and hope you all stay well and happy. Sending you all lots of love and good wishes for the future.
Sorry I’ve droned on about nothing every week. I’ve loved it.
Thankyou dear Margaret and Sheila for all your hard work and your fab idea. Margaret I’ll still need encouragement and a little pep talk on a Saturday morning. Sheila you’ll be pleased to hang up your lap top for the time being. How brilliant you both are. Thank you so much.
Take care everybody
Love Annabel xxxxx
PS Saturday morning, I'm off to Bridport market to meet my old friend Ros. I've got to get up the hill again. Fingers crossed.
PS See you at the party, the pink champagne is on ice.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
So, here we are, the end of Journalling in this format. It’s been a funny old time rambling on with you, day after day, then week after week.
Nationally we seem to have reached some form of accord: vaccines were swiftly developed, the majority are vaccinated. Rather like a forest fire there are viral flare-ups, notably the ‘Indian’ variation at the moment. Things certainly aren’t fully back to normal. Commercial property remains unused. Movement around Europe is difficult. PPE remains a hot topic, particularly among dentists, whose work practices are onerously modified to the point that half are reported as considering early retirement and no Norfolk NHS dentist will take new patients. At this moment we’re still not fully out of lockdown and there’s a real fear more lockdown may follow. Then there’s the Covid deaths... 152,000 to date. Unthinkable when we started out.
I don’t think there’s any more I can tell you about us. We’re ok, whole family vaccinated, all reasonably sane, rather looking forward to meeting some of you at Peter and Margaret’s, sometime. Anyway, for this final contribution I thought I’d go right back to the beginning.
Maybe you remember there was a shakedown week for the Design & Editorial Dept prior to the start of the Journal proper, during which I had the privilege of reporting solo on the extraordinary story unfolding. I’ve been deep into the Archive to revisit and I’m mildly surprised at my innocence, you can hear it in the very first entry - and do look at the predicted timetable at Day 5. I haven’t repeated things verbatim, I couldn’t bear that any more than you, but this is a precis, a reminder of how it all started...
Day One Monday 16/3: we were on our way back from Aldeburgh, Sheila and I, after a warm and sunny afternoon’s fishing from the beach. About 4.30 the press conference started and we listened with some astonishment to Boris and his assistants announcing a state of war - we’re at war with the Virus. Over 70’s should go into ‘self isolation’ for their own protection, for 12 weeks. Even the younger shouldn’t go to the pub or restaurant of anywhere... cinema, theatre. It’s the collapse of Society as we know it.
Things moved very quickly:
Day Two 17/3: Called in to Tesco, Stalham about 4 and found the place empty of the most ordinary things - bread, cakes, flour, milk, toilet paper of course, but also soaps, sprays and sanitisers (except washing up liquid, the Herd haven’t realised that too is anti-bacterial) breakfast cereal, pasta, ‘staple’ stuff...
Chancellor’s statement is to divert £300bn to giving pubs etc a year off rates, access to Gov backed loans to keep going and 3 months hold on mortgage payments for ordinary citizens. No support for the millions of self employed...
Day Three, 18/3: France, Spain, Italy all on complete ‘lockdown’ ie enforced ‘stay at home’ policy with jail and fines for those found outside without permitted reason - shopping, getting to work ie absolutely no socialising. We’re being encouraged down the same route here, including working from home where possible. Schools are still open, but Unis are beginning to close down. Sainsburys announce rationing of all product to 2 or 3 per customer to help avoid shelf stripping. Son John is concerned for us (as we are for him) but if we restrict outings to shopping and use sanitizer when back in the car we may get away with it. Chelsea Flower Show cancelled, ditto horseracing, football etc, museums, galleries closed. Pubs and restaurants, having been declared no-go areas will be shutting due to lack of business, maybe to never reopen.
Day Four, 19/3: now they’re saying schools will be closed after tomorrow (Friday) except for the kids of ‘essential workers’. So far this includes health professionals of course, but also delivery truck drivers, shop staff and bus drivers - but I guess not train drivers as we’re discouraged from real travelling.
Day Five, 20/3: This must be what Russian shopping for the masses was (is?) like: you bowl out to the Co-op in the hope there may be cabbage. That’s all I want, cabbage. Of course, like yesterday there is no cabbage, no greenstuff of any sort, no vegetables at all apart from some leeks, about a dozen baking potatoes (max 2 per customer) and feeble salad (but no toms). I buy a compensatory box of porridge oats and wonder if it counts as anti-social as I have no need for oats.
