Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Vintage Bunty by Marli Rose Macrae


This week has been much the same as the others. The school work is pretty easy and I have felt bored. We missed so much work last year that we are having to do it all again this year as some children didn't do it at all. Mummy has bought me some different things to keep my busy and today we picked up more work from school.


Mummy bunked me off school for a morning this week. She was going to the farm shop and she knows I love it there. I was upset the night before, I don't know why. She bought us a cup of tea, a sausage roll and a scone from the takeaway cafe and we had a picnic in the drizzly rain next to the geese by the pond. They would not stop shrieking, they were like a pack of monsters screaming menacingly in the tempestuous wind. We bought some potted alliums and planted them when we arrived home. We have a new patio and we put them around the edge.


I have been buying vintage Bunty annuals from eBay with some of the money I received for my birthday and Christmas. Mummy used to read Bunty when she a little girl but you can't buy it anymore. I wish you could. I love the stories but most of all, I love the dressing dolls that you have to cut out. It is difficult to find a Bunty with the dressing dolls page still in there, most little girls cut them out. I don't want to cut any more pages out though so daddy is going to teach me how to scan them later. There are stories on the other side of the page and I really don't want to cut the stories out. I really love the clothes that Bunty wears.



Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Another Covid wave

A moment ago, we were hoping for a decrease. Damn! (I won't put the French word). Our President is probably going to ask us to stay home and re-confine. We are going to have to dig deep to find new ways to live happily enough through this new year. Many friends are getting more uncertain in their behavior and outlook with time passing.

I believe in reading psychological self-help books and articles. I find some I like on Forbes.com - indeed rather helpful, simple and efficient. If they are read, as Forbes often is, by people with money, they can also be good for others, and save us money too. Gloom costs a lot. There is an article about self-help during the pandemic, written by Noma Nazish - see also her other articles in case you feel the need for them. They are mainly addressed to women, men don't have problems of this sort, do they? I think Rob never read a single self-help book. Or rather, he read only one. A second-hand book written in the fifties, about marriage. This was just before we got married in 1987. I never saw the book. But he refers to it occasionally, complaining that life (and his wife) don't correspond to the book as they should. Anyway, the book can't have been all wrong because we are still together. He usually knows, or he has learnt, when it's the right moment to say "Oui, Chérie", or in front of shop windows in which he has no interest whatever, "C'est joli, Chérie".


and this one too if needed: 




The reasons why I love Britain.

I have visited England, Scotland and Wales. Everything I have listed below seems like cliché, but the clichés are true and genuine, and validated by myself. In case we one day come back to England, I remind myself of all the things I like about it. 


Human reasons: 

  • men do the washing-up.

  • blond men with blue eyes (later very white hair and blue specs around the blue eyes), and not "trop poilus" (not too hairy).

  • the usefully universal language, and the chic (to many ears) English accent.

  • people stammering when they don't know what to say (French people are very fluent when they don't know what to say).

  • the Queen. She is the one and only real Queen. I say that as only a good republican can.

  • the late and loved Mrs. Lane, at the age of one hundred, wielding her huge tea-pot at the village fête. I also loved games in the garden, competitions of children drawings and miniature gardens. The vegetable show, prize giving, and auction in the village hall.

  • honesty shops by the side of the road. These would not last a minute in France.

  • the charity shops (vintage clothes, books and ceramics) and second hand bookshops (those that still survive). 

  • self-mocking.

  • the Women's Institute: down-to-earth recipes and the friendly ladies in Beccles. Rob still remembers Celia at the tea-and-cakes table.



  • Handel on the top list for music. 

  • Turner, Humphrey Ocean, Norman Ackroyd, mother and daughter Newcomb, Margaret Thomas and a lot of others.

  • great fashion: my favorites are Toast, Old Town, Margaret Howell.

  • watercolors of all styles, the great ones as well as the very local and naïve ones of cottages or boats.

