Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Yesterday Jeff Darling came to shovel our roof, and we were  grateful. We had had a couple of inches of snow, then five inches of wet heavy snow that froze, and then six or eight inches of more snow on top of that. Too much weight for our roof. I don’t have many regrets about our house but one is that we didn’t put a metal roof on it. The snow eventually slides off a metal roof, but clings to asphalt shingles. Hence Jeff Darling. He’s a blacksmith, but shovels roofs in the winter as a sideline. Usually he’s making ornate metal gates or hooks or hanging things. But yesterday he was on the roof, though he did allow that we were the only roof shoveling call he’d answered. Which made me even more grateful. It used to be that I’d rake the roof, but the last time I did that it took about a year for my shoulder to heal, and I couldn’t reach the top of the roof anyway. It’s done with a very long handled shovel that, unless you’re strong and tall, you swing around and fling onto the roof, and then pull the snow down towards you. Never fun actually, though there is satisfaction in a cleared roof. But I’m finding satisfaction in a cleared roof cleared by Jeff. I made him a cup of tea in a thermos mug and threw that on the roof, and we had tea together and visited a little.


He’s forging a complex metal something for a client in New Jersey. Liking the winter with less roof shoveling, and allowed that he wasn’t getting any younger. Sixty three. At what age does one stop climbing on roofs? Personally I never started, don’t have the head for it, but I’m thinking he’s almost there. And he’s thinking that too. A couple of years ago I paid him a bit extra, and he dug in his wallet and gave me a four leafed clover. Which of course I still have. Who throws away good luck?

We now have a tunnel entrance way to our house, and some confidence that the roof isn’t going to collapse in on us. And the good fortune of Jeff Darling. 




Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

Barbara Warsop and I had the most amusing conversation. She had just watched “The Dig” on Netflix and a part of the film triggered a memory for Barbara of her late mother’s Rheumatic Heart Disease. We went on to speak lightheartedly about death and funerals and agreed that planning our funeral was perhaps a wise thing to do. I want a medley of 80’s and 90’s Soul music mixed with a riff or two from Mark Knopfler. As a background to a wonderful (post-very-briskly dispatched body) dinner for a handful of people, who will have to enjoy my favourite food, a plethora of dessert ending with a séance lightened by a good Scottish whisky.  


Barbara has also thought about her favourite music and sent me two pieces that she particularly liked:


O Silver Moon sung by Renée Fleming. And Lakmé: Viens Mallika!


I thought I wasn’t familiar with the latter so watched it on You Tube. 




At first, the ignoramus thought “O, how Odd! A beautiful Indian soprano, in a sari with jasmines in her hair!”

I realised it was Tourangeau, a white Canadian painted very brown. I laughed out loud and prayed the woke brigade don’t watch 1970’s operas. Oh Dear! And another one will bite the dust. Being very brown, I find all this throwing out the baby with the bathwater disturbing. Yes, Britain has many plundered goods whilst the English ruled India for 190 years but by and by, gave us the gift of their language. Three quarters of a century later, we operate on a world stage. It would have taken a lot longer just speaking Hindi. My opinion only. 


I then thought, why is this piece of music so, so familiar? I realised “Flower Duet” was the British Airways theme song from 1989. BA used a song from an opera about the love between a Brahmin priest’s daughter and a British officer. It’s ironic yet sweet. We just can’t get away from each other.  


There is a lovely video of the original BOAC and then BA on this YouTube video with a re-worked theme song to mark their centenary. 




Marie Christine from Blois and I communicated about her lovely piece last week. Everything she loved about England. We had a few similar passions - the V&A museum, the potters especially Batterham, British Indian food... We have agreed to disagree on Fauci, so I’m curious to read her take on Sunday. 


I told Margaret yesterday that I needed to stop writing for a while. Till we meet again!


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

We have been enjoying the most wonderful fires we have ever had... we have been burning my most sacred logs... the ones I rescue from every delivery because they are huge and old and gnarly... and beautiful. They sit atop the special woodpile in the porch which has not been rebuilt from scratch for a good number of years but this year we need to clear the porch. Like my husband, they are well mannered - they do not spit. They settle into a comfortable spot after supper and snooze for hours!


Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

The number of vaccinations delivered in the South West rose steeply this week and Simon was one of those vaccinated. On Sunday morning we checked the car battery was still alive (we have not been out in the car for ages) so that we wouldn’t feel less anxious when we left for his 4pm appointment at St Boniface House, about seven and a half miles away. The weather was very inhospitable - gloomy and dark with some fog and very heavy rain, so we left in good time. The roads can accumulate deep pools of water quickly in our region and on occasion we have had to turn around and find an alternate route.


The signposting to St Boniface was excellent and we navigated all the water, arriving ten minutes early. We were asked by the car park attendant to drive down the road about a mile to another car park and wait ten minutes. That attendant was dressed from head to toe in high visibility, weather proof clothing (pretty noble to volunteer to stand out in the rain all day).


Simon and I chatted in the car while we waited and then noticed that we had steamed up the windscreen so we turned the key and set the blowers on high to clear it. However, when we then tried to start the car it hesitated and then would not turn over. Yikes. Would Simon have to walk a mile in pouring rain on a back road in the near dark to keep his much desired vaccination appointment? After a moment’s panic we took a deep breath and tried again and it engaged. Whew! Back at St Boniface we were able to park on a slope facing downwards. I was left in the car fogging up the windscreen but Simon was off for the injection.


Although I mostly did the Saturday crossword while I waited I also watched the slow, rather halting parade of people leaving the building and making their way to their cars. It was a strange sensation to see only over 70’s - a bit like a retirement village or a geriatric ward. I sometimes find it hard to accept that this is who we now are - not those lively young people we are in our heads.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



is a cautious, fitful glimmer

to be grateful for


and then with luck

a welcome full display


of various gifts

that come and go 


in a game of hide-and-seek

around the garden.


A flickering visitation

greets its own arrival 


searching out

the underside of leaves


until it’s time

for a bright departure


filling dusk

with the setting sun.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Medical students during the Covid crisis.

"The medical students who volunteered to work in hospitals during the first Covid wave, whatever the job they did there, were much less anxious than those students who didn't volunteer. This is attributed to the positive reaction of the volunteers in coping directly with the situation". 

Published in La Revue du Praticien. A study conducted in the Strasbourg and Geneva Medical Faculties. Surely we can conclude that making oneself useful is good for one's mental health.


Covid Star

"We are living through a historic pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in 102 years", Dr A Fauci.

Dr Anthony Fauci is at the top of my Covid star list. I was very impressed by this interview :



A smart man, impeccable behavior, rigorous knowledge and ethics. He is a model of sang-froid, elegantly withstanding an incredible pressure. He probably prevented the USA from falling into the hands of Covidiots and Conspirationists, and just at the right moment of crisis. Are there many people who were prepared to tell President Trump: "I think this is not true at all"? He might have been lynched, and his family too, and yet he dared. You probably have seen the admiring imitation of him by Brad Pitt on YouTube. It's worth seeing. He is the living proof that seniors can be useful too, if a proof is needed for some younger people. A very comforting interview if you ask yourself about aging.

After reading this interview, it's difficult to pay any attention to the smooth and empty interviews of politicians.

The fact that he considers that we are living now in an "historic" time, helps to live through it better, not necessarily as heroes, but not falling on the wrong side of our values. In French we say " hold your buttocks tight". Rob hates these expressions. Sorry for being rude if you are like him.  


German lessons on uncertainty

I read in Libération, the left-wing daily newspaper, though opinionated always very interesting, an interview with Jünger Habermas. He says that "the pandemic has put the level of our civic behaviour on trial", that "uncertainty governs our time" and that "our governments sail without charts, by sight only". Considering that he was born in Düsseldorf in 1929, he went through a lot of uncertainties and false certainties himself at the most impressionable age. He reminds us in a delicate but salutary way that uncertainty is one of the main rules of life. We have not in our own adulthood been used to it at such a general level in Western European countries. Covid is a serum of truth for us and for our leaders. 


