John Underwood, Norfolk


Decisions decisions


I have been working on another new arrival, bought from a Virtual Book Fair - an attempt to continue selling books in a quasi book fair format. I bought a book previously unknown to me, a 1777 twelfth edition (first published in English in 1658) of one of the very first picture books intended for children.

Entitled “Orbis Sensualium Pictus”,  by Joh. Amos Commenius, in English “Commenius’s Visible World” it has around 150 little woodcut illustrations in the text showing scenes of everyday life, business, astronomy, gastronomy, gardening - in other words, the world and everything in it described to children. A really delightful little book, and a joy to discover something new. It arrived with the binding in a bit of a sorry state, and I needed to make a decision about whether to preserve what was there, or to make a box to preserve it as it was, or to rebind, at the same time keeping the character of the book. I have written about this previously- it is an ongoing dilemma. The book had already been re-backed in the past, and now this repair had failed, leaving the top board hanging off and the corners ragged. Internally, it was as nice a copy as you could hope for, including the bookplate of Richard Brinsley Sheridan. There was nothing to be done with the previous repair, it could not be repurposed in any way, and indeed had made another similar repair impossible. Making a box would preserve what was there, but the book would deteriorate with handling, and this is a book that deserves to be read not just looked at. I also had a sneaking feeling that I wanted to keep the book, so the binding needed to be sound. I decided to undertake a restoration binding, keeping what could be kept and replacing what needed to be replaced, -which chimes with the current lockdown conundrum that I have mused on before, and is being discussed in the media constantly. It now seems clear that we will be changing the way we live and interact with each other for a considerable time to come. Some things will be preserved, and other things that we are attached to will have to be let go. 

Here is an illustration from the delightful “ Visible World” showing a Bookbinder. I was using a sewing frame (5) very similar to this one just yesterday.


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire


The endless stream of similar days has been briefly punctuated by some small events involving animals. I had seen a video online of people playing various instruments to farm animals and I was particularly impressed by a gentleman sitting on a folding chair in a field, playing a trombone. Some dark heads appeared on the horizon and gradually, a large herd of cattle came down the hill and stood in a tidy row in front of him, mooing gently in reply to the music. I thought he was quite brave, as I have heard of several people trampled by cattle in fields and am always a little cautious about getting too close.


Yesterday I took a walk across some fields, meaning to explore a circular route which might avoid climbing any of the steep hills which form the main barriers to my daily exercise. There was a small group of heifers standing and lying around in a field just the other side of a fence. Looking around to make sure I was not observed, and feeling safe enough on the opposite side of a strong fence, I gave them a gentle rendition of "Summertime" to see what they thought of it. I think they enjoyed it, they lined up in a row and listened intently enough. No applause of course and they did not join in with the chorus. My voice is obviously not as appealing to cattle as a trombone. As I continued my walk, I saw two runners loping along the lane at the bottom of the hill. I don't think they heard me.


I have been reading Gerald Durrell's 'My Family and Other Animals' recently. I used to read his books in my youth and I think he must have helped to inspire my urge to keep pets. Various members of the menagerie he kept on Corfu as a boy came to unfortunate ends, which has sadly been the case with many of mine too. I had two lovely little matching goldfish, probably from a funfair, in a round bowl. When I acquired a larger fish, a rather grumpy looking multi-coloured creature, we bought a larger tank to accommodate them all. The big fish promptly ate the two little ones, which was unfortunate.


I had a kitten for a while, which I lovingly named 'Tiger'. He escaped from the kennel at the vet's when we were on holiday and my parents acquired a replacement. I think they honestly thought I wouldn't know the difference. He was called Tiger II, so I did notice. When we moved, the cat did not come with us for some reason best known to my Dad.


I kept mice for a while, starting with two little brown ones, unimaginatively named Micky and Minnie. They were kept in a cage in our conservatory. Quite soon after their arrival, and to our complete surprise, thirteen babies were born and they were given names like Marmaduke and Montmorency. More cages were acquired as they left the nest. Some months later, there were stacks of cages in the conservatory. Whenever some mice escaped my mum, already valiantly helping with the mucking out, would try and catch them to return them to the correct cage. Then the mice developed a nasty ear infection, which made their ears flaky and scabby and unfortunately I caught the infection and spent many weeks with my ears covered in zinc and castor oil cream. Marmaduke and his brothers decided they couldn't live together and had a huge fight, which burst open the metal gate on their cage and they variously ran away or died from their injuries. I am not sure what happened to the rest of the mice. Memory is a funny thing. I think my Dad may have intervened in some way but the mice were history.


Over the years, I have had a succession of tortoises, cats, a horse, ponies, hens, a pet pheasant, a rescued pigeon and so on, each worthy of a tale or two if we're in lockdown long enough. However, the only pets currently resident in our house are the goldfish. I bought two lovely little goldfish, carefully selected as being exactly the same size, for the grandchildren to look after when they visit. They came to the pet shop and chose differently coloured fish so they could tell them apart. We brought them home to their little tank and named them. A few weeks later I found one of the fish floating in the tank, sadly deceased. I went to the pet shop to try and get a replacement but could only get a tiny little lemon coloured one, so I decided not to repeat my parents' mistake and informed my grandson his fish had died. The assistant had advised me that this breed grows very quickly and I would need a larger tank so I dutifully acquired one. 


