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Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

What I've been doing, by Franklin Lewis Macrae


I have COVID. I felt a bit unwell and I went to bed at 8pm. My mum knew immediately that something was wrong and suggested that I do a lateral flow test. It was positive. I was shocked but I was also relieved that I wouldn't have to do my French test at school. My symptoms were a runny nose and a cough, the runny nose was the worse thing. I also felt really tired. Mum gave me a hot water bottle, paracetamol and she rubbed Vicks on my chest and back. I don't like Vicks, it's sticky and makes my pyjamas stick to me but it does work well.  


There has been less school work for sure. On day one, I didn't work because I was unwell but on day two I did a little bit. I can't do as much as usual because there is no MS TEAMS for online learning because all the teachers are unwell with COVID.  


Every year we make Christmas cards, we've been doing this for as long as I can remember. I haven't started my card design yet because I've been working on a linocut of seaweed. We gathered the seaweed in summer from Beastie Cove (Cow Gap) and pressed it in a flower press. I used my pressing to draw the linocut.

During this quarantine, I've been experiencing great tragical, romantical pain because my family have been watching one of the most annoying TV shows ever, called 'Anne with an e'. It's the story of 'Anne of Green Gables' and the main protagonist is so annoying. She talks too much, about annoying stuff and specifically, she over-describes and she can be so obnoxious. When she doesn't like something, she cries about it. She says 'tragical, romantical' a lot. The show itself is ok but I can't bare Anne. I don't like the antagonists either, there are some bullies in it. 


We went to an event called 'Glow Wild'. It takes place at night because the trees are lit with glowing lanterns dotted around the fantastical forest (I'm copying Anne because mum has told me to be more descriptive). It was freezing but we wrapped up and dad brought hot chocolate in flasks. The colours were so vibrant and it felt magical. We were given a lantern to light our way. I enjoyed it immensely. Mum bought me a jelly fish Christmas tree decoration afterwards, it looks like one of the lanterns they had on the trees.


I am working towards my bronze Duke of Edinburgh award and I'm volunteering in a charity shop every Saturday from 10am to 12pm. I sort through bags of clothes mainly and clean shelves. I found a tiny wooden cockerel for my mum's printer tray and small, vintage spoons for her. I bought her a vibrant red vase, it is a striking shape and looks modern but it's an old vase. I got a staff discount, it cost me £4. I quite enjoy working here, I work with elderly women and they are kind to me.  


I'm looking forward to Christmas and I hope I get enough cash to finish my half built computer.


Hello from Eastbourne

Shirley-Anne Macrae

What to do? by Shirley-Anne Macrae


I have a Christmas job in Waterstones. I'm loving it. It's got me into nice clothes, out of the house and meeting people. Plus I get a generous discount on books. I'm so relieved because I've been quietly worrying about what to do next. I am always busy, there is always something to do. A garden to tend to, children to look after, a husband to support in his job, a house to clean, a cat to love and I enjoy all of these things but I think it's good to get out a little bit. Not too much or the garden/kids/husband/house/cat all suffer. I love my family and home life but I am grateful for this little Waterstones job. It'll probably finish at Christmas but I live in hope that they might have the hours to keep me on a day or so a week. 

I had plans to do a vintage kitchen items market stall. I've been collecting forever, inspired by my lovely mother and her passion for flea markets and charity shops. She's been frequenting them all of her life and I have such wonderful memories of being by her side as a little girl in Glasgow while she waded through the treasures. As a result of this apprenticeship, I consider myself to have a good eye. I can scan a cluttered market or junk shop and spot the beauties a mile off. I love the fact that most vintage household items tell a story. In general, these items are well looked after, they come from a time when folk looked after things and throwaway culture didn't exist. They are also in the most part 'Made in England' and are of excellent quality. Anyway, I have tons of kitchen stuff: coffee cups, wine glasses, brown salt glaze pots for sugar and herbs, pink French school cateen plates, original Habitat pasta bowls, (lots of early, original Habitat as said beloved mother was obsessed by it in the Seventies) stoneware porridge bowls, banana boats, beautiful English jugs, terracotta pots and bowls, baskets galore and cutlery. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate, no loud colours or horrid mid century Meakin patterns, it's all solid, discreet, stylish and functional. And vintage, always. I use it, I rotate it with the seasons and my family accept it, patiently. In the absence of a job though, I thought I could set up a little business, flogging it at a local farmers' market in quite an upmarket village around here (I won't name it, you'll find out why in a moment!). So I scouted out the market and there were no other vendors offering what I wanted to offer. There was one stall which sold household goods but nothing like mine. He sold new stuff, lamps, horrible rugs, towels, ornamental dogs, mirrors. Nothing you could cook in or eat or drink from.