Overnight, the Queen fled to Windsor... Italy has overtaken China in the mortality stakes (3500+) and yet here, well, we’re told we’ll have turned this thing around in twelve weeks time if we follow the washing/isolation mantra. At what cost though, in lives or cash.
Today’s 5pm address from No.10 was, literally, extraordinary: in the wake of compulsory closure of pubs, clubs and restaurants from tonight, as well as relief for owners/operators, a hugely expensive raft of compensation for workers is on offer - if kept on standby, the Govt (ie we) will pay them 80% of their wages to do nothing while the world returns to normal. Or what passes for normal.
New boy Chancellor Rishi with the Bank of E has reduced interest to .1% (lowest ever) and pumped £200bn into quantitive easing (most ever). I hate to think what this will do to the price of lugworm.
Day 7 Sunday 22/3 - end of week one. Madness gripped me, but only temporarily:
a conversation with a farming neighbour about shortages at the Co-op led to a act of wartime friendliness... he admitted he had a sack of potatoes hidden behind some bales and immediately offered me some. Then he told me of a farmshop that still had plenty of veg. I know the place and mentioned it when I got home. I thought I might get a cabbage there.
Sheila with typical directness pointed out it was a) an hour and a half out of my ebbing life and b) about £8 worth of petrol burnt and had I gone crazy. Point taken.
This weekend is the first since get-togethers were banned and TV schedules are, of course, sportless. For something to do, crowds descended on parks and beaches to the extent that today (Sunday) appeals are going out to not do that and specifically Scotland doesn’t want English visitors, Cornwall doesn’t want any visitors at all and Norfolk, very specifically, wants Londoners to stay away even if they have holiday homes here.
Plans are announced for shops to open early in the morning solely for NHS workers and the elderly, though obviously not at the same time.
A million plus letters are going out to the most vulnerable starting tomorrow, strongly advising 12 weeks of self imposed house-boundness and offering free deliveries of drugs and food. Over 70’s who are well can get out, but should do it with caution.
So it started. You know the rest, it just remains for me to say one last time - if you have been, thanks for listening. Chris. Rural Norfolk UK
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Thank you for being here...
In between copying this final week's contributions onto my computer, I have been out in the garden planting some of the hundreds of plants that have been growing slowly in the greenhouse. At last there are no more frosts forecast and it looks like we're in for a warm spell of weather.
My garden ‘helpers’ have been the 4 free-range chickens we have. But they are mindless purposeless creatures who simply seem fixated upon making my job much harder by getting under the trowel, under the spade, around my legs, pecking at my legs and generally making a complete nuisance of themselves. It's not as if they gain much from all the aggravation - they just seem hell bent on getting under my feet and preventing me from doing what I want to do. The 14 Guinea Fowl are so nervous of us still, after many years, that they aren't much trouble, they simply go off in the opposite direction when I approach, but the 4 hens... well!
Chris has said he's going to lure them into the walled garden with the food bucket and then I can close the gate and limit their antics to the area I'm not planting in - it's not that I don't like them, I simply don't want them to be here, now!
But I am so pleased that you've all ‘been here’ for the past year or so - you have been the most welcome guests into my world. Thanks for your wisdom, humour, observations, grumpiness, uniqueness and for contributing to Margaret's wonderful idea of creating a pandemic journal. We literally could not have done it without you and it has been a pleasure to have you around for over a year.
Now it's time for us to part I feel quite emotional and uncertain how life will be without your wonderful words and pictures. Thank you also for for your kind appreciative messages and the occasional gift, they have all been most welcome. Friday at 3pm and Saturdays will not be the same without you.
Hopefully we will be able to arrange a gathering when I'll be able to meet and engage with you in person. You have contributed to a unique record of our lives during unprecedented times and I thank you for that.
See you soon I hope...
PS: my Instagram account is @burlinghamhall - and I would love to connect if you wish.
Then and Now
Hail and Farewell
The name on the platform seems to be Here-and-Now,
And the train that’s just drawn in is of my choosing,
A Gresley Pacific in L.N.E.R. apple-green livery.
Goodness, it’s crowded, but there always room for more.
A couple of ladies in the cab lean out, waving,
Their rakish caps tilted over grimy faces.
Already aboard, before our party get a look-in
I can see William and the Outlaws, kit-bagged soldiers,
Dormice, Mad Hatters, my grandmother, pearled and furred,
The nameplate sparkles, le Manège — The Merry go Round,
And just look at the names on the destination board:
Che-Sera-Sera, Do-You-Remember? Once-Upon-a-Time,
What-Next . . . And isn’t the Tannoy playing Vera Lynn ?