To this day, the lemon fish has not grown a single centimetre, while the original fish has grown exponentially to about ten times his original size. We have acquired a larger tank. Happily, he shows no inclination to eat the little one. So far.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA


Night Thoughts of a Well Man

For Dr. S.


Fallen awake. It’s dark outside.

I am at risk from at least three conditions

that make my survival problematic.

I start to examine possible symptoms:

What’s that single dry cough? Allergies?

Do I have a fever? Possibly.

Muscle ache? Sometimes. Yes.

Time to update my will.


I toss and turn on my soaked pillow.

Here I am, a condemned

immunocompromised victim.

It’s unfair. I look after my sugars.

Last week I was ninety percent in range.

Now my numbers are through the roof.

I exercise regularly. I eat well - 

lots of vegetables. No smoking,

ingestion only: I take my meds, religiously.

I have been firmly, conscientiously 

locked down. But what about the letter

I neglected to disinfect, it’s been a week,

what if the virus had survived on that?

With the seasoned skill of a hypochondriac

I skip doctors visits, tests, diagnosis, medications,

and fly through time to the inevitable conclusion:

I am not long for this world.


Dawn. Birds singing. Sun shining.

I’m pathetic.

There are health workers

out there doing life-saving jobs

while I stew safe in the privilege of isolation

surrounded by loved ones, richer

than anyone has a right to be.


In my defense I was like this before Covfefe-19.

Maybe I am just too fortunate for my own good:

worry fills the space where misfortune should be.

I grow a pair, book a virtual visit with my dear Doc

for a sinus infection, write this poem,

and humbled, count my blessings

as Here is Calling plays on repeat.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk


Homeschool continues! Rediscovered. A treasure. Green cloth. Gilt titles to spine. Former owner’s neat ink inscription to ffep together with bookseller’s price of 50p. Lightly pencilled underlinings and highlights throughout made by present owner on first reading many years ago. The World’s Classics Selected English Essays chosen and arranged by W. Peacock, OUP, reprint 1926. A gold mine. Could clear a whole shelf and let it stand.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk


Professor Ferguson has had to resign for meeting his married lover in his house and breaking the law. 

Boris is getting a bit of flack at Prime Ministers questions.

Possible partial unlocking to be announced on Sunday. 

UK has worst death rate in Europe.

Terrible figures in care homes. Testing figures down again.

The Archers has run out of recordings and they are replaying old ones. They will emerge later in the present.


I watched Grayson Perry's Art Club on Monday. It is such a sweet programme. This week Harry Hill was the guest celebrity and he carved a golden retriever called Solomon out of wood in his studio. The dog had gone on a 5 mile swim across the solent. He is really very funny. I used to stand next to him at the traffic lights in Battersea, he with his fox terriers and me with my old golden retriever going to the park and he just looked like a very well dressed business person and not funny at all. He had also carved a Chris Whitty figure like a ventriloquists doll. There were some Chris Whitty's in last weeks programme. He has obviously touched the British soul. I love anything or anyone with a golden retriever. I have a sort of unconditional love to all golden retrievers.


In the real world, the swifts arrived yesterday. I love the swifts with their high pitched calls and mad flying around the garden and floating about above the village. I saw a couple of swallows yesterday as well in the field where I walk.


I saw a Waitrose delivery van outside a house down the road where I normally see the Tesco van and then the Tesco van drove by! Scandal.


The tulips are lovely outside the back door but never quite as lovely as you imagine they are going to be.

I have checked my tulip orders and a lot aren't quite true to the pictures.  I had ordered the stripey Tulip Carnaval de Nice (This is aimed at our publisher) but they haven't come out yet. Still a lot to bloom.


I have staff! Clare is doing 2 hours weeding on the bank. Oh the joy. Lovely to have someone to delegate to (translate this as boss about)! Weird not offering a cup of tea or cake!

I have rearranged some of the piles of cushions in the office so I can actually get in the room. 


A lot of the annuals are now planted in the cutting garden but the green house is still full. Lots of gaps in the rest of the garden appearing where the rampant ground elder has been dug up by Clare..

About to tackle my shed now.

Bye for now

Love Annabel xxx


Now, and to come!

Peter Scupham

A May poem from my
Midsummer Night’s Dream sequence,
for Margaret, with whom I have helped
direct this play half a dozen times !


The Green World


The green world, figuring it out,

      Renewed, Arcadian,

How could these couples ever doubt

In snowfall, hail or waterspout

     That Spring would come again ?


For Aucassin, for Nicolette,

     For Darby and for Joan:

The sunlight, sharpening the wet,

The Gamut, Octave, Alphabet,

     The softening of stone.


Obedient to natural law

     The folded lovers lie,

Their senses quickened to explore

A Masque of Brightness played before

     Conspiring hand and eye:


The cuckoo’s double-fluted trick,

     The lanterns in the grass,

The colours of May’s rhetoric,

And, fire from Winter’s musty wick,

     A chestnut Candlemas


For Flora , ribboning the scene,

     Enskied in white and blue,

Who reconciles each might-have-been

With was, to come, and in-between -

     Who makes all new, and true.   

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