Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

Mr. Trump tweeted in capital letters on March 22, 2020 (NYT).   


According to the Telegraph, he repeated this to Boris Johnson 9 months later, on 19 December 2020. “Donald Trump tells Boris Johnson 'cure can't be worse than problem itself' after tier 4 rules announced.”   


Tone deaf.   


Well, the United States now leads the worldwide death rates at 417, 289 deaths (127.6 death rate) out of 2.1million deaths worldwide. So far today, Wednesday 27 January 2021, there have been 99.7 million infected cases of Covid worldwide.   



The UK is in fifth place at 100,162 deaths (145.9 death rate) after Brazil, India and Mexico. A race where no one wants to be on the podium of Champions.   


I feel so encouraged that the British Government is finally starting to enforce quarantine for 10 days (inadequate). It’s a start. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We now have the foresight, given the experience which Trump lacked in March 2020 (which is a poor excuse because many other leaders made much stronger early executive decisions that saved their populations).   


Taiwan, an island, has recorded seven deaths. A 0.0 death rate. Other oft-quoted examples are New Zealand (25 deaths, 0.5 death rate), Singapore (29 deaths, 0.5 death rate), Vietnam (35 deaths, 0.0 death rate), Malaysia (678 deaths, 2.2 death rate), Australia (909 deaths, 3.7 death rate) and South Korea (1,360 deaths, 2.7 death rate). What makes the difference? There is Concordance. From the Leader of the government to the little man on the street, the rules are followed. Social distancing, using masks, handwashing or use of hand sanitizer, avoiding crowds, working from home if possible, strict restrictions of numbers of visitors at home, funerals and weddings, no religious gatherings, no visitors in aged care facilities, closure of recreational facilities, schools, bars and night clubs. And most importantly, quarantine of two weeks for arrivals at the travelers' cost, widespread testing, extensive contact tracing and, in some cases, closure of borders. The police don’t hesitate in fining and jailing people who flout the rules. The very real downside is social isolation, depression, economic hardship and the tragedy of our parents and grandparents dying alone.  


These leaders, often chosen by the population in a democratic process, are given a mandate to make executive decisions that the population follows. The population of these countries don’t elect their governments and then proceed to use them as target practice for their collective amusement. A fairground shooting gallery mentality discourages great candidates from coming forwards because of the risk to their families and their lives being ripped apart. It’s so much easier to not be a leader and just complain incessantly, often behind the safety of a fake profile on social media, whipping up resentment, anger and a long, pathetic moan at the unjustness of it all - the lack of holidays, lost christmases, the lack of drinking and camaraderie at the pub, the loss of their so called freedom and their rights. Freedom in this case comes at a price. I can’t understand what the rioters were thinking in Holland (13,543 dead, 79.4 death rate) and France (73,049 dead, 112.4 death rate). Does it take their mother, father, husband, wife to get sick and die before they wake up?  


This is a War. Against a terrible virus, that seems to eliminate the weakest, sickest and oldest amongst us, in a frightening form of population control. Mutating so fast that it puts the efficacy of present vaccines in question. In WW2, my mother and aunt had their medical studies interrupted for the duration of the occupation. My uncle was in a Japanese concentration camp. Some of my mother’s Chinese male classmates were bayoneted or shot dead. Death, destruction of lives, economic crisis, interruption of education, loss of lovely holidays as well as overstretched medical facilities are par for the course in a War. The good news was that these people managed to rebuild their lives in the post War years, damaged and marked no doubt, but entering a phase of economic growth in the 1950’s.  


There are those amongst us, the heroes, who have paid the price for us to continue living our lives. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) in Britain just published the figures which showed that the highest number of heroes who died were the lowest paid - binmen, lorry drivers, postmen, cleaners, carers and bus drivers. This is what it costs to serve the nation.   


Vaccination has started but I feel that this nightmare is not going to be over for at least another three years. Dig in, barricade ourselves, pull up the ramparts and prepare for the long haul.  


We can always make money but not regain our health as easily or come back to life like Lazarus. This isn’t a dress rehearsal. We have one life and one chance.

Rant over.

