2022 and our monthly journal continues...
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
All days merging into one glorious limoncello panatone haze spangled with clove studded oranges, branches of sweet smelling blue spruce embellished with twinkly lights and now the boiled sweetie collation of hyacinths in massed coloured glass bulb jars.
The Matriarch has floated through it with a hectic schedule of nine spot dominoes, a fiendish jigsaw puzzle, her iPad games which she completes at 6 am most mornings after making her bed and with ‘No Time to Die’ on dvd has subsisted all the while on spirited away chocolate supplies and Harvey’s Bristol Cream.
My sister in law came and went after far too short a visit returning to London before the non existent New Year rush.
We awarded my husband a Masterchef trophy; read some excellent books (the best one being David Meara’s ‘A Passion for Places: England Through the Eyes of John Betjeman’) and shared a thoroughly peaceful and civilised time together steadily filling the green wheelie bin with a lot of very nice wrapping paper and a lot of empty bottles!!!
Now it is New Year’s Eve and for the first time ever I have been paring back the decorations before the completion of the Twelve Days. I feel really eager for 2022 to get going and wish everyone reading this a very very happy new year.
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
Nine for Christmas lunch, a contrast to last year when family gatherings were cancelled, and it was just the two of us. Boxing Day visit from grandchildren (and parents) didn't happen as one of them was sick; it was rearranged for the following Sunday, but cancelled again as the other one got Covid. In the end we drove down to Newark on Monday to leave Christmas parcels on the doorstep and shout across the street. We broke the journey (about one and three-quarter hours via the Humber Bridge) with a visit to Hemswell Antiques Centre - well, it was a good excuse!
The gap between Christmas and New Year is when I embark on sorting - cupboards, drawers, clothes etc. Far too much stuff, but I find it hard to part with things. A few bits and pieces have gone to the charity shop, and quite a lot of china into a box in the shed in an attempt to make things I actually use now and then more accessible. (Of course this also means there is room to buy more... ) In between the sorting we managed a visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (mainly to see Mark H's great exhibition, and have lunch), and a trip to the beach. The cold weather has come as a bit of a shock, even though it was forecast, after such a mild spell recently. The main advantage of masks is that they keep the face warm. Perhaps this time next year they will all be packed away. I think I might have said that last January!
Happy New Year to all Journalists.
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
How do you do, 2022?!
It has been a while since I made a contribution to the journal - but with Christmas over, I thought I’d catch up - albeit briefly - and of course - take the chance to wish you all a very happy, healthy and safe new year.
Christmas here passed very quietly and very quickly - decorations now packed away, cards down, tree outside waiting to be planted. I’m sitting at my desk - looking out of the window at a bitterly cold but bright day. The early January sunshine can be harsh. It shows up the cobwebs of my winter idleness and throws light on jobs around the house that I’ve been putting off. Worse still, it falls meanly on the bathroom scales and spitefully reveals the full extent of my gluttony. Oh there are a few mince pies left - and they’re still trying to entice me but I’m resisting. I’m sticking to my resolutions. Yes, I’ve had time to make resolutions, to break one or two and re-start them!
So 2021. What can I say? Uneventful for me. I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Oh I pottered about in the garden, grew some vegetables, did some local volunteering, baked a few cakes and enjoyed a few ‘days out’ in the climate of pandemic restrictions - whether they were being gently eased or hastily re-applied. I met friends in comparatively quiet restaurants and sat in semi-socially distanced seating arrangements. Yet caution has been the word. I’ve not been to the theatre at all, not been on holidays at home or abroad, not been further than Norfolk.
The evening news yesterday seemed all about the crisis in the NHS. Hospitals declaring critical incidents. Staffing levels unsafe. Phrases like “disintegration of the NHS”, “unsustainable pressures on services”, and “unprecedented demand” were bandied about. But surely this was predictable? Surely someone could have seen this coming?
Over the years, my personal experiences of the NHS have been generally very good but - since the start of the pandemic, I know people who have had very mixed experiences - struggles to get to see GPs, for example, and long waiting times for general hospital appointments. My first two vaccinations for Covid were organised and delivered very efficiently - but the booster arrangements were much more chaotic. Consultations with specialists have been ‘different’ lately but for me, the video calls have worked well and I have felt safe and ‘cared for’.
In early December, I had to go for an MRI scan at the local hospital. This is an experience I have had several times before - I have one annually - although I was given a a year off in 2020 - presumably because of pandemic pressures. This time was so different. The hospital itself seemed so quiet. The kindly reception staff with their face masks were there to point me in the right direction - but the brilliantly-lit, wide corridors were eerily silent. I passed signs that read “X-ray” or “Nuclear Medicine”, empty metal staircases rising to “Oncology” and “Pathology” - oh and the occasional abandoned wheelchair, waiting beside opaque glass windows that block the view of whatever lies behind! I saw no one.
Eventually I got to the MRI scanning department, gave my details to the masked person at the perspex screened desk, was politely directed to a seat in a vast, unpeopled waiting area and then fairly promptly led off to the anteroom and changing facilities before the scanner itself.
In my hospital gown, feeling flabby, warty and wrinkled with so much clinical whiteness all around, I stared at the MRI scanning tunnel in to which I was to slide. That coffin-like tube appalled me. Get a grip, old boy, I told myself. Calm down. Deep breaths. Relax. You can do this. I felt scared, alone. Ah but the staff doing the scanning were super. So reassuring. So kind and gentle with this old fool. We need our NHS. We need to urgently think about how we can protect our services.
So 2022 - I guess this will be another challenging year for everyone. But I hope it will be a better year. No doubt there will be more political scandals, revelations of misconduct in high office and authority, failures in services, chaos in airports and border controls, tragedies in care, despicable crimes and conspiracy theories, but there will be human kindness too, laughter and fun, good intentions and happiness too. On that note, I shall sign off and once again - send you all good wishes. Enjoy yourselves but stay safe too!
Hello from Eastbourne
Christmas Family Fun by Franklin Lewis Macrae
Over the Christmas holidays, many exciting things happened. For example, I have finally finished building my computer. I have been saving for a year for all the bits and I received the final pieces at Christmas. However some software needed upgrading so we took it to someone who very kindly sorted it out for me for free.
On Christmas Day, my sister and I received some pleasant gifts from our parents; for me, the computer equipment, some books, bike lights, a sudoku puzzle and a whole pile of chocolate. I also received a Grinch. I woke up during the early hours of Christmas Day and I saw him poking out of my stocking, staring at me. Later on in the day, our grandparents arrived and we had a nice time.
On New Year's Eve, we stayed up until midnight watching the new TV show Alex Rider. We counted down to midnight and sang Auld Lang Syne. The next day, we all slept until quite late and in the afternoon had a wonderful trip to the forest. We swang from vines hanging from the trees and hooned around. We were almost locked in the car park though.
Yesterday, I returned to school. We have several tests coming up. We are now required to wear masks all day long due to Omicron and unfortunately this makes my glasses steam up. I still have a bad cold from having COVID ages ago and my mum sneaked a tee-shirt under my school shirt to keep me warm. It's extremely cold as the windows must remain open all the time.
I passed my Duke of Edinburgh volunteering and skills assessments and I have been accepted onto the expedition. I can't wait.
Plague Journal entry, Marli Rose Macrae
First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! I had a wonderful Christmas and my birthday was five days before so I had a lot to look forward to.
For my birthday, I received a doll that I named Savannah. She was wearing a twilight purple tutu, a leotard and arm warmers. She has a glimmering magenta hairband and lilac ballet shoes. She has blonde hair and glacial blue eyes. I love her! The name on the box was 'Savannah' and I kept it because she loves her name.
My Granny Aye gave me the most beautiful ring! Some of the stones are dark, steely blue, the same blue as a magpie's wing. We had a party tea, I asked for my mummy's meatballs and spaghetti. We had 'school dinner cake', which is sponge cake with icing and sprinkles and blackcurrant jelly.
On Christmas Eve, I couldn't sleep. I did finally fall asleep but I woke up around 3am and couldn't get back to sleep. I saw my stocking and a head poking out of the top. It was a little soft toy tabbycat. I have called her Felicia because she has a lovely, happy smile. There was also a fountain pen in my stocking and some ballet clothes like a new black leotard and footless tights. Daddy bought me a Google alarm clock which is fun as I can ask it questions. I got loads of books from mummy and daddy. Franklin bought me a book by Darcy Bussell all about ballet and Granny Aye gave me ruby red leather ballet pumps and a bottle green leather bag with a gold bee on it. I've been taking it out. I also got a bank card because I am now 11 and I tapped it the other day to buy a Milky Way.
We had a trip to the ice rink which was wonderful and daddy took us to the cinema to see Spiderman. Unfortunately, someone was smoking in the toilets and it set off the fire alarm. The entire cinema was evacuated and we didn't get to see the end of the film!
Hello from Eastbourne
In haste. I am typing from our staff room. My job has been extended for a month, to cover staff shortages due to the virus. Something positive to come from Omicron I suppose. Christmas was lovely but I confess to being tired due to being hostess and I was somewhat relieved to be on the rota for Boxing Day. It was a lovely day actually, lots of people out buying books with their book tokens.