However, he got wind of me from the market organiser and objected to me being there. The organiser told me he had been there for many years and she couldn't upset him. I didn't even bother trying to spell out that he sold different stuff to me. I was disappointed though because I know it would have been fun and I know folk would like it. So I've been ebaying it. It is not the same experience but I have too much now and I need to move it on. The upshot is that I've made £££££ and I treated myself to a Kate Sheridan bag (Made in England too!) and I've still got change left over. If I don't have a job to take the bag to, I'll wear it on the school run and to the supermarket and to lunch when my husband takes me out.  


Anyway, the point of all this work stuff is I thought I had it all figured out with the idea of a stall. It would be one day a week; it would fit around school; it would work still if one of the children became poorly because as a self employed person, I wouldn't have to worry about time off to look after them. That is happening rather a lot at the moment. Every sniffle is met with suspicion followed up by a mandatory lateral flow test. If my son sniffs in school, I receive a phone call that he's on his way home. It's quite tricky. And now they both have COVID and I'm at home with them. I also thought the stall would be a safe option because it's outside. Never mind.


Bloody shame though, it would have been a great stall. Fingers crossed something turns up. 

Glow Wild, by Marli Rose Macrae


It has been ages since I have written. I'll start from Saturday as that was an interesting day. It was a pretty normal day but the evening wasn't!  In the evening we went on an hour long drive to Wakefield Place.


We went there to do a very special thing, to walk around the park in the dark. The trees however, were lit up! We had lanterns to see our way, which were beautiful. It was such an alluring sight to see violet, amber, cerise, jade, cobalt, all glow enticingly in the darkness. There was calming music of nature played along the route and the lanterns were all different shapes and sizes. It was bitterly cold and we had to wrap up warm to withstand the harsh, freezing bite. 


There was a manor house with hundreds of lit flares outside. It created such a gorgeous effect. You can have dinner there and mummy said we will eat there next year when we go. Daddy packed hot chocolate and Kit Kats. Mummy bought Franklin a jellyfish Christmas decoration and I got a felt mouse for the Christmas mice house. I felt a bit sick in the car on the way home but it was a truly wonderful experience and I loved it.

Then we discovered we had COVID. I have had a sore tummy and fever and my body ached. Franklin didn't get a sore tummy though. We both feel better but we're not allowed out or back to school for ten days. I was upset because I can't take part in the school Christmas card competition.


So yesterday we made some Christmas cards and wrapping paper. We have been doing this since forever. Mum made a linocut of a cat and printed it onto cards and I drew a window and curtains to make it look as though the cat is looking out up at the Christmas star. We used a stamp for the star. This card is inspired by Saskia but I've also made other linocut cards. 

We are getting a wood burner and the work is almost done. I am looking forward to my birthday on the 20th and Christmas. Today I decorated my dolls' house for Christmas. I also made a cardboard doll which I decorated with bits of ribbon and beads. 


We started our advent calendar today. We have two, by accident. Mummy bought us a chocolate one from Poundland and then Grandma bought us beautiful ones without chocolate from Towner. Mine is a snow scene with a house and hares and behind the door was a tiny brown bird. Later I went into mummy's drawer for a Chapstick and found a plastic poinsettia. She said I could have it but I keep on forgetting how to pronounce it and call it the 'PP thing' which doesn't sound very nice. 


Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Well, here I am in the frozen north… snow, ice. But sunshine. Vermont covid rates are high, and the Republican governor who used to be very good about the pandemic is now prevaricating about mask mandates and such. Worrying about his re-election. Something for my fellow Democrats who voted for him to think about. I spent November getting up really early, writing a poem a day as a fundraiser for a center that works with new immigrants in Western Massachusetts, then going swimming. It actually felt wonderful. Writing 4:30-5:30 and then Swimming. With the reward of the hot tub afterwards. In March I’ll be doing the March Arts Marathon, which I am part of running, and I’ll write a poem and paint a picture every day. So this was really a warm up. It is amazing to have people to read one's work every day. I tried to have a one or two day delay, so that by the time I sent the poem out it had been significantly revised. Lots of pressure doing this, but lots of pleasure too. Now I’m thinking of putting together a chap book. Stay tuned! And e mail me if you’d like a poem!

What else?  I had a big scare with my eye because the shot stopped working and I was back to seeing as if through a very dirty windshield, but then I had the next shot (seriously not fun, as I’ve mentioned before) and three days later it does seem to be working. I am so relieved. As you can imagine.

And for the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving we went to our friends’ house for a meal, we were the first people other than the plumber to be inside their house since the plague began. We watched a slapstick movie, The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob, which made everyone except me laugh. I fell asleep.


Thinking of Marie Christine… hoping you are weathering treatments as well as possible. And hoping that everyone in the Macrae family is feeling better, and that the haircut has held up! 

Also, I have to say I so appreciate everyone's entries. It is lovely to keep up with what is going on in all your lives. Thank you for hanging in there with this project.


Mary’s projects mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

For 52 years I have been celebrating American Thanksgiving while living in England. Thanksgiving is all about counting your blessings and enjoying good food - turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie - while surrounded by friends and family. But once again, this year, due to COVID, Simon and I celebrated alone. And acquiring a turkey became something of a comic saga.


In late October, thinking ahead, we booked a delivery slot for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Thursday. We included in our order, a small turkey. In November we invited two friends to join us. On the Saturday before Thanksgiving we double checked our on-line order and found the turkey was labelled “Available from 20th December”. No turkey? In a panic we rang several other supermarkets, a delicatessen, a butcher, but to no avail. 


In the meantime one guest found she was not going to make it for Thursday, nor could she make Friday or Saturday due to a funeral in Wales. In any case she worried that having mingled with many others, she might bring COVID back to us. She could come Wednesday, but ironically the other guest could not make Wednesday - also due to a funeral and the same worries about mingling with others. With a heavy heart, I decided to cancel it all and put the cranberries in the freezer. I was so sad.


On the Monday, when we went on-line to finalise our Waitrose order for Wednesday, we found the turkey was now labelled “Available” and because it was an “Entertainment Item” it could not be cancelled. What? Still, we held back from making any preparations because, often what appears in the order  doesn’t actually appear on the doorstep.

On the Wednesday I got the usual Waitrose email listing the items actually picked and packed for our order. The list included not one turkey, but two - “two small feathered bronze turkeys”. Two? Two turkeys? What would we do with two turkeys? We hadn’t any guests to help us eat one! And the bill was increased by £40!! When the order actually arrived there was only one turkey but a bill for two (which was later refunded).


So, we defrosted the cranberries that night and I made cranberry chutney. On Thursday I missed zoom yoga in order to whip up a pecan pumpkin pie. By the evening Simon had roasted the turkey in our tiny, temporary oven, we had a face time cocktail with Margaret and Peter, and sat down together and counted our blessings.


View from a town formerly known as crazy

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

The emergence of the omicron variant has proven quite efficacious at putting this town back on the path to Crazy. And then, as if that weren't trouble enough, along comes an evil little virus that causes half the populace to go full barking mad.


I refer, of course, to Republican politics. Unwavering loyalty to Dear Leader and His Big Lie is the new litmus test of the GOP. Anyone with the temerity to suggest otherwise is immediately drummed out of office, subjected to a barrage of abuse, and given all the welcome normally accorded to a rodent appearing at one's front door bearing an overnight bag packed with the bubonic plague. Nor is it sufficient that one quietly bows to the times, puts on a smile and grins all around. No, Sir, actively upping the Crazy is now the path forward. Republican members of Congress calling for the death of colleagues (mostly, but not exclusively, Evil Democrats) has become routine - on a par with offering thoughts and prayers in the wake of a school shooting rampage (of which we're having a resurgence as well). Just yesterday we narrowly avoided another shutdown of the Federal government promoted by a handful of Senate Republicans (including that hardy perennial, Ted Cruz) who felt refusing to fund government operations was the best means of expressing displeasure with He Who Must Not Be Named's plans to order a masking mandate for private employers.


