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Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

Quite unexpected, but good: Anders Tegnell, our chief Epidemiologist who has been defending the Swedish corona strategy att the daily press-conferences now admits that the Swedish strategy was faulty. More ought to have been done to prevent the spread of the virus, not clear which of the measures which we failed to do would have been the most effective.


Here in Uppsala the number of patients with Covid-19 is increasing again. With the warmer weather, the cafés and restaurants are quite full of people, who mainly sit outdoors though. If people keep the distance and wash their hands I think it should be OK. So we went for a drink on Monday with Georges mother, who is 84, on her initiative. It was outdoors and in the corner of the serving area of the restaurant. A bit difficult to keep distance since she has reduced hearing though. 

At work I had the antibody test which was negative. My work load here in Uppsala is paradoxically reduced during the pandemic. The staffing of the emergency room has increased, which has meant less work for me during my on call shifts at evenings nights and weekends. And at the outpatient clinic, most visits have been postponed or changed to phone calls.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

Here too things are gradually opening up again. Last week I glimpsed the sign for the Dog & Rabbit cafe out on the pavement, passed it by (as an old familiar face), & then did a double-take, thinking I'd mentally pasted it in. But there it was, with an extra message chalked on: 'Takeaway Only'. The owners are doing just a few hours a day, without staff, and have cleared a path to the French windows near the back so customers can file through in an orderly procession bearing their excellent flat whites and chai lattes.  Soon after the chippy announced its reopening for a few evenings each week - phone orders only, & wait outside to collect. It's great to have them both back.


I was glad that my first reaction was not really to notice the sign. So too, meeting a New Person at a suitable distance in a friend's garden, we were both relieved that our instinct was still to shake hands, and we had to stop ourselves doing it. I'd been slightly afraid that we might all have been reprogrammed to run away or retreat behind a row of flower-pots for protection, the way the very elderly don who had rooms below mine at Magdalen used to back into a corner and clutch his kettle to his breastbone if we met on the stairs. (He had it with him not because a kettle is a known failsafe defence against female undergraduates but because the only running water on the staircase was in the basement. Apparently this is no longer the case.)


Another planned reopening is that of the Church Lane Gallery in Banbury, a local artists' co-op which stocks some of my jewellery. We had a Zoom meeting to plan how to re-organise the displays, how to staff it, how many people to allow in, what notices to put up, and how to disinfect the keys (!). For now, it will be market-days only (Thursdays and Saturdays), till we see how it goes. I had to confess that although in principle I'd be very willing to staff it, in practice I shan't be much use until lockdown lifts because of being precisely 264 miles away. 


On a related note - a plea to all readers. The gallery has just launched a new website - so new that it's at the point where Google doesn't recognise its existence. If anyone has a spare second, might they type into their browser? No need to look at the site! It's just that until a certain number of people have visited, no one will be able to find it, so we're all putting out the call as far and wide as possible. 


In the background, remote teaching and meetings carry on - the meetings now about how we will manage next term, this time including plans for socially distanced accommodation as well as a mixture of real and remote teaching. The way our rooms are arranged on staircases rather than corridors may turn out to be rather helpful - though somehow I don't imagine protection from the plague was in the minds of the architects in 1610, or not more than it generally was at that time.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Guaranteed for Life

How lovely to be “guaranteed for life”

As my tropical headgear claims to be.

Imagine! It will be replaced for free 

If it ever wears out. Sartorial

Elegance now comes with a modest claim

To be just “the finest in all the world.”

It lists its human qualities viz: floats,

[not always true], ties on [mostly to wife],

Repels rain [no options there], blocks UV 

Rays [with the odd spot of superficial

Wear] and won’t shrink. This last I’m not so sure.

It comes with a four page owner’s manual

Which if only had been there from the start

Would have saved us all a lot of heart ache.

So I’m putting life to the test when I 

See a section has worn out; wear and tear

Has thinned the “organic cotton spandex

With polyester mesh” to a shadow 

Of its robust self. I await reply

From the “returns department”, ominously!


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Test and trace, the new ‘cornerstone’ bracing the relaxations, the regime pledged to be in place and working before kids went back to school is having teething problems. The tracers claim they are massively underused  (25000 of them, on £1500 per month) - and yet only 38% of those identified as contacts of the tested have been traced. SAGE themselves say 80% need to be found for the scheme to be reassuringly worthwhile. Of 4634 contacts provided to NHS Test and Trace by people confirmed to have the virus between 28th and 31st May, only 1749 were contacted (New Scientist).  25,000 tracers found 1749 known ‘suspects’...

The loosening of lockdown bonds continues in mysterious ways, now in the form of the discipline of the Briefings; we (and they, Ministers, Scientists) get the weekends off. Weekend Briefings are no more. I guess - because I’ve seen no explanation - it’s because news is no longer ‘happening’ fast enough to warrant the man/woman power required to stand there and say nothing of much consequence. I fear that in similar respect it may well be reflected in my future Journal contributions - maybe I won’t find enough to report. The exercise for me as a contributor has been a whimsical mix of the political and personal as we bumbled through the lockdown days, railing against perceived injustice, inadequacy and reflecting the shocked astonishment as the thing took hold and killed so many while our lives remained for the moment largely comfortable and I slipped you snippets of our Rural Norfolk existence. 


If its been  a touch complacent, stay, Stranger, and imagine the momentary awfulness of this:

it started so well, a very early but easy trip south-ish through Norfolk and Suffolk, across the mighty Orwell Bridge and into a marina to meet a man and boat booked for a bass fishing trip. A comfortable day, an indulgent day - the boat can take a party of six, but there were just two of us... nothing to do with safe spacing, everything to do with monopolising space and the specialist skipper and something of a wishlist outing. 