I was very interested in last week's contribution from Hilde about the speech of Charlotte Knobloch (born in Munich in 1932, a Jewish child saved from the Shoah by a woman passing by), on the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, on the 27th January, in front of the German Parliament. Knobloch mainly targeted the AfD - Alternative for Germany- a party which is openly Eurosceptic and nationalist, reviving antisemitism and generally xenophobic and racist. It's the main party in opposition to the German governing coalition. It's represented by 89 out of 709 MPs. Since 6 February, in alliance with the Liberal Party, it governs Thuringia, also the first area to be won by Hitler's party. 

Mrs. Knobloch spoke firmly about the rebirth of antisemitism. She asks us to remember every day "the fragility of democracy", and to watch out for "all kinds of hatred and disparagement on social media". 

We have been warned.

Two great lessons by Germans who lived through the "banality of evil" in Germany under the National Socialist German Workers Party. 


Thank you, Hilde, to have shared your alarm with us. We all have such politicians, manipulative, violent, liars, always looking for scapegoats, in our countries. We see their faces in our newspapers and on our screens every day, and treated as if they were thoroughly respectable. At what point do we stop tolerating them? I always say that nobody should feel immune in France. The next presidential election here in May 2022 will be a test.



It's a double challenge for me. After forty-eight years working a lot, I am now in front of a large expanse of time and asking: what shall I do? My brain is still full of mammograms, cancer stories and decision fatigue. In medicine you take decisions, often life-decisions, the whole time, generally under pressure and very quickly. This last month I was kept busy with leftovers of administrative tasks. That's now coming to an end, and my to-do list is really short, no more than a day's work.

Free time and no more professional emotion taxing my energy. The rest of my brain is resuscitating slowly, better every day, such a good feeling. After a working day I could hardly remember my own name. What a good job it is to be retired. If only I had chosen that career earlier, but it's now too late for me! I should have studied to qualify as a pensioner from the start. 

A small symbol: wearing beautiful shiny nails - we are not allowed varnished fingernails in medical care. My son has sent me from California a kit of glittering stickers, Hollywood-class, to put on my nails to celebrate my retirement. It makes me feel really smart.



From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

This will be a very short message (perhaps to the relief of many). I'm somewhat snowed under after a quite difficult week in places. I am also needing to go for a blood test this morning, so not much time is available.


Sufficient to say I greatly enjoyed some time with best beloved on Monday, which was my birthday. She baked me a really delicious cake (also scones, jam and cream!), which I am rationing to myself - not without difficulty! Our beloved beach hut has been vandalised most sadly, which put the mockers on much joy.
We'll recover from that I'm sure.


Oh - I really enjoyed Hindle Wakes on Sunday. Thank you for the link David. It was good to see you looking well.


That's it for now. All blessings to everyone who reads this..


View from the top of the hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

It's been a bit of a depressing week really, with a thick blanket of fog sitting low on the hill and yet more snow. Also the very sad loss of Captain Sir Tom, which seemed so unfair after all his efforts for the NHS.


Some happier highlights though, I enjoyed watching David in 'Hindle Wakes', a play I hadn't come across before. Great accent David! I loved how the story evolved to show that the women were the strongest characters. If anyone missed the play it's well worth finding it on You Tube.


Although the play was set in Lancashire, it reminded me of my mum's family's humble roots in the Yorkshire mills. I visited my grandad at work once in the building where they washed the wool, it was a dreadful environment, noisy, dirty and foul-smelling. He never complained, being glad of the work. The old mills have either been converted into waterfront apartments or knocked down and replaced by car parks. The cemetery, where my ancestors were laid to rest when their hard lives came to an end, was apparently “relocated” to facilitate the building of a roundabout. My great great grandmother seems to have been a strong matriarchal figure, the head of a large family after being widowed twice. While researching my family history, I came across a mention of her having her clogs repaired because a loose nail had hurt her toe, a heart-breaking reminder of the hardships she must have endured. By chance, I now live two miles from her childhood home, it's a small world.


It's a relief to have some sport to enjoy, too. We've been watching some football matches, there's cricket from India on the radio at the moment and tennis going ahead in Melbourne. There was a slight setback when a staff member at the quarantine hotel tested positive this week but I've just read that all 507 players and staff there have since tested negative so there's a green light for play in the Australian Open on Monday. I do hope that Wimbledon and the Olympics will be possible this year, it's such a boost for everyone to have sport to enjoy and of course for all the athletes, trying to get ready for events which may not take place.