I have hunted for a 2000 piece jigsaw to do with my husband. Rather than retire to our respective corners reading or worse, burying ourselves in the internet. I fell in love with “Quirky World” designed by two Austrians and inspired by an 1840’s antique Map. The jigsaw transported me with its magical details. I spent two hours hunting down the designers and the brand. Thank you, Ulla, one of the designers, who very thoughtfully replied to me. Look up Pabuku.com. You will be spoilt for choice in gorgeous paper products and cards. In my journey to find them, two people were so helpful and kind. Sue Kemp of Kemp’s General Store in York (another inspiring space) and Richard Gray, a graphic designer based in York, both of whom pointed me in the direction of Pabuku. We will have to hunt for our green felt to place the jigsaw on and find a way to protect it from our inquisitive cats, who enjoy jigsaws almost as much as we do.  

Take care.



Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Yesterday B. got vaccinated. That was a moment of optimism for us… being able to actually do something about the dangers of the virus. It’ll be my turn in early April. Vermont is going by age, and is getting very few doses of the virus.  

But then I get on the news and find that we’re supposed to wear double masks, that the new strains of the virus are surely alive and well in all our communities. Etc. etc. So I got on line and ordered some disposable masks that look like bulges on the face. We’re told to wear a surgical mask covered by another mask but who knows what a surgical mask is (technically speaking) and where to get them. And yes, I worry too about the waste and pollution.

I’m horrified that 100,000 people have died in England. And so many here. And the situation in South Africa. I want to say, “stay safe everyone,” knowing that some people can’t.   

On the more positive side the March Arts Marathon I’m running is going well. Seventy donations so far. Yes, I counted!  

So I’ll up my vision. I just read Margaret’s wistful hope for a journal authors’ gathering in the summer and was totally cheered at the thought or perhaps I should say the fantasy of flying to England and making my way to Norfolk whence I’ve never been, though I did live in and near Ipswich as a young person. And, especially, getting to meet all of you in person.  

A high point of the last few days has been my conversations with my aunt in Australia who has been really ill with a virus, not THE virus, as she says, but now sounds mostly like herself again. We laugh and she grumbles and repeats herself and I’m grateful she’s still there for me to call every morning. She’s full of love… insists that we tell each other how much we love each other in detail before we get off the phone each morning.


View from the top of the hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

Another week, more snow and more depressing Downing Street Briefings as the UK reached the grim total of 100,000 deaths. Questions were asked yet again in Parliament about the government's handling of the pandemic and the reason for our country's dreadful record of the highest death rate in the world. Boris looks older and more care-worn each week at PMQs and seems not to have had time to comb his hair since last week. It's a bit rum that the PM criticises Sir Keir for demanding information about his government's actions, would he stay silent if he was in opposition now? The scientific advisers are distancing themselves from government decisions. Now Boris is showing support for Scotland by visiting vaccination centres across the border in an attempt to rein in growing cries for another independence referendum. He is facing the dark possibility of being labelled the Prime Minister who oversaw the break-up of the Union. Nicola Sturgeon said his trip to Scotland was not “essential travel”. Precious moments of hilarity!


I am pleased to report that my worries about the fate of the cookery books going to the USA were unfounded and the parcel arrived the next day! I couldn't believe it was possible for them to get from my front door to New Jersey in less than 48 hours but it's true. Unfortunately the parcel of wildlife photography books sent by courier to Italy at the same time appears to have stuck somewhere for a week. Also a book on Bing Crosby sent to Sweden is causing some anxiety. We have to wonder if the delays could possibly be anything to do with Brexit.


Here on the farm the concreting has ceased for now and at last the oil tanker arrived yesterday morning, so we have been able to turn the heating back on after a week of worrying about the oil running out. Unfortunately it was snowing heavily when the tanker came and the dour Scottish driver didn't think he would make it back down the hill. He must have got away safely though as the way was clear later on and the snow has disappeared completely now.


I have just wasted ten minutes of my life trying to work out the identity of a tall white object on the horizon. The binoculars were no help and all I could see was that it was tall and shining white in the sunshine and quite the wrong shape for a white van or lorry. Lots of van drivers park up at the side of the road on Greenhow Hill opposite, presumably to enjoy the view while eating their lunch. If you know where to look you can see our house from there. Eventually it disappeared, so I will never know. Excitement over for the day.