But, hey ho, without Dear Leader Himself on the scene, all of this has become mere background noise for most folks. Life goes on. Thanksgiving is now in the rear view mirror, the last of the leftover turkey and dressing have been tossed, and we're on to the Big Ones - the most important holidays of the year: Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Christmas (more or less in that rank order). Here in Crazy Town we're enjoying the warmest November/December on record, while Hawaii is expecting 12 inches of snow today. How crazy is that? The economy is fragile (new job hirings are down, but no one can find anyone to work, and unemployment is a a decades' long low - more crazy), the stock market has more ups and downs than the MegaCoaster at Six Flags (but luckily hasn't come completely off the rails just yet), and everyone is muttering darkly about the return of inflation. All in all, the makings of a wild and crazy Holiday season and an outstanding start for the New Year. I hope you, Dear Readers, enjoy the season and look forward to hearing all about it in the next edition.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Thinking about COP21 sent my mind back to my childhood and how things were then from 1938 onwards. I lived in Sheffield on a hillside surrounded in the valley by The Hallamshire Steel & File company at the hight of the industrial revolution. Chimneys smoking all day long in a very poor area. Along side that was the railway with the steam trains running all day long and the gas works with three large gas tanks. I remember my mum having to clean our windows regular as they would have a blue film covering of sulphur.


If we went to the sea side for the day coming home as we neared Sheffield you could see the pall of smoke hanging over Sheffield and smell the pollution, then we knew we were nearly home. The thing we didn’t have was the dreaded plastic. So, the mountains of plastic waste have built up in the blink of an eye since the 1950s. We used to recycle everything. Everything we bought before the 1950s came loose or in paper bags. There were no plastic toys. As the war lingered on, we took jam jars to school to be recycled. News paper was our toilet roll & nobody got a sore bottom. The milk man came with a milk churn and poured our milk into a jug.    


During the war. The coal burnt once at the gas works became our coke for our heating and we queued to buy a sack to pick your own on the tip at the top of the hill. The Duke of Norfolk allowed the gas works to tip the slag on the hillside. Life was hard but everyone seemed happy and the community spirit was amazing. We lived just a mile from Sheffield City centre in a village situation cut off by a very low railway arch. Only one vehicle can get under this railway bridge and it remains the same today. I remember discussing the pollution with an old friend of ours a few years ago and his words were. But its worse now because you can’t see it. Later all this industry has been decimated and supposedly Sheffield now has clean air. And the houses, our homes were demolished in the 1970s slum clearances. In the 1980s the Sheffield ski slope was built on the hill where our homes had been and vandals set that on fire. Since then, nature has taken over and during lock down Deer have been seen again on our hillside that’s taken it back to its beginning, starting off as the Duke of Norfolk’s hunting ground and bird life has prospered and there are ponds, heather and wonderful trees. It was a wonderful place to live and in 2014 I tried to find the history or photos of the place to no avail so I got a few past residents together to write the history.


Today all the industry has gone the rail line closed years ago and the gas works no longer exist. This week I had a memory walk up there and it is beautiful. With a football pitch and a cycle track. Plans are in place with Sheffield City Council to make this hillside into a City Centre Country Park. Big business and profit seem to be the stumbling block on the climate. I have to ask myself will big business ever allow us to stop warming up the earth?                        


This week we have seen the highest snow covering for Sheffield in November that I have ever seen. My thoughts are with the young. I will be long gone then. Now we have the new variant of covid. One suggestion I saw on social media today is that we vaccinate the world instead of hoarding vaccinations. I wonder.