  • twentieth century potters : Richard Batterham, Nic Collins, Lisa Hammond, Paul Philp and a lot of others.

  • round-tower churches and gothic cathedrals.

  • Blickling Hall and the Royal Pavilion.

  • Evensong and anthems in all churches and towns. I love these, I could spend my life going to Evensong every day. 

  • free museums, such a great gift to art lovers. Going quickly into the National Gallery just for one painting to keep it well in one's head - and giving a quick look to refresh my memory of others while on the way.

  • Liberty's: the shop in London and the flowery printed cottons.

  • the sections I don't know yet in the Victoria and Albert.


  • Marmite (we have stocked up for fear of Brexit). 

  • sandwich or ploughman's lunches.

  • tea-time.

  • Indian cooking.

  • St Peter's beer, but this we can buy in Blois (up to now at least).

  • bangers and mash.

  • Stilton (this too we can, or could, find in Blois)

  • gastropubs, luxury fish-and-chips, pubs called Lord Nelson.


  •  intelligent weather (there is a French song by Georges Brassens which says: "the stupid countries where the sky is always blue"). Rain makes the lawn green and makes holidays much more exclusive, people who only like sunny summers are not there.

  • East Anglia's beaches, but not so much the temperature of the sea.


  • double decker buses, all routes at the front of the upper deck, for the view and the fright when the tree branches are close.

  • Queen Anne armchairs, and mahogany furniture.

  • Early Learning Center toys and games in my memory, but what have they done now with their colors and design? I will have to look for vintage copies of Abatt toys for little Flora.

  • Country Living, and Wallpaper magazines.


All the people and things I still have to meet,
and many of the ones I know already.



Jane, just south of Norwich

Jane, Eaton

I will be glad to turn the page of my Country File calendar to February, glad to leave January and its grim numbers behind. The days are beginning to lengthen and there is slightly more optimism in the air.


I have found the daily numbers of infected and deceased very hard to comprehend. The number of Covid deaths in Norfolk was brought home visually to me by a photograph in our daily paper. It shows 1,000 little wooden crosses placed carefully on the stone floor of Norwich Cathedral, a flickering candle in their midst, representing each victim and inevitably, each grieving family.


A fellow W.I. member regularly holds music sessions at a local Care Home which have continued by Skype until suspended a couple of weeks ago when Covid struck. The Home had 21 deaths (of about 50 residents) with 40 staff members ill, some in hospital. The Home only received the vaccine on Monday for the six remaining residents who can cope with it. This situation came to mind when I heard Simon Armitage read his moving poem, The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash, on Radio 4 this week.

The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash

Simon Armitage



Through the hospital window

she said to me

she’d forgotten the name

of her special tree,

and forgotten the name

of her favourite bird.

Through the hospital window

I mouthed the words:

the song thrush and the mountain ash.


Through the hospital window

she asked again

why I stood outside

in the wind and rain,

and said she didn’t


why I didn’t want

to touch her hand.

The song thrush and the mountain ash.

She said she liked

the flowers I sent

but wondered why

they had no scent,

and why the food

had lost its taste,

and why the nurse

had covered her face?

And why the gates of the park were shut?

And why the shops were boarded up?

And why the swings were tied in knots?

And the music... why had the music stopped?


Through the hospital window

I called her name

and waited a while

but she never came,

then I saw reflected

in the glass

the song thrush

and the mountain ash.

The song thrush and the mountain ash.

Some very mild, if damp days in Norfolk this week. We planted a crab apple tree in the front garden today (malus gorgeous) and the bulbs I planted in the lawn in the autumn are just breaking through. When I planted them in September, I thought that by now our lives would be back on track. It is going to take a lot longer than we envisaged. Best wishes to other contributors, I do look forward to Sunday morning and your journal entries!


From rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Last Sunday I participated in my first Zoom meeting about English Wooden Dolls, a live talk and slide show with British doll collector and history buff, Carol Cameron who lives in Surrey (if I remember correctly). I have always loved dolls, and history and in particular the wooden ‘Queen Anne’ dolls from the late 17th to early 19th centuries. While I could never afford an original, I have bought over the years a few wonderful reproduction woodens from a very talented Canadian artist, Kathy Patterson. The Zoom program was such fun and very interesting, and I learned many things about these charming dolls. I did see Lord and Lady Clapham, the famous wooden dolls which are descended from Samuel Pepys family, when I went to the V&A Museum many years ago, and consider them ancestors of my own treasured dolls. After the meeting, I thought to myself ~ ‘now that is something I might never have done or known about if it weren’t for the pandemic’. And I think that that may be true about so many other new ways that we are learning to cope and share information with people with whom we can no longer meet up with in person during these trying times.


Not having any grandchildren of my own, I have become very fond of the granddaughter of one of my friends who lives in Maine. I have never met this little girl in person, but have over the past year or two enjoyed a number of facetime visits with her. What has endeared her to me is her love of books ~ she is almost always reading them aloud. At first we realized she memorized the little stories and was remembering them page by page. But now, at four years old, she can pick up a completely new book and read it ~ occasionally asking what an unusual word is. It has been such fun to send her some of my favorite books as gifts, and more recently she has asked if we could facetime so that I might read to her one of the many children’s books I have in my collection. This has been such fun for me and I think for her, too.


Still no vaccines available in my county so I am staying home even more these days as I have heard that the new strains are even more contagious. Tonight I put together a new bread dough to rise overnight and bake in the morning with fresh rosemary and garlic for a savory bread ~ I hope it turns out, to go with my cauliflower and cheddar soup. We’ve had more fresh snow which is lovely and the temperatures are expected to be below zero for a few days ~ I will definitely need fortifying fare!



From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

This week has rushed past me. I find it hard to think of anything of note about which I may write, and just possibly engender interest from the dear readers of this journal. Plague-based restrictions on some people's lives have increased, not that they make much difference to my mode of existence. There is no possibility that I - or for that matter anyone I know - would want to travel far and thus experience the inconvenience of a hotel lockdown. So best beloved and I, also our respective families, are continuing in relative isolation, hoping to avoid disease getting too close. Speaking of which, the family member who has been quite ill recently is, by the grace of God, showing good signs of recovery.


Tomorrow, all being well, is the day I should receive the jab! I would, in a past life, never have got excited over such a thing, but this is a new life that beckons new possibilities arising from novel causes. I am truly excited though, and will be even more so when best beloved and others whom I love each receive a literal 'shot in the arm'. My eldest daughter, who is a special school teacher, was given an appointment for a jab last Wednesday. It didn't happen though, because one of her pupils - yes, she is still teaching face to face - turned out to have been in contact and thus placed her into a 10 day period of isolation in her bedroom. You know, I'd happily give up my chance of vaccination for teachers who have to work face to face. Incidentally, some councils regard special educational needs teachers as being in the social care sector, and that's why they are being offered immunisation.


On the wildlife front, I have enjoyed a special encounter during the past week. Sadly, I left my phone at home when I went for a walk on the pier and met a raven. There are quite a number of these wonderful birds living and breeding on the Island these days, but sadly we don't often get up close and personal. Well, this beautiful creature alighted on the pier railings about four metres from me. I stood still - it stood still - and we carefully regarded one another. I vaguely wondered if it was the one recently departed, perhaps portentously, from the Tower of London. No leg ring told me that was unlikely, so this was a truly wild bird. The fact is, corvids are my favourite avians. I feel myself really privileged to have met up with this one. Wise eyes seemed to be looking at me as if curious as to what I might be about. I looked into those wise eyes and it seemed like a little communion of sorts. I shall remember this small happening as a blessing...