Did we really believe we'd heard the last of Trump or that he would be promptly brought to justice and banned from holding office ever again? Of course not. The Republicans have overwhelmingly voted that the impeachment is “unconstitutional”, which view has been soundly debunked by constitutional experts. Now he is receiving visitors in his temporary White House in Florida, as the Republicans who dared to criticise him, however half-heartedly, call in to re-pledge their allegiance to his cause, which is apparently only just beginning and will be the biggest movement anyone has ever seen, etc. I looked up “kissing the ring” and enjoyed seeing a clip of the opening scenes of The Godfather (must get the boxed set out). The new president has his work cut out to make any progress in the face of such stubborn resistance but you have to admire the way Biden just ignores Trump and carries on with his plans to reverse every decision Trump made.


The big news here today is that the EU is entering “vaccine wars” as supplies are not coming through to EU countries as quickly as promised. This is blamed on the production facilities on the continent running into delays, whereas the plants in the UK are speeding along and making their targets. The devolved governments of the UK differ on whether to publish their vaccine stock figures, which may antagonise the EU further. I see from the BBC that the UK has now purchased 357 million doses of the various makes of vaccine. Does this mean that we are all going to get 6 doses each? Or, in the tradition of British generosity, are we going to donate these extra doses to third world countries who don't have the same purchasing power? I think we should remind ourselves that we won't be rid of this virus until the whole world is immunised.


I meant to say last week, huge congratulations to David on his new part. Obviously, this means that we will all suddenly become addicts of Game of Thrones and all its spin-offs and sequels. Great!


On that cheery note, I will end here as I am half-way through doing my tax return and time is running out.


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Time is standing still. The long case country clock we have had for nearly thirty years has stopped and is in bits... It is a lovely simple thing made by Jonathan Head of Binham in the nineteenth century. His name is on the face but his remains are in the Priory churchyard.  


The house in general has become a bit of a tip all except for the kitchen which is my husband’s creative studio and laboratory. His mantra is that of Keith Floyd who famously stated that he didn’t mind in what style food was cooked providing it was ‘cooked well’. Not only is Martin an excellent and inventive cook but as a man who has sailed round Cape Horn on a 90 foot Whitbread super yacht he knows how to be totally shipshape.


Meanwhile Mum and I continue to attack the China Virus and everything else has rather gone to pot... so to speak!


It is a satisfying experience in that every item gets to be handled, described, discussed and assessed and then there is the pleasure of regrouping items and signing off a new arrangement with a small gift of snowdrops or buds from the garden.


We should be taking longer walks but in the last couple of weeks we have restricted our outings to the garden. Little excitements are spotted every day! Camellia buds might open this weekend!


We have been informed that the Norfolk Churches Trust Stately Car Boot has indeed been postponed and is now scheduled to take place on 1st May 2022.  


The runaway diaries

Sophie Austin, London

The rain is pouring down outside, huge puddles are appearing on the pavement and the few people out skuttle about with bright umbrellas. You and I should be donning our wet weathers and hunting for puddles. But you are at nursery and I’m at work…


It’s been a struggle to drop you off these last few weeks, you have sobbed and clung to me and I’ve had to prise you off, my heart sinking all the while. Thankfully today was different. Before the rain arrived, we had bright blue skies and you gaily skipped out of the gate and expertly rode your balance bike up the hill. As we neared the nursery gates, you slowed and sadly looked at me and asked to go home. But the brilliant staff spotted your biking skills and rushed to get your favourite nursery teacher to come and see and they all made such an excellent fuss of you, you were so proud that you forgot your sadness and turned to me and smiled before walking through the door. The relief! Hot, glad tears rolled down my face as I walked home. 


I realise I’m carrying a lot of tension at the moment, so it’s probably good to allow myself a little cry every now and then, to ease the pressure build up. Tears flowed during the inauguration last week too and I think across the world a lot of people shed a few relief filled tears to ease the pressure that we’re all experiencing. 


