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John Underwood, Norfolk

Making the world anew


There has been a lot written in this journal over the weeks about changes that we think should be made in “ the new normal”; better pay for nurses and carers; a move to a greener and more tolerant society; a government that doesn’t insult our intelligence with its lies and half truths. In recent days we have seen back door privatisation of the NHS, the government ticked off for parading misleading statistics for the numbers of tests carried out, and the laughable (if it wasn’t so cynical and sad) “world beating” test and trace from the equally risible “world king”. I was hopeful that the future might bring changes; less so now that there seems to be a collective rush to end lockdown. To paraphrase Churchill; We shall go on to the end of the street. We shall long to holiday in France, we shall paddle in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing alcohol consumption and growing strength in the fresh air, we shall try and leave our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall barbecue on the beaches, we shall flock to the landing grounds, we shall picnic in the fields and in the streets, we shall ignore social distancing in the hills; we shall never surrender our right to be wrong. 


Our garden however is certainly in the process of being made anew by copious rain and prime ministerial ( blustery and deeply annoying) winds. The pea plants are leaning, a globe artichoke is uprooted, and the grass has decided that it is better off as buttercup instead. On a positive note, our onion crop looks beautifully healthy, and the courgettes are flowering and beginning to produce.

In bookbinding, I have been making the world anew by rebinding a manuscript atlas (O.K. nobody likes a smartarse) which had been horribly bodged in a previous repair and become impossible to fettle back into a book again. I had saved the label and an ownership inscription. A thirteen year old boy had drawn the twelve maps in the Atlas for his slightly younger sister in 1865 and the maps, from being shut away for some 150 years are still bright and fresh. I have bound them as a zig-zag book, and put them into new boards. About the only control that I have over the world these days.



From St Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

I've just been reading the last few days' contributions and enjoying the way people are talking to one another directly, as well as to the world and the future in general. And Catherine on the South Downs mentioning the stages of grief made me realise that I seem to be going through them more or less in reverse order... I'm not sure that taking 10 weeks to arrive at a state of combined anger and denial  (but mostly anger) is either wise or helpful. 


Annabel, I couldn't agree more about the idiocy of there being a law for everything.


More cheerfully: Linzy, thank you so much for helping reveal the existence of the Church Lane website. I'm really glad you enjoyed the trail.


 John, nice to see you & Ally, and I'll attempt to find a photograph.


Peter, could you be enticed to reprint 'Answers to Correspondents'?


In other news, sounds of building have started up around town. The former estate agent that was to have been turned into an ice-cream parlour now is being turned into one (for Moomaid ice-cream, wonderfully). Sounds of hammering can be heard on both sides of the square. And I ran into Richard, intrepid local builder, who is working out what he can legally and practically do, which includes painting empty holiday lets and putting up conservatories from the outside, but not plastering, because once again there's no plaster in the land. 


I had a long phone conversation with an old friend of my mother's who hasn't left her house for over 10 weeks. She sounded remarkably resilient, but also said that, at the age of 84, she would quite like some prospect of coming out of lockdown before she gets to 90. A good point, I thought, and not one I'd considered (or heard being made before): it gave me an image of undistanced hordes of over-80s marching on the beaches with banners proclaiming 'life is too short for lockdown'. 


This isn't very likely, perhaps, but it's more cheerful than my other recurrent image, now we're into planning for the autumn term before we've even finished this one: of standing on Banbury station in the rain in a wet face mask being beaten back from boarding the Oxford train by policemen with truncheons because it only has four carriages and is already more than 20% full. Apart from the truncheons, this seems horribly likely. (The four carriage bit always has been the case, which is the trouble: occupancy is normally around 150%.) 


I may need to improve and enhance my denial.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

In June 50 years ago the film ‘The Virgin and the Gypsy’ was released. It was filmed in and around Youlgrave and local people, mainly women in their 60s and 70s,have been remembering that exciting time in the village. Franco Nero’s piercing blue eyes get a few mentions. Many villagers were used as extras and enjoyed mixing with the crew and actors. Others enjoyed watching the filming and were proud that their beautiful village was going to be on the big screen.  Christopher Miles, the director, explained that it was a special film for him as it helped his career take off at that time and broke box office records.