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I have been thinking about things that have lifted my spirits this week. I try to encourage my eldest granddaughter, who tends to dwell on the negative aspects of her life, to think of three positive things that have happened each day. I try to do the same but it hasn’t been easy recently. However this has been a good week. 


The three eldest grandchildren came and built a snowman and had snowball fights in the garden. Then they took their sledges to a nearby field and we were able to watch from a distance as they screamed their way down the hill. It all looked so normal and made me laugh at their antics. Although they only live five minutes away the snow had missed them completely.  


Our nephew and his partner announced their engagement, so a lovely wedding to look forward to sometime in the future when all this craziness is over. They had a baby in September who has yet to meet all of her relatives and has never seen another baby. My brother and sister-in-law live a few doors away and have been able to be in their bubble which has been a wonderful distraction for them.


Every few days I hear of friends who have had notification of their vaccination date. We have a while to go yet as we are under 70 but I get a happy buzz each time I hear of another friend becoming safer. Also I heard yesterday that there is another vaccine almost ready to go which may be even better than previous ones.


On Wednesday we had an 11km walk along a route we haven’t done for a few years. The floods had receded but part of the footpath along the River Lathkill had been gouged out leaving deep holes and large rocks sticking out. We came across some beautiful fungi which we hadn’t seen before. We later discovered they are scarlet elf caps. 


Yesterday we had our Zoom drama workshop. It is so much better now we are familiar with working online. We have become adept at timing and not talking over each other. We can quickly mute and unmute ourselves and switch our videos on and off. There are ten of us and at the moment we are doing a sort of Downton upstairs downstairs improvisation. The scenario is that the young lady of the house wants to marry a totally unsuitable lothario. Each of us has a role and information about our character but we don’t know what information the other characters have. We dress our top halves according to our character. I have a wonderful heirloom feather boa. We are having such fun.


Last week I cut the front of my hair and this week I finally allowed Jeremy to trim the back. He was worryingly keen to have a go. I had resisted cutting it during the first lockdown and just let it grow into a rather untidy mess. I quite liked it and it felt right to leave it until we were back to normal. I thought we would be back to normal fairly soon and hadn’t allowed myself to think that we would get a second or even third wave. I am now resigned to the fact that this wave could be with us for a long time so cutting my own hair felt right.


So lots of positives this week but also sadness that we have passed 100,000 deaths and the daily death rate is still so high. A friend’s husband died this week and she is devastated. He had Parkinson’s and was very frail but his heart attack was sudden and unexpected. I went to see her and took some home-made soup but it was so hard. I just wanted to hug her and that was what she needed but I daren’t do it. Her son and family are arriving from Brighton today and staying for three weeks. I am so pleased.


The evenings are getting lighter and our garden is carpeted with snowdrops. More positives. I hope you have all had a good week.


Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

You know how you can wait a long time for a bus and then three come along all at once? Well, that is our experience this week. Only we weren’t waiting for a bus but for a vaccination appointment. We knew of many people in Simon’s age range (he is three years older than me) who had been contacted by our surgery and had been vaccinated. But for Simon, no phone call, no letter, no text. Had his name fallen off the list?


Then Wednesday, an NHS letter for Simon, not from the local surgery but from the national Vaccination roll out team, inviting him to book an appointment online. We were straight into the site and chose the soonest appointment offered - next day, at the Plymouth Argyll Football Stadium, 20 miles/37 minutes from Totnes by car. The website then offered an appointment for the second dose - again, at the Stadium. Fantastic. Done. All seemed so easy. But that sense of security was shaken when Simon clicked to confirm. Alas, those appointments were no longer available. Suddenly this began to feel like booking a Waitrose delivery slot! So into the internet world we went again and an appointment was booked for next Tuesday and another for twelve weeks later. Confirmed.


Next day as we left for our walk the post arrived and there was an NHS envelope addressed to ME inviting ME to book an appointment. So we took off our coats and got out the I pad. An appointment for a week Monday at the Stadium and one twelve weeks later confirmed. Hurrah. We were off for our walk with a lighter step.