We are now completely well and the virus has left the house, the tiredness has ebbed away finally, but it has taken a while to notice. Work deadlines have meant that I’ve had to work every minute I’m not with you or when you’re asleep. I sent the first client edit of my films to the commissioner today, so now I must wait for their feedback. It has been such a privilege to direct these films and they have been a real elixir during these dark months. But sharing unfinished work is so hard, and I can feel the tension rising as I await their thoughts… ugh, please don’t grow up to be an artist!! Or at least be one with more self-confidence!!


Possibly thanks to me, you are very much in love with stories, you demand to be read to at every opportunity and can recite so many of your favourite tales. But the most exciting thing at the moment is that you’re starting to recognise letters and enjoy pointing out words that you recognise. The joy of reading! Of Writing! It is all to come. 


The rain has stopped, the hellebores are sparkling after their shower, there is relief to be found; spring is still to come!



John Underwood, Norfolk

Black Lives Matter

We have been buying a few interesting books, in an effort to gather a good selection before any future book fairs. Realistically we don’t expect to be able to attend any fairs before Autumn, which would bring us to the York book fair- always an exciting event for us.

One item that arrived in the post from the USA is an 1809 Salem printing of a 1772 slave narrative. Entitled “The Black Prince; Being a Narrative of the Most Remarkable Occurrences And Strange Vicissitudes, Exhibited in the Life and Experiences of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, An African Prince As Was Related By Himself.”

Ukawsaw Gronniosaw was born in Bornu (modern Nigeria) in 1705. When aged 15, he was tricked and sold into slavery to a Dutch captain for two yards of cloth. He was then bought by an American in Barbados, who took him to New York and resold him to a Calvinist minister, Theodorus Frelinghuysen. He was taught English and brought up as a Christian. When Frelinghuysen died, Gronniosaw obtained his freedom and worked for the minister’s widow. He planned to go to England, and joined the British Army to earn money for his passage. Obtaining his discharge from the army, he first he settled in Portsmouth, but moved to London after losing his money through theft. In London he married Betty, a weaver. She already had a child and he had at least two more with her. The family moved to Colchester where they were supported by the Quaker Osgood Hanbury who employed Gronniosaw in building work. They later moved to Norwich, but suffered poverty as work was difficult to obtain. Another Quaker, Henry Gurney supported them with rent payments. After pawning all their possessions, the family relocated to Kidderminster, where Betty worked as a weaver. Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (a major figure in Methodism) gave them money. Around this time Gronniosaw began work on his narrative which ends  in 1772 with the family still living in Kidderminster.

Until the c20th discovery of an obituary published in 1775, and a manuscript letter written by Gronniosaw to Hastings, the Narrative was the only source of information for his life. The book is in a well worn state, and it is incredible that it has survived at all. It is bound in thin wooden boards covered in publisher’s blue paper. The wooden boards are unusual for a book of this age, but it might have been common practice in Salem in 1809 - or just possibly a homemade binding.


The book could be considerably smartened with a new binding, but this would be a tragedy, as the whole story of the book as an artefact would be lost. Usually one can only speculate about the owners of the book over the years, but the front free endpaper of this little book bears two signatures, probably ownership inscriptions, for a Persis Allen. Googling the name brings up the Allen family, and William Allen the elder, who sailed to Salem in the great Puritan diaspora of 1620-40. He named one of his daughters Persis, a thankfully most uncommon name. Another Persis was born to the same family in Massachusetts in1803, a date which would fit our Persis nicely. Could it be the same young woman? We think it highly likely, given the unusual name. One of the most interesting thing about our work is speculating upon the lives of the people that we uncover . What did Persis think about her little book, about slavery, about emancipation? In theory, slavery was illegal in Massachusetts, and had been for some while, but obviously still existed in America.

A great number of our black British population are apparently very resistant to receiving COVID vaccine, citing amongst other issues the Tuskegee experiment from 1932-72 in the USA where the black population was “experimented upon”. The purpose of the study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis; the African-American men who participated in the study were told that they were receiving free health care from the federal government of the United States, but in fact were never treated, and were left to their fate. It doesn’t seem surprising that our Black Asian and Minority Ethnic population, who have suffered disproportionately from COVID, should be reluctant to trust the government. I don’t trust them much myself, given their track record and the shocking, preventable 100,000 deaths reached this week.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



A conversation

struggling word by word


is brevity attenuated

in thin air


just as a poem

with not much to say


meanders down the page

like this.


