Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


6.5 million workers who otherwise may have been laid off are for the time being on the furlough scheme at a cost up to May 3rd of £8bn. Let’s hope they really have jobs to return to, and their businesses haven’t withered beyond recovery in the meantime... a Manchester bar and restaurant owner was interviewed and said that with social distancing still in place, his restaurants would struggle to run viably and the bars couldn’t. Are these real jobs in furlough or hoped-for ones? It’s thought that 2.4 million ‘furloughes’ are from the hospitality sector. Either way, it’s currently reckoned a very expensive fix: estimates range to £40bn by finish time, end of June.


So, to avoid or rather mitigate that, stand by for some social relaxation, a) they must allow increasing return to work to get folk off furlough asap and b) a particular ‘spacing’ deal for pubs and restaurants to allow profitable trading and sociability.

For the second day running tests were below the 100,000 - but such is the fickleness of the HackPack they chose not to pile in, perhaps recognising the artificiality of the number. At that rate it would take two years to test us all anyway. Tant pis.


Went to the Podiatrist this morning (or should that be Podiatriste) who, together with Dentists and Vets comes into a wide range of exemptions to the shut-down rule - their choice whether to open or not. 

It’s a risk for both of us, and she has only just started again after a month deliberating, but she has allowed excess time between appointments so Clients don’t meet and is fully gowned, gloved, masked and goggled. It’s more difficult for Dentists, of course - very face-to-face and lots of spray. Me being six feet tall, my ’clipper’ is more or less 2 metres from my sneezing parts, and we’re both relatively safe.

Away from her with a spring in my step and, as I’m at Caister (on Sea) I nip down to the beach for a look. No one there except a fisherman working on his hauled-out boat. ”Strange times” I say as I pass. “Loada squit” he say in reply.

Back home, I’ve finished by mutual agreement the allotted tasks out in the garden (including a huge bonfire) - at least, I’ve finished with them even if they hadn’t finished with me - and I’ve ended on the terrace in weak sunshine to write this and catch the deadline. The bonfire was exciting: I’d stupidly added a spent aerosol can of puncture repair needed for the mower to a sack of rubbish. Bloody thing took off like a rocket out of the fire with a loud explosion. Made me jump about a bit - not so much “ Bonfire of the Vanities” as Bonfire of Profanities”. 


Somehow it’s too early to start drinking properly. I’m mainly a ‘red’ man. I think I’m probably even known for it but you know how it is sometimes. Sometimes you don’t really want a red wine, you want something refreshing. I don’t do much spirits, so a long G&T isn’t the ‘go to’. I sometimes have a dark rum and lots of Coke with ice - but I know there’s no coke and I’ve stopped drinking beer since the practice nurse told me beer was causing my gout but I can carry on with the wine... there is a bottle of Sauvignon blanc in the fridge but that’s a bit ‘thin’.  The answer is cider. Good old retro Cider. And I’m sitting here now with a pint glass of that chilled deliciousness, the hens happily picking around my manicured feet as I chuck them the occasional pinch of sunflower seeds. Or rather, just three of them are. One of their sisters succumbed overnight, hence the bonfire...


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA


Wintergreen Mountain


Teetering on the viewpoint

mind tumbles over the edge

into blue receding lives

lived in green valleys

full with streams

running from hills eroded

from once snowy peaks

nestling now as stumps swelling 

above the gum line of earth.


From out of the clear

a slam of wind

pushes me off balance

as the torqued trees

whistle as one voice, fading

into the silence of abstinence.


In the numbed present

the velvet caress of human dearness

is fumbled into isolation;

invisible clues floated by scent are

sanitized into sensory denial;

the tactile banished to the convent.


Yet landscape overcomes.

Horizon distant, detail is overwhelmed

into merged clusters of collective nouns,

while I look down, as though from orbit,

on the beauty of an unpeopled planet.


