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Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Looking out on sunshine today... blue skies and light clouds. There’s a little breeze. It looks like gardening weather.


Have just read the news headlines as presented on the iPad. A lot of reports about the BLM protests and worries about the virus spreading again. Words like “worsening” in the Covid19 section but then again others suggest improvements and reductions in new cases and death rates. Trump is rarely out of the news and today there’s a piece suggesting he has only ever liked one tweet on Twitter! Oh and one of the Pointer sisters has died - only in her 60s. How sad. 


The past couple of days have seen rain and heavy clouds. The garden looks better. Rested. Revived. Thirst quenched. Cosmos really growing well. It was cold enough to light a fire in the evenings. I baked - semolina shortbread and a gingerbread loaf. Indulgence, eh? 


Have managed to do lots of preparation for the next round of redecorating. Can’t say I’m looking forward to the disruption but now is a good opportunity. A quiet time. Shops soon reopening and life restarting in schools and businesses. Lockdown is relaxing but in the press, fears are still quite high. 


The world seems ‘on edge’. But the sky isn’t falling today.



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

An Assembly of Sea Forms


The oyster catchers’ ululation two-steps the ebb tide’s

Flow across the revealing sand; the dragon-backed reef 

Heaves itself above the surface once again with

Five miles of tail further unwinding into the Channel.

The Capstan Full Strength cough of the ravens

Wheeling above winds in the day and memory.

A Popish seal bewhiskered bobs obediently in the shallows

Where full tide brings the deep sea in to shore,

The schoolmaster cormorant hangs his gown in the breeze

And waits for more. Listen to the beach’s musicality.

Everywhere rivulets underscore the tune, gently

Tracing their treble clef in the sand

Until, on their dying fall, they gather in a pool.

Behind, Hepworth’s and Moore’s boulders 

An Assembly of Sea Forms lie in sensuous profusion; 

Reclining Nude, Nesting Stones, Pelagos, Recumbent Figure,

A gallery full half a mile long for a private view.

The knife edge backdrop flings itself upwards into the chalk-

Cliffed wonder as it melds into Siena sunset hue.

And everywhere is sea and sky


Choose Something Like a Star

Kate, Hitchin

What a strange week, when you are really wondering what might happen next. I seem to be having a lot of conversations on the theme of the best way to live right now - heres some thoughts from conversations:

  • Build your community

  • Find your tribe 

  • Spend time in nature

  • Dont listen to too much news

  • Dont listen to any news

  • Make things

  • Try not to judge people

  • Look after yourself

Well I guess these are all quite standard observations, however I see a lot of people really struggling more than ever now. Theres an edgy feeling and I suppose its partly because we're all quite unsure of the future. As they say, the futures not what it used to be. Have people lost their sense of humour?


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Thoughts about no thoughts - that's where I seem to be today. Apart from getting breakfast I have done little so far, apart from ordering a case of real ale from a certain very good brewery. I think that yesterday it was Marie-Christine who wrote of not doing much and of the pleasure that may attend such a pastime. It is good - at least for me in the state of not doing much. My mind can run gently and mostly in good directions. Sometimes it falls from that ideal and despondency grows untrammelled, but thankfully not for long.


Best beloved has been having fun with at least one mouse that has penetrated her lock down. The day before yesterday a brand new humane trap was installed and guess what, in the morning a small animal was twitching its whiskers within. Said mouse was taken for a drive and deposited in woodland about 3 miles from her home - sounds like something gangsters might do doesn't it! Anyway, later on, having decided to reset the trap in case of other rodents, she took it into the garden for a clean - note that plague cleanliness practise was extended to mousetraps! Whilst carefully cleaning she looked down and there was a little mouse looking at her! Could the one caught earlier have run 3 miles so quickly I wonder! It regarded her for a moment, then ran off at great speed. Further instalments of this story to follow.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

Testing times at Tranquillity Towers - temper, tantrums, tears, tall stories and (me) maddenings and migraine. I should never have written about acceptance of things as they have become: here, we seem to have suddenly gone backwards. Still, I did also write about the order of the stages being fluid. Be careful what you write, I say. It might look to Fate’s cursory glance like ‘Be careful what you wish for’, and be acted upon accordingly.


My brain has