Then, at tea time that day, a phone call from our local surgery. Would Simon like to come for an injection on Sunday at 4 pm at St. Boniface House? This is the vaccination site run by our local surgery in combination with several other local surgeries - about 7 miles/ 20 minutes away. “Yes” he said “I would.” Confirmed. 


So, now to check that the battery is not flat in the car, pray it doesn’t snow, and we will be off for Simon’s vaccination on Sunday. Once successful, we will cancel his appointment at the Stadium.



Corona diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Covid deaths to date 104,371


Just a quick hello.

The UK went past the awful 100,000 deaths mark.

Champ and Major moved into the White House.

The EU are using Trumpian principles of distraction and blame for their own ineptitude with vaccines. Huge row with AstraZeneca who are really doing incredible work at cost to save the world.

Roger came for the morning, hooray.

Chickens laid one egg!

I had 2 meetings in the big wide world which involved seeing people!

Accounts still in piles. 

Floor needs washing.

Oil Cloth needs ordering.

Sweet Peas need sowing.

Garden needs cutting back.

Tree lilies need planting. (Better late than never)

Better go.

Love Annabel xxx


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

I don’t usually start one week’s ‘contribution’ immediately after the last, but the weekend sees so much going on, in the papers, online and on TV, here goes, more or less in order. It’s mainly about vaccine supplies:


Chris Whitty (a Doctor himself) gets challenged by fellow Doctors combined in the BMA to produce evidence to support his assertion it would be quite safe to increase the ‘2nd jab’ interval to 12 weeks from the initially-promoted 3 weeks. The argument in favour being the ‘spare’ vaccine created provides initial injections to a bigger slice of the population.

He can’t, because it doesn’t exist. It’s a punt. It’s against WHO guidance and, rather worse, in the absence of trials, both Pfizer and BionTech have warned they have no evidence the initial dose will even continue efficacy if dose#2 is given more than 3 weeks after dose#1.


Oddly, the BMA instead of being cautious and sticking to Science themselves, suggest a ‘punt’ of their own: at least bring the interval down to 6 weeks. This is known in Scientific Circles as a Good Old British Compromise and may be adopted.


Simultaneously, the Min of H has been found to be rationing supplies as the new Jab Centres open - there evidently not being enough to fully supply all outlets. When asked just what the UK stock is, it refuses to answer. Challenged by a Freedom of Information request it stays schtum. The formal Appeal against the Refusal is declined as “Not in the Public Interest”. It may be more like they don’t want the UK stocks known by those rascals over the Channel, sur le Continent, for either defence or negotiation purposes - see below, later in the week...


So, until ‘our’ Oxford/Zeneca supply is in full flow - date yet to be advised - the 357,000,000 UK doses ordered from various suppliers (remember how BJ crowed about that) remain just that, ‘ordered’ but maybe only available to us at the whim of the companies concerned. No schedule has as yet been agreed that anyone, Gov’t or Supplier, is prepared to reveal.


An upside of this is that with multi suppliers, supplies may cascade until we are in surplus - we don’t need all 357,000,000. We have prudently over ordered. 

And this may yet ease a social-conscience problem for us:

There are rumblings of discontent regarding the affluent West snaffling vaccine supply to the disadvantage of the poorer Third World.

Norway is so far the only country to confirm it will allocate some of its own vaccine to the needy. 

If (when) we do the same, we’ve got a our over-order to protect us, and as long as the whole UK gets a jab or two first, no-one is likely to complain. Forward thinking or happy coincidence?

Then, midweek, there’s a EuroSlap, a BrexitBollocking: forget the rest of the World, the EU flexes its muscles and demands the millions of Oxford/AstraZeneca doses they've ordered - and paid for - even if it means raiding the UK production to do so. Turns out the AstraZeneca factories on their side of the channel are failing to produce, and in EU terms it’s all one company, so why not bring some over from the UK branch? Unless we agree, they will block export of vaccine from European plants to us - even though we too have ordered and paid.