So put a stop to both

and start again


with no end in view

but setting out


to find what language

may reveal


of wisdom and delight

along the way.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

100,000 deaths from Covid and rising. Squabbles over vaccine supplies. No prospect of pupils returning to schools until early March. Difficult to remember what dominated the news before Covid, apart from Brexit of course. D has had his first vaccination – quick and efficient. Nine weeks until the next one.


I’ve been discussing with friends what changes they have made, if any, to their lockdown routine. One has decided that she her and husband will change before supper. Not exactly evening dress, just swapping leggings and sweatshirt for smarter trousers and top. She is also choosing a different pair of earrings to wear each day, which sounds like a good excuse to buy some more. Another has begun to use all her ‘best’ china and glass. I’ve decided that having washed all the ceramics on the dressers they do look better clean, so maybe I’ll introduce a new routine of regular dusting!



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

On the 27th, the memorial day of the victims of National Socialism, annually held on the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, Charlotte Knobloch, the former President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, spoke in parliament. Especially remarkable was the end of her speech when she addressed the right wing politicians. She told them that she would relentlessly keep on fighting for her Germany, whereas they had lost the battle for their Germany 76 years ago. She is absolutely right in her assessment!


I spent most of the week in video conferences dealing with marks, reports, colleagues and students. It is beginning to snow heavily and there are supposed to be very frosty nights at the weekend. The snow is much to the joy of our neighbour's youngest son who is playing in the garden. Maybe a nice snowman is about to appear soon!


The Tao of Flat Rat Alley - Living your best life in crazy times

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

Karen from Chevy Chase, Washington writes:  


Dear V.S.O.P., This whole pandemic thingie has got me down. It's just SO unfair that we have to take our chances like everyone else. I mean, we contribute just as much as those front line workers and surely this should be rewarded too. Please V.S.O.P., give me hope.  Isn't there any way we can get our vaccines sooner so we can get back to our best lives? Yours, In A Hurry


V.S.O.P. replies:


Dear In A Hurry,  You pose what might well be THE existential question of our times. If I were of a younger age or meaner disposition, I might take a page from today’s Academy and advise you to “check your privilege.” Fortunately, I am a generous fellow and willing to share with you what few rays of hope have come my way.  


Recently the D.C. Public Health Department made vaccines available for the less fortunate residents among us. After your neighbors in Wards 2 and 3 claimed 96% of the first doses made available by the District, the powers that be decided to reserve 4000 jabs for the "so-called" minority majority wards of this fair city. The radical socialist Democrat policy of “equitable distribution" looks likely to continue (mark my words - we shall all rue the day fairness was allowed to become any sort of measure). Bad news for Wards 2 and 3, admittedly, but for you an opportunity. For you see, continuing his tradition of intrepid reporting, V.S.O.P. personally went to check out the arrangements and discovered that it’s entirely possible for people of the right sort to be vaccinated alongside the masses. Flat Rat Alley falls squarely within the confines of said wards, and your V.S.O.P. is within an age group that permitted him to apply (although we hasten to add, only just barely so, thank you very much). BLUF (“bottom line up front” as the military are wont to say): You too can jump the queue simply by changing your place of abode (your age group may require a bit of fudging, but you can try offsetting that with extra points for a juicy pre-existing condition or two). Yes, there’s the social stigma of moving down market, but on the other hand there are some lovely properties going in these parts of town for a mere trifle, and let's stay focused on the big picture: you'll soon be frolicking again with abandon.  


Best of all, once your neighbors realize that V.S.O.P. has given you the key to the head of the line, a stampede to the “new” wards will ensue. And as an early mover, your relocation down market will magically turn into a shrewd decision, as you take full advantage of the inevitable increase in property values from this Great Gentrification. This is the power of the market, and for this inestimable contribution to the well-being of the local real estate industry, you will qualify for an early jab, and in just a few short years, you will be able to sell up, pocket the proceeds and move into the Potomac McMansion of your dreams. Remember - every silver lining comes with a cloud, but you can soon turn yours into gold.