From St Just

 Jane G, St Just


After an extremely intense week of remote teaching and meetings just about all day every day, and evenings of marking, I've got a morning free for proof corrections. The article, on Elizabeth Bishop's 'The End of March', is one I wrote years ago; the reason it's only now approaching publication is a story of copyright woes that would fill several journal issues on its own. And the consequence of the delay was that I'd completely forgotten the detail of it. It turns out to talk at length about Bishop's delight at the idea of being isolated, in fog, in a small coastal house tethered to the rest of the world only by a loose leash of electric wire, and about how she imagines herself reading there and how at night her light would be reflected in the glass.


I'm proofing it in isolation, in a small coastal house, in fog and a fierce easterly that's whipping about the long loose power cable that ties me in to the system. On clear nights my lights shine out to the shipping and the shipping shines back at me; tonight, if the fog doesn't lift, they'll reflect in the glass and worry Smokey by showing her a ghost cat staring in from outside. And in the reflection I'll still be reading the proofs, as the publishers have set the wrong version of the chapter - the one from before I had to rewrite it entirely to meet the requirements of the copyright holder.


Between then and now there will be two remote tutorials on Paradise Lost.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands


In the High Court of Justice, Business and Property Courts of England and Wales, Insolvency and Companies List, Chancery Division, in the Matter of the Insolvency Act 1986, and in the Matter of BB Ltd (in Liquidation), between AA Ltd (Appellant) and BB Ltd (Respondent), Application under Section 181(2)(a) and/or (b) of the Insolvency Act 1986…


The arcane language and processes of our civil justice system continue as normal despite the lockdown, but as I have learned, physical arrangements are very different.


A bit of background. Our company AA, the “appellant” in the legal preamble above, leases one its industrial units from BB, which went into liquidation last year. BB doesn’t own the property it merely leases it from CC. And we are applying to the High Court for that higher lease to be vested in us. At the moment we are in an uncomfortable legal limbo, leasing from someone who soon will not even exist, and CC is leasing it to this same soon to be gone entity. We need to get it resolved, and the law allows for a process whereby we take the place of BB in its lease from CC. We have been working on this for several months, and although CC has at times been a bit awkward about it, everything was eventually agreed between the parties last Thursday and final papers supporting our application for a vesting order were submitted to the court on Friday.


We had booked our date for the court hearing a couple of months ago, but the world has changed since then. Once upon a time I would have jumped on the London train this morning, together with our solicitor, and gone down to the Inns of Court to meet up with our Legal Counsel in Chambers. The three of us would then have made our way around to the court building in Fetter Lane to present our case to the judge appointed to hear our application. But in this pandemic world, the proceedings were conducted by Skype.  


My preparation for the hearing mainly consisted of reading and re-reading my witness statement submitted back in March, but I also thought long and hard about what to wear. Had I been attending the court in person I would have worn a suit and tie. But in this informal “working from home” environment I wondered if that was a bit excessive for a virtual hearing. However, caution won over, and I decide to dress as I would have done for a physical hearing and show respect for the legal process and the judge. As it happens, the only camera switched on was the judge’s own, and the rest of the attendees at the hearing were only granted voice access, so I need not have bothered dressing up. Anyway, we had our day in court, the judge agreed with legal arguments presented and granted us our vesting order, which is a great relief.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England


Thankfully Joanne and her husband are out of hospital and recovering from their ordeal. Hopefully I will see them soon at the allotment. I dug a trench for the sweet peas and now I can’t wave my arms above my head! I haven’t seen the news on tv for a couple of days, but there is talk of phone apps and tracking people in order to get some sort of grip on the spread of the virus. Denis, who has the plot next door but two, works as a hospital porter. He did ‘the graveyard shift’ the other night and said he only saw four patients all night! People are too frightened to go to hospital. The spring weather has been amazing and I am incredibly grateful for all the beautiful walks near by, and for my allotment. Friends who live near Madrid have only just been allowed out of their apartment for the first time in six weeks to take a walk. Here is a photo from this week. Keep well everyone xx


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold


Glorious weather - defying the forecast. Not a drop of rain. Bought my runner bean plants today.