Today I walked down the very narrow road which leads to Raper Lodge which was used as the rectory in the film. It is an attractive, isolated house overlooking a meadow which leads down to the river Lathkill. The river rushes down into a pool, over a small, semi-circular weir and under a pretty stone bridge just below the house. When we first moved to Youlgrave nearly 30 years ago we used to call the pool Jaws’ pond due to the huge trout that lived under the bridge. I’ve often thought how lovely it would be to live in the lodge but actually it has small, leaded glass windows so would be dark and I like large picture windows and lots of light. Also I need neighbours. Christopher Miles decided the house wasn’t big enough for the rectory so they built a front extension which worked well for the famous flood scene when they were able to destroy it.


Now that the weather has become less inviting Youlgrave has become much quieter. On our last warm day when I went for a walk by our other river, the Bradford, there were hordes of people, in and out of the water. Family groups were strung out along the dale and were mostly being very sensible and keeping distanced from each other. However some of them seemed to think it was ok to site their group at the edge of the path which meant anyone walking had to make a detour off the path to get around them and keep distanced. As I was doing just that and feeling slightly irritated I heard a familiar voice. ‘This is just bloody ridiculous. People are so stupid.’ I looked around to see one of the more outspoken members of our community and muttered an agreement. I then asked after her family and she asked after mine. We’re all fine thank goodness.  Such a lot of people, for whom we can no longer provide basic facilities. All three toilet blocks and out three village pubs are still closed, which is rather worrying.


We have friends who live in a small cottage right down near the river. On one hot day someone walked into the house with his son following saying ‘Dad this is a house’ When confronted by our friends he said he thought it was a public toilet! When he was given permission to use the toilet and being shown where it was the other five family members trooped through the house after him. Our friends were so surprised at this behaviour that they let them! Strange times indeed.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

I love lists. I am, I guess, a list man. I have a “To do” list and a “Wish” list...


On today’s “to do” list:-


1. Prepare walls of main bedroom for painting

2. Stack pictures and books in spare bedroom

3. Clear out drawers of bedside chest

4. Remove all curtains from window and clutter on window seat

5. Put all unnecessary furniture and lampshades in spare bedroom

6. Cover remaining items with dust sheets

7. Sand woodwork, apply Polyfiller and Builder’s caulk where needed 


Will think about all of the above.


On the iPad news today - China’s death toll 4,000 compared to our death toll of over 40,000. A photo of Boris looking world-weary. More about the suspect in the McCann case. A photo of said suspect looking... well, ‘suspect’ I guess. ‘Hate’ groups removed from Facebook (why were they ever there?). Reports of police clashes with protesters at the London demonstrations for Black Lives Matter. Huge outpouring of anger at Trump. Someone on Radio 4 called him a rancid racist. A photo of Trump looking bemused.


Added to my “wish” list today:-

1. A house where no decorating is ever required

2. A world that is kinder...


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

80 Days From Around the World


When Phileas suggested just 80 days

Was enough to circumnavigate the globe

He devised cunning ways to beat adversities;

He took his faithful Jean, side-kick valet

Passepartout, the key to his success.

As trials and tribulations appear

On ship, train, elephant, steamer

He is the local fixer, oiling the wheels

To keep the expedition heading ever east.


We’re eighty lockdown days into our own 

Voyage around a very different world, 

One that is at last gradually expanding

As movement control orders disappear

Stage by stage and the exotic tropic

Sights and sounds steer us towards different

Times. Today I wonder what old Fogg would do,

Faced by road blocks, testing, masks, endless queues

And what of poor Passepartout? Obstacles 

Aplenty to test ingenuity: the Malay for “flat battery”,

Sourcing refreshments, fruits, weird greenery,

Outfitters [“no try on and no returns”]

Footwear likewise, miming a drain plunger,

Tackling giant cockroaches, small rats,

Flying insect life, monsoonal rain, heat.


In a sense we’re all Foggs and Passepartouts

Navigating our way in perilous 

Days, re-forming the world that surrounds us

As we all suffer a sea-change into 

Something rich and strange. Phileas

Returns the happiest of men, as does 

Passepartout. “Truly” as Jules Verne remarks

“Would you not for less than that make the tour

Around the world?” Simple philosophy

To see your virtual worlds refreshed, anew.