Now here’s a strange thing: our crowd are all seated,
A host of medics offering comfort and sticking-plasters
For those a little unsure of the journey. Overhead,
A festival of balloons keeps a blue Baby Austin aloft,
The driver, one hand on the wheel, the other on his banjo
Is serenading his Best Beloved. Two excited children
Rush from window to window, which, strangely,
Offer loved and wished-for scenery: the red cliffs of Dawlish,
The woods of Maine in the Fall, Amboise on the Loire . . .
A sudden shower, it’s raining cats and dogs;
They leap tumultuously into their families’ arms,
As the porter, a clean-cut poet, murmurs to each compartment
Something about going back to where you started
And knowing the place for the first time . . .
“It doesn’t matter where you get off; we can pick you up
Next time round”, calls the driver. Smoke-wreaths die away,
Leaving an empty platform, but for two ferret-faced students
In slashed doublet and hose “Remember, Guil,” says one,
“every exit . . .” “is an entrance somewhere else, Ros”.
From the Editor
My watch stopped on the very first day of the first lockdown. Self isolating in a closed down world, it didn’t seem that important that I couldn’t take it to the watch stall on Norwich market for a new battery. For fifteen months I’ve lived happily without a watch. I’ve my mobile phone, the kitchen clock... and I’ve also, I think, learnt to keep time in a rough sort of way by the light and my own internal clock. There was nothing much to be late for, nowhere much to go, and in fact, breakfasts and lunches got later, but so what? Over the last two weeks, as life has become busier, and we’ve had visitors and made visits, it felt right to resurrect my watch. On Wednesday Peter and I went into Norwich for the first time in fifteen months. It wasn’t very busy, though roadworks made our route into and around Norwich difficult. Peter stayed in the car while I paid cheques into the bank, bought fruit off the market - and had a new battery put in my watch. I must say it feels rather odd to look at my wrist to tell the time. One more thing to relearn. It’s rather symbolic that I’ve been without my watch for the life of the journal, as if we have been in a different time zone, but are now returned to the old order.
Will I get used to life with a watch but no journal? We’ll see..
I’ve been so moved by so many of your entries this week, your appreciation, your comradeship, the variety of experience. It’s so like the end of a theatrical production, we strike the set, put the costumes away, have a party... then say farewell to people we have been working so closely with. And feel an emptiness.
I will miss you all, I will miss the flurry of emails on Friday, and waiting for Sheila’s email to say ‘the journal is online, please check‘ on Saturday evening! I do hope most of you stay in touch in some way. It has been a rich experience: we have all shared so much, and it’s been a joy watching you all develop strong and confident voices as writers. You have all written thousands of words... you have turned into diarists. Don’t stop! Keep your diary still, for yourself and the future.
And to keep in touch in a more relaxed way, we’ve decided, to begin with, to create a WhatsApp group, and that means we invite you individually to join the group, so to join we need your mobile phone number. Later we might change to a group blog, but this needs time to set up. So please let me have your mobile number if you wish to keep in contact.
But I still hope to receive emails and Instagram posts from you all.
I gave you my mobile no, email, Instagram name and postal address in my reminder email. If you didn’t get it, let me know and I’ll send again.
And the party. I am still receiving date preferences and trying to finalise today so that as many of you as possible can get there. I will email you the decision and announce it on Instagram! As soon as I can. If you haven’t sent me your preference, I need it today!
And what sort of party? We suggest that it starts with a picnic lunch (bring your own picnic. Peter and I will provide liquid refreshment, wine and soft drinks) and goes on until cakes and tea. Those who want to, if it’s a nice day, can hang around after that chatting. We plan to have a Zoom corner, where we can chat to absent journallers outside the U.K. if we get the timing right! I know some have already arranged accommodation with friends if they are travelling far; we are already putting up a houseful, but one or two locals have offered to help provide beds as well... so get in touch if you are stuck. I’ll email everyone for confirmation and with more information at the beginning of July. Let’s hope the weather is glorious and we haven’t been shut up again.
Because there’s the rub. As Susan and Jean in Australia and Mark in S.A. know to their cost, COVID has not gone away.
So as the weather finally turns summery, I toast you all and thank you for all you’ve contributed. I’d no idea back in March 2020 that the journal would be such a wonderful journey. And especial thanks to Sheila for doing most of the work and making it all possible, and to our husbands Peter and Chris for being so encouraging and patient and contributing in their own inimitable ways. And to our cat Bertie, our much loved companion who, in his antisocial way, has rather enjoyed Lockdown or Stuck-at-home. ‘Not a party,’ he mutters. ‘Count me out.’