The Mighty Gove announces with as much authority as he can muster that AZ will supply all the vaccine ordered to us, stating quite categorically that “there will be no interruption to UK supplies”. Then he goes and spoils his moment by adding “It is the case that the supplies that have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue.” Should. We probably have teams of lawyers poring over the small print right now.

Almost simultaneously, Boris meets trouble half way by telling us that we must not believe German rumours that the AZ vaccine shouldn’t be given to over 65’s. He is absolutely clear it’s wonderful stuff for all ages. And then, and then... the Thursday clincher. Turns out we have another fab British vaccine about to hit the streets - Novavax from up North. American bred but British born (or perhaps the other way round) and we’ve got the first 60million doses... when it’s approved. News of this is launched on the unsuspecting public Thursday evening, when a bit of good news was welcome just as EU announces it’s going to war in The Courts with AZ over AZ. They too have the lawyers out. I don’t often offer opinion, preferring just to report, but in this instance the better thing must be to be generous, accommodating, particularly if like the World situation above, we do have enough.


Other stuff emerges as the days go by:  

Grant Shapps under fire for allowing the Swansea DVLA office, all 16 floors and 1800 employees of it, to become the UK’s hotspot with 500 tested positive. Reports emerge of a policy that saw employees pressured to remain at their posts, a refusal to embrace home working and perhaps most cynical, advice to turn off their test and trace apps in order to avoid ‘the need’ for isolation.

And there’s sombre Downing Street briefings - though two weeks late, now is chosen as the time to reveal we’ve passed the terrible 100,000 Covid death threshold. Remember when Patrick Valance with chilling understatement warned 20,000 would be a “good outcome“? March 27th, last year. At the time he was criticised for being alarmist.


Here, things continue bumbling along, a daily (modest) walk, a bit of (light) gardening, heroic attempt to clear shelves of Malbec, bit of sitting by the window, pondering, watching wildlife. An extraordinary thing happened this morning, while out sauntering with Sheila: her phone pinged, my phone pinged: synchronised invites to inoculation. We go next Wednesday - supplies allowing. Quite lifts the spirits.

Keep Safe, mes amis.


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

When you read this, it will be the last day of January. What a long month it has seemed, full of rain and short, dark days and bad news and worse news and a sense of foreboding. One tries to fight this, to count one’s blessings (Trump out of sight, vaccines, friends, this journal) and be cheerful, but, in honesty, I haven’t been very productive or cheerful.

On Tuesday, Candlemas, we will at last take down our small tree and all the Christmas cards (yes, we kept them all up as a way of cheering us and the house up). We love our old house, but it is so cold in winter, and so difficult to heat. We tend to huddle round the kitchen Aga by day, and the red room wood burner in the evening. The cats do the same, and often act as our hot water bottles. The kitchen table acts as office, craft area, seed planting station and cooking and eating space. I’ve ventured out to the greenhouse and the garden on the few sunny days, and I’ve tried to walk round the garden and field most days. Have we been out into the further world? As far as the postbox or the egg stall at the local farm (the egg stall also sells very good fudge). 


But another month and we’ll be welcoming March, and Spring. I keep hold of that thought, and look out for the signs: it’s staying light for longer, the birds are very busy, snowdrops are out, as is Lonicera Fragrantissima and Clematis Cirrhosa and Witch Hazel and catkins. And hellebores. Bulbs are pushing through. Things are growing. And there’s Valentine’s Day, Peter’s birthday, and only 28 days!


This weekend we are making marmalade and sowing sweet peas, and reading with friends, via Zoom, All my Sons by Arthur Miller. All good. And tomorrow evening we’ll watch David and other actors reading Hindle Wakes on Zoom. Why don’t you join us?  Here’s the link!


Keep well and safe! X


Candlemas by David Jones