With eighty days just think what you could do!


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

I thought I would join in with the moves taken by some fellow chroniclers to unveil themselves to our audience, and so I am contributing this photo of myself taken in my study at home. This is the view of me that colleagues have been experiencing these past 12 weeks, with a backdrop that someone thought might have been wallpaper.


The shelves reveal that both S and I are English graduates, and though after university we both trained to become Chartered Accountants we have maintained a love for books. S is more of fiction reader, whilst I prefer non-fiction (history, politics, biography). In fact having referred to Dairmaid MacCulloch’s biography of Thomas Cromwell in a post April, I decided to get on and read it rather than leave it in the “retirement” pile. I am now nearing the end of the book, where Cromwell is starting to realise that he is losing control and that all the years of carefully giving and receiving favours to build an apparently impregnable powerbase, count for nothing when he falls out of favour with the king. The suspense is mounting: I don’t think it is going to end well for Master Cromwell!



From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Sunday once again ~ and after two days with thunderstorms and soaking rains the garden is refreshed, the air is cool and it is a lovely sunny morning. While I am not feeling quite as joyful as Billy Hearld’s mother to sing out loud, my heart feels lighter these past few days. We are hearing that people will gradually be able to get together, cautiously ~ that stores will begin to open, and perhaps life will begin to get back to some kind of normalcy. The news has also been full of very thoughtful and moving discussions about racism in America and the need for reforming police policies. Unemployment is at a terrible high all over the country, and as a musician, my son is one of those numbers. So today I feel a confusing mixture of hope and worry.


Like so many others I have just loved reading the Macrae children’s entries as well as everyone else’s and hope there will be some new forum to keep in touch in the future!


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

A bit of a row has broken out between a member of SAGE and the Govt. He says we should have entered lockdown earlier, and Govt knows it. Sigh. Old news, surely? Yet such is the sensitivity, Hancock is immediately wheeled out to refute, saying it was a matter of opinion, and theirs (Govt’s) was right. This doesn’t sit well with ‘acting on Scientific advice’ but when did that matter? There’s a deep suspicion that with relaxations, possibly premature relaxations, in progress then being found wrong at both ends of the crisis would be embarrassing, to say the least. SW and NW of UK both with ‘r’ above 1 at the mo...

Apparently, the virus has many forms, twenty or so of them now identified through genome analysis. There’s regional distinctions that may help tracing infection...


And talking of relaxations, a bit of unwelcome news: Ireland has announced its hotels will be open for business from July 20th. Why unwelcome, you ask? Well, you may recall weeks ago Boris saying, re ‘starting the engines’ of the Economy Stupid (sorry, the words just go together in my mind) that from July 4th “at the earliest” he would review the opening of hotels, pubs etc, ‘Hospitality’ generally. Of course “at the earliest” has come to mean “from” in many minds, and I’ve allowed myself to hope it.

I’ve been expecting an announcement some time ahead of July 4th to that effect, and it can’t be long now, otherwise there would be no notice of intent. But with ‘r’ above 1 in some parts, huge intimate cross-infecting gatherings in many cities, (Downing Street and outside the American Embassy), general unruliness on the beaches while it was sunny and now Ireland delaying, is there any chance of the hospitality relaxations - and the overnight stops it brings in its wake starting on July 4th? 

I have to declare a selfish personal interest and offer another snippet of our life here: May to September we run a Yurt and Shepherd’s Hut installation in a far corner, which is very popular with visitors. We’ve already rebooked those who’d wanted to come in May and June, but we have Honeymooners booked since January for three nights starting July 4th...


Today, being the second Sunday in June, should have been our community’s Open Gardens Day. It’s our 12th year (or is it unlucky 13?) and apart from raising cash for local charities, catering for a crowd of 5/600 visitors between 10am and 4pm is a very unifying thing for us. Hard work, but enjoyable and lacking shop, school or pub, our main focal point, really. Anyway, that’s not possible this year, obvs, but here’s a pic for flavour:

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