John Underwood, Norfolk

“Peppa Pig and Kermit, 

Sitting in a tree,

K*I*S*S*I*N*G …”


Life has been busy in the last couple of months or so since I last wrote for the journal. We have been out and about to some major book fairs, and to some provincial ones, all of them feeling safe for exhibitors and customers alike. We have been masked and at one fair wearing visors instead, which do enable clearer conversation. I have no idea how carers, doctors and nurses have managed to wear them everyday for a couple of years; I found just a few days uncomfortable and irritating. I also managed to forget that I was wearing a visor on occasion, once unfortunately coinciding with eating a prawn and mayo sandwich - resulting in said sandwich being mashed against the thin plastic sheet. Repeating the ugly incident a day later did not add to my sang froid, and confirmed my increasing sense of forboding, and the feeling that, finally, inevitably, I am losing the plot.


We witnessed  the unedifying spectacle of the Worst Prime Minister Ever losing it whilst giving a speech to business leaders. I don’t think that I would choose to run with Peppa Pig as a cover for my blunder, although it does chime with the infamous quote from Kermit the Frog, who had previously been dragged from under his stone into another shambolic speech by the Worst etc, this time given to world leaders at the COP 26 conference. It merely confirms what all world leaders already know, that we are led by an incompetent overgrown schoolboy. There are questions being asked. Is the Worst Prime Minister Ever... all right? Is he quite well? Is he…under strain?

This morning I was delighted to hear from some slimy and toadying cabinet member that, no he is perfectly well, and that was just his jocular style, much loved by all waffle waffle twaddle twaddle. Deep Joy, as the wonderful Stanley Unwin would have said. And of course it occurs to me that there are comparisons to be made between the Worst etc and Unwin. The Worst etc talked utter nonsense for entertainment and usually for the deliberate obfuscation of the message. Ditto Unwin. The difference between the two is that Stanley Unwin was a very funny and clever man whilst the Worst etc is a shameful and dangerous one.


As Christmas approaches, may all your Ding Dongs be Merrily on High. Hope that you all get to be with loved ones where possible.


Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



Spontaneous light

will seize its chances


to print silver lining

on each dark cloud


until we look up

as that song instructs us


counting our blessings

as time goes by.


We trust to luck

while the wind is blowing


wherever it may

in whatever direction


believing that even

stormy weather


will never diminish

this precious gift


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

The new "traffic-light-coalition" with our chancellor-to-be had decided to let the national epidemic emergency expire tomorrow before anyone could think of the high incidences we are confronted with now. Far too many people have so far been unwilling to be vaccinated, and a large proportion will not change its mind unless jabs become compulsory. This debate is intensifying itself at the moment. 


Lower Saxony and Hamburg have taken early precautions in order not to get to the state of the states in the south - in fact only vaccinated and from Covid recovered persons are allowed to participate in public life (restaurant visits, cultural and sports venues), which could be described as a lockdown for the unvaccinated.


Ole is back to working from home constantly, I keep commuting to school and am confident that schools - at least mine - are going to stay open. A couple of weeks ago we managed to take part in a workshop about tango argentino and really enjoyed it, this has inspired us to dance at home sometimes.


Home thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

November has been a lovely busy and sociable month and I am really saddened that as we start December many of the old fears and restrictions will be present once more.


Fully boosted, Mum has now joined us again and it is good to know that she will be staying with us during the cold winter months. However, already she is way in the lead in our post supper domino tournament!


My big disappointment this month has been failing to be shortlisted for the BBC Radio 3 Christmas Carol Competition to which I submitted a melody to accompany Christina Rossetti’s ‘Love Came Down at Christmas’. I am mortified as I was convinced I would be one of the six finalists and would be invited to work with the music director of the BBC Singers to record my masterpiece! Even now I think that they must not have heard my entry! The only good thing about this is that I still own the copywrite!!!


Best reading this month has been Theodor Fontane’s ‘Effi Briest’, Thackeray’s ‘Yellowplush Papers’, Percy Muir’s ‘Minding My Own Business’ followed by Mrs Percy Muir’s ‘The Company We Kept’ and ‘Second Impression’.


Christmas preparations are underway. I have done the bookshop window, planted bulbs indoors to flower at Christmas, taken delivery of logs and oil, and arranged for my best girlfriends, all of whom know Mum, to join me and the Matriarch for an afternoon of mardling and cloving oranges for which I have acquired my first ever wipeable tablecloth!!! But I have still to make a Christmas Card! In case that doesn’t happen I take this opportunity to wish you all and all those you hold dear peace and contentment at this time... X