I took the car for its annual service and MOT test this morning. Passed with no problems. Big sigh of relief. Not that I was expecting a problem but always glad when it’s over. The car is like a member of the family. Cleaned it before and after - although the garage had also washed it for me. The mechanics were in protective clothing too. I asked the chap in charge how business is and he said it’s very busy in the workshop but petrol sales have dropped dramatically. No surprise. He mentioned the six month MOT test leeway that has been agreed by the government but said I was wise to keep within the correct timeframe. 


Caught the tail end of a news programme on the wireless. A little more optimistic. A discussion regarding changes likely to be made in the forthcoming weeks. There may be some loosening of rules to allow people to return to work but a new code is to be followed to help employers and employees to keep social distancing in place. Cafes, bars, restaurants and clubs are of course excluded. People may soon be returning to work but they will not be returning to any social gatherings. All work and no play? Doesn’t that make Jack a dull boy? 


A long walk today - through the village and along the lanes, by the fields - the beautiful, shocking yellow fields - and then home. Passed just two people and a dog. 


Life continues in its usual gentle and slow way here.


Bristol Calling

Simon Davies, Bristol


“I could be bounded by a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space…” This is achieved not by the quality of one’s dreams but by getting out of the nutshell for a good walk once a day. In one of our walks, coming up the steep hill from Hotwells to Clifton, we came upon a row of houses with the most magnificent view over Cumberland Basin. This included the three enormous cubicle redbrick tobacco warehouses built at the beginning of the twentieth century. They are alongside what is picturesquely described as the floating harbour because when one of the biggest tidal drops in the world occurs in the river, water remains in this section behind massive lock gates. However the high point of this view is the S S Great Britain designed by Isambard Brunel and sitting in the exact dry dock from which she was launched in 1843. 


She has an iron hull, a screw propeller and secondary sail power. At the time she was by far the largest ship in the world. She made several successful trips to New York but they were not without incident, from getting stuck in the lock gates coming out of the floating harbour to twice running aground, once off the coast of Ireland where she stayed for a year. She acted as a troop ship during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny and for many years she transported emigrants to Australia. In 1886 she was damaged by fire and was used for coal storage in the Falkland Islands where later she was sunk and abandoned. 


What followed was a remarkable resurection. Exactly fifty years ago she was raised from the sea bed and brought on a submersible pontoon the entire length of the Atlantic. There were several cracks in her hull but the salvage team packed these with mattresses donated by the Falkland Islanders, working on the theory that as the hull was raised the sides of the cracks would press down on the mattresses and make the hull watertight. The last leg up the Avon was managed without the pontoon to wildly cheering crowds lining the riverbank.

Perhaps her story gives us some assurance that after suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune there is still the possibility of a return to normality. For there she sits, after literally plumbing the depths, apparently waiting just for a word on Sunday from Boris Johnson and a high tide in the river outside, when she will squeeze through the lock gates and resume her trips to America and Australia, although possibly avoiding the Falkland Islands.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children


Mischief by Franklin Lewis Macrae


Today I had too l do a lot of Spanish, science and maths. I enjoy French, especially as my mum speaks French as she can help but I'm not enjoying teaching myself Spanish. I really am detesting Lockdown. It is obligatory to self isolate and social distance and I am finding it to be such a coarse time as I miss my friends. I feel guilty now but I became so bored I started to harass my sister. My mum and dad removed my screen time as a sanction. The work that school sends is difficult and often makes me bewildered, there is just so much of it that I have not yet learned. 


As soon as it is over, I shall be ecstatic as I will be able to see my friends again.

Roses by Marli Rose Macrae


A few days ago, the first rose bloomed. The rose is named Munstead Wood. It is a deep plummy colour and smells like Turkish Delight. My mummy adores roses and will only plant them if they flower more than once and if they have scent. My middle name is Rose because my granny's middle name is Rose and she is called Margaret Rose after Princess Margaret Rose. For my birthday I was given a rose named Princess Alexandra of Kent. I had been staring at it in the garden centre all summer, it was so beautiful, it looked like a big lollipop and the most delightful peachy pink. It smells floral and fresh. When we planted it on my birthday, it looked like a plain old stick but now it has buds on it. I can't wait for it to bloom. 

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