The cricket commentators have been having some fun joking about home schooling, after someone said their son was doing his school work in front of the TV, wearing his cricket whites. They are coming up with all the reasons why watching cricket is educational, for example working out Joe Root's batting averages using fractions and decimals, etc. Well why not, I expect most children are sick to death of workbooks and multiple choice questions and would much prefer to get engaged with some sport or drama. I hear some teachers “accidentally” got vaccine appointments when they were sent text messages intended for NHS workers. Surely we can find some legitimate vaccine slots for teachers, so much has been expected of them during the last year and it would be so unfair to force them back into schools without sufficient protection.


I've been coming up against my inadequacies in the area of modern technology this week. My phone, my camera and my broadband are apparently all woefully old-fashioned. I well remember that I pitied my parents for their inability to keep up, although my 99-year old Dad asked me for a book about the Internet so he actually did very well. I have to admit, I wish I could be there in thirty years to hear my daughter having to ask her children how to make her communication device work or which button to press to open the heliport! I have not completely lost the plot yet – I was the intended victim of a scam this week, by someone purporting to be phoning from the 'Amazon fraud department'. He claimed that my account had been hacked by someone trying to buy a £1000 iPhone using my identity. He was determined to get me to type a certain series of letters into my browser. I wrote them down and when he quizzed me about the exact letters, dots and spaces I had typed in I told him I had written them down and there was no way I was typing anything in until I had spoken to my bank and Amazon as this was a hoax call. He threatened me with 'giving the money to charity'(!) and hung up. I cheered, then spent half an hour phoning my bank and Amazon. 


I have my first vaccine appointment at the Great Yorkshire Showground tomorrow. Hooray!


Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

We have fewer Covid-19 patients in Sweden now (image below is from Uppsala University Hospital, hospital cases, dark red is for ICU patients), but there is fear of a third wave. In Sweden only 250,000 have received vaccination so far due to mostly lack of doses. 


Now in winter it is dark when I walk to the hospital (above), and dark again on the way home. Previous years I used to cycle to work in winter but when I now walk it gives me time to listen to music and I feel less stressed.

Today I am discharging to her nursing home the patient, a 81-year old woman with dementia, advanced Parkinson´s disease, hypophyseal deficiency and a very troublesome husband, I mentioned them last week. During her stay in the hospital the husband has threatened and harassed everyone and today I even had to talk to the police. They said that while they understood that we are not trying to murder her, they still just wanted to make sure she was alright. This in spite of much extra effort from all. I myself have talked to the husband every day during her hospital stay. I also have made exceptions from the ban on visits so that one family member was allowed a short visit every day and I consulted very many other specialists concerning her care. If they send her right back to the hospital I will not be involved since I will be working in Bollnäs hospital for the next two weeks.

Yesterday my daughter Clara and I had a film and Sushi evening, watching “There will be blood” with Daniel-Day Lewis, quite OK movie, but it was really long and Clara had to go and study so we will se the rest of it later. She is studying law now and is really happy about that in spite of the hard work required.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

No Handmaid’s Tale


We slept in what had once been a gymnasium,

Smelling of despair and sweat and stale rice.

80 camp beds in even rows; no mattress covers,

No sheets. 80 women in lockdown quarantine

Who tested positive now unwilling government 

Guests. Humidity stifles speech along with disbelief;

Close proximity to 79 others will surely lend

The virus a helping hand. A block for showering,

Toilets but no paper, the gentle swash of humanity’s

Bowels. I dream of a library, spines inviting a gentle 

Extraction, the flick of crisp white paper, the hushed

Agony and ecstasy of choice in air-conditioned silence.

And a coffee, small, very strong and sweet

In that little street café, metal chairs, table askew.

And peeling an orange, slowly, spiralling round 

Savouring the zest strip-teasing the flesh. 

Pre-dawn, three beds down, she wheezes me awake

Spluttering phlegm and fluid. And for the first time