I then had a few days off and was able to unwind now that the guests had gone. Then it started. Scratch, scratch, scratch. Yep, the nits were back. So far, I have dowsed all of our heads four times (in £20 a bottle solution) including Nick's balding head, and they have finally gone. Marli now sports a 'facelift ponytail' to school each day to keep them at bay and to save my sanity! I wonder if nits are more contagious than COVID?
Mary’s projects mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
As I am determined to write something positive to start the New Year, maybe it is best to get the negatives out of the way first. I was incredibly sad not to see either my grandsons, my sons or their partners over Christmas - their work commitments and worries regarding Covid. For the second year running we were not able to welcome in the new year as we had hoped and as we have for many years past - worries regarding Covid. And I have not yet been able to organise a safe way to see my long-standing and dear friend, Jean, from Melbourne who flew into England in December. OK - end of moaning.
There have been some positives to report. At the beginning of December I was able finally to attend a weaving course that had been three times postponed. Nine of us plus instructor sat at looms, fully masked, in a chilly workshop with windows and doors open. Uncomfortable - but excellent and inspired instruction overrode it all.
In the same week we had tree surgeons in the garden taking down a number of trees. Quite exciting to watch them climb like monkeys into the trees and then to hear the thud of enormous branches falling just where they intended. As a result of their work we have a clear view down to the River Dart and much more light on the vegetable patch.
There were other projects: with moderate success I reinvigorated the indigo dye vat from last October and dyed two scarves - the one pictured I was quite pleased with. Also Dianne and I managed a morning working together on zoom, printing Christmas wrapping paper. Even though miles apart in our respective kitchens, we chat as we work and share our results holding them up to camera.
A final positive: although our Christmas was not at all as I wished, we did enjoy numerous FaceTime and zoom chats with friends and family. And we were able to celebrate with some of Simon’s family INDOORS - not out in the canopy in the garden as we did last year.
So, I am trying hard to look forward. I am experimenting with new ideas from my weaving course; I am beginning to think about spring planting in the vegetable patch, and we are hoping for a postponed New Year visit from Dianne and Jeremy in February.
John Mole, St Albans
not yet at work,
you rattle the bars
that lie across your desk
and listen out
for signs of movement,
distant at first
but then with any luck
a rustling will arrive
to match your restlessness
as eagerly intent upon
their imminent release
become the lure of language,
measuring each syllable
and ready now to pounce.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
We made it!!! Happy New Year and Congratulations for surviving 2021.
It was a year of great learning through some trying trials. As for most of us, I’m sure.
The first part of December was just Dang!!! My husband developed a really bad influenza which he gracefully transmitted to me two weeks later; he then got a sudden attack of atrial fibrillation on the 3rd December with the usual dramatic dash to the 24-hour clinic then to Casualty, the two-step time consuming dance here that I’ve never understood for a diagnosed recurrent problem, immediate admission and cardioversion under anaesthesia. Thus was soon followed on the 8th by a long awaited laser treatment in Oslo for a haemangioma in his right eye. We are waiting to see if his vision improves enough for him to resume flying Cessna’s, his passion. He got the last dose of treatment left in the whole of Norway. My husband thought it one of his three high points of this year, the others being the birth of his first grandchild and the last (not in order of preference), the best Christmas Eve in memory.
Our prime minister made the strong and unpopular decision to partially lockdown Norway on the 14th December for a month due to the sharp increase of Covid admissions in hospital. An executive decision was needed with exhausted nursing staff and incredibly strained intensive care wards. More than fifty percent of ICU patients are unvaccinated. So much for the so called non-existence of the Corona virus. Home office, alcohol-free restaurants, bars and pubs, loss of jobs, cancellation of Christmas markets and concerts. Sixteen friends and family have had Covid in the last two weeks, including my daughter and son-in-law. My daughter’s histology from her operation two months ago in a NHS hospital finally reached us. It was benign. Best New Year’s present and an answer to my prayers.
What were my best moments and achievements in 2021?
Planting a hornbeam hedge, fruit trees, berry bushes and roses in our garden. The skeleton is done.
Finding Tobias, a clever 18 year old who constructed and erected a huge «hyggelig» heart on the side of our island house. Lit up, it is seen from the new bridge, opened on the 18th December, from the mainland to our island and is a welcoming beacon whilst driving home in darkness for people who live on our side of the island. It fills us with Joy.
The training sessions given by my BFF with a trainer in Singapore, on video, was one of the best gifts in 2021. So far it’s been patchy because of illness and visitors but it will hopefully settle down to a more regular practice in the New Year. He is not only so experienced, he is Kind. Most important qualification for a Human in my book.
We bought the tree on the 21st and decorated it on the 22nd. On the 23rd we played Santa and distributed presents to doorsteps of a couple of doctors, nurses, chiropractor, an elderly cousin in an old folks home recovering from knee surgery and the rescuer of our cats when they were kittens. She is recovering from radiotherapy for breast cancer and has maintained contact with us and our two precious, Sofus and Julius.
On the 24th, I dusted and decorated whilst husband prepared sour red cabbage, potatoes and a very meaty supper. We went to the graveyard at 4 pm in the dusk and lit candles at the grave of his parents and brother. The graves were covered with a thick layer of snow and it was beautiful against a background of church bells, falling snow and people gathered in front of candle-lit gravestones. A wonderful Norsk tradition. Remembering the dead on the eve of Jesus’s birth. The circle of life. Back home, whilst the church bells tolled over Ålesund at 5 pm, we watched on TV the Sølvgutter choir at the Oslo Domkirke (Cathedral). Beautiful Norwegian Christmas songs and the ringing church bells officially mark the start of Christmas in Norway. We then sat down to supper. It was very simple, quiet and joyous. For the first time in our memory.
Today, it’s New Year’s Eve. We came to the island with the cats for a few days. There will be fireworks in Ålesund, an hour away. It’s quieter and safer here for the cats. We vacuumed, cleaned, ate chocolates and lit the candles. It’s four thirty in the evening and pitch black outside. We were invited to dinner two nights ago by an acquaintance on the island, a momentous occasion in itself. We met a very interesting couple and all of us couldn’t stop talking for almost seven hours. In Norwegian! Ok, and a sprinkling of English. Very unusual as I often find excuses to leave as soon as dinner is over, always nervous of a delivery in the early hours of the morning. I have no such excuse now but it was not necessary as we both had so much fun at this intimate dinner. One of the guests sits on the board of a big hospital in Norway and we had so much in common regarding our views on Covid. In addition to Immigration, integration, and racism. We almost solved world peace before we tore ourselves away. As we stepped out into the freezing cold, these total strangers invited us to celebrate New Year’s Eve at their home. We accepted.
I hope the tide is turning…
I wish you all a "godt nytt år".
May the New Year bring you Peace of mind and Good Health. Do we need much more?
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I have decided to maintain the heading for my blog entries of “Notes from a Factory in the Midlands”, even though I have now retired from paid employment. Or perhaps I should change it to “Not from a Factory in the Midlands”! And as you can see from the by-line above, I am actually in Malta this week, not Corby. We are holidaying in a hotel by the Valetta city gates, and spending our days wandering the streets, visiting museums, bars and cafes, and taking ferries across the harbours. Malta figures in Sarah’s family history: her father, who served in the Fleet Air Arm from 1939 to 1958, took part in the most famous of the Malta convoys, Operation Pedestal, in August 1942, and was later stationed at a military airfield on the island from 1948 to 1950. Today we have explored the underground War Rooms – where the defence of the island was managed, and from where the invasion of Sicily was planned.
In December, before leaving work, I enjoyed a series of official and unofficial leaving parties, giving my “serious” speech to the entire workforce, and a more light-hearted speech to a dinner for about 20 of us, directors, finance colleagues and a few others. I don’t remember that much about the latter event, so it must have gone well, and we were all staying safely overnight in the hotel where the celebration was being held – near Rutland Water. My successor has my phone number, and I have reassured him that he can call me at any time about any thing, but I am pretty confident that he won’t need to.
Our decision to come on holiday was made quite late in the day, as we were put off somewhat by the unpredictable and frequently changing Covid rules of both the UK and whatever country we were thinking of visiting. But I am glad we did get away in the end. And in my mind it is helping to create a clear break from work; this holiday is the first for over ten years that I haven’t been firing up my laptop every morning just to check up on work, and keep on top of emails. I revealed to my fellow directors shortly before leaving that I had checked the company bank accounts virtually every day since I was made Finance Director in 2009, taking my access card and reader on holiday with me wherever I went. But this last week, the only work-related thing I have done was to check the Companies House website to see that I had been removed from the register of Directors with effect from 31st December 2021.
Talking of dates, one consequence of the UK leaving the EU is that our passports are now stamped on entering EU countries. But passport control in Malta seems to have got a bit carried away when rolling forward their data stamp for the new year. Our entry to Malta on 2nd January is indelibly recorded as having occurred on 02-01-2222, which is two hundred years in the future! Another Maltese oddity is the requirement to wear a face mask at all times outside your own residence, even in the open air. This means that when leaning over the battlements of Fort St Angelo, gazing out at the Mediterranean in a fairly stiff breeze, I am required to mask up. Completely illogical of course, like many Covid regulations, but I happily comply so as not to upset anyone. And I am increasingly optimistic that Covid restrictions will only be relaxed further in the UK, and the likelihood of any new rules underpinned by the criminal law is getting ever more remote. We now know how to behave sensibly: we don't need politicians to tell us what to do.