Anyway, a day of good company and perfect fishy sport, with a couple of bass retained for supper and many more safely returned.

Then at the end, standing by the car, I made the promised call home to give a return eta. Call goes to answerphone. No great surprise, Sheila will be in the garden - I leave an upbeat message. 

A moment later my phone rings: ’Home’. 

Before I can say anything, Sheila‘s voice - but different, stressed, gasping, laboured: “Glad you called. I feel dreadful.” 

Me, instantly, viscerally, worried: “How do you mean, dreadful? Temperature? Cough? What do you mean, dreadful, what do you mean?”

Of course, as many of you know by now, it was not the Grim Reaper calling with a shot of virus - but for a few seconds that was what I feared, and let me tell you it wasn’t the best few seconds of my life.

The paralysing slipped disc and Sciatica, not much relieved by the prescribed Valium and Tramadol is now, 48 hours later, subsiding to a point where, sometimes, perched half on, half off a high stool, Mac, keyboard and mouse raised on boxes to half-standing height, your Compositresse can bear shifts of 20 minutes or so before retiring to bed for a spell. It’s a 24 hour part-time day, normal hours mean nothing. The Journal was put together like that yesterday and will be for a bit. Bear With.


So, as usual, a mix of the Political and Personal from me. 

One last thing: left to my own devices (Sheila not interested in eating) and lacking my civilising influencer I seem to have reverted to a sort of ‘Men Behaving Badly’ meets ‘Bottom’ persona. I could have barbecued one of the bass, I was rather looking forward to that, maybe with new potatoes, a salad, a glass or two of white - but couldn’t be bothered. A bit like Eddy Hitler who fancied chips but couldn’t be bothered to cook so just ate lard. While making room for the fish in our tiny freezer, I came across a frozen Co-op Cumberland Pie “for two”, spurned as a proper meal on previous occasions. It was delicious, worth every penny of 3 quid. I ate it all and may smuggle a replacement in.



From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

Easing the lockdown was always going to be difficult. Establishing the lockdown happened overnight after a clear message from Boris and by and large we have stuck to the rules.


Things feel different now, the way forward isn't a straight line and the twists and turns are beset with traps for the unwary. As Keir Starmer said yesterday Boris needs to "get a grip" and provide better leadership. Boris is doing his best but starting to get flustered and he cannot escape the damage done to his authority by the Cummings affair. 

Matt Hancock too is starting to fall into the numbers trap. He, like all politicians, tries to blind us with numbers, but the more statistics he presents the more the journalists (and the statisticians) will question the origins of the data, often with unfortunate consequences. The testing regime has been the most difficult and the turn round time for results is obviously causing concern. Instead of avoiding giving us any information why not explain what the difficulties are? We don't need to be scientists to understand the logistical problems of handling tests in large numbers and no one expects the impossible. Give us facts not numbers! The same goes for the Isle of Wight tracing app trial. Are they keeping quiet so that we forget about it? Just tell us!


Lack of public confidence is a big risk for our leaders now. It shows in the haphazard return to school, the general feeling that easing the lockdown has come too soon and the strong support for the quarantine of visitors arriving from overseas.

Caution is the key word I feel.


Isolating (seriously)

Jean, Melbourne Australia

The last couple days have been so awful all I felt like doing was crawling away from it into the dark. The murder of George Floyd and the president's response have been gut wrenching. I haven't lived in the States for 50 years but still identify as American and what is happening there is somehow even more painful than events elsewhere.  Police brutality against people of colour happens in Australia too so we are not immune here either. My daughter in Cambridge says it's important to focus on the good people trying to build bridges. My daughter in Alabama says it's important to engage with people who don't agree with you, not to tell them they're wrong, but to try to shift the conversation, even a little. My sister in law in Michigan said there have been many acts of solidarity of police with demonstrators across the country including a sheriff in Flint, Michigan who took off his riot gear and joined the demonstrators. It helped to listen to Congressman John Lewis talk about hope and what It will take to build the 'beloved community' envisioned by MLK. He also said "the most powerful thing we can do is run to the polls and vote like we never voted before."


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Yesterday it rained, not as much as expected but enough to contrast with weeks of constant sunshine. I quite enjoyed it. Somehow things felt a bit more normal. Today is dry but cool. Met up with a couple of friend on Westwood. When I arrived home I dug out last year’s diary out to see what we did on 4 June last year. Discovered we had a picnic lunch and a walk/pebble hunt on the ‘very quiet’ beach. I don’t suppose it would be so quiet today, although perhaps the cooler weather will have made the seaside seem less attractive. The weather must have been dry on 4 June last year, but deteriorated as the week progressed. On the Saturday it seems we went to a lunchtime birthday party for friends in the next street, where the plan was to eat the main course inside, then have dessert and Irish music in the garden. It rained all day. Nothing like that planned this summer!  


The weather in the first week of June 2018 was much better. We were staying in Lewes in Sussex, and had a fascinating visit to Farley’s farmhouse at Muddles Green, the former home of photographer Lee Miller and surrealist painter Roland Penrose. We also made our usual pilgrimage to Charleston, and decided to visit the Beanstalk Tea Garden midway between Firle and Charleston on the recommendation of friends who we later discovered had never actually been there. We drove down a horrendous unmade track much of the way, wondering if the car would survive the journey. We should have walked. Fortunately the garden was magical, and the coffee and scones excellent. We looked at a possible alternative route back, but the only other track seemed even worse. On reflection it was one of those surreal experiences where we wondered if the tea garden, in the middle of nowhere, had actually existed except in our minds. Maybe we were still under the influence of Farley’s. You can see from this ramble that now we’ve reached week 11 of lockdown I’m struggling to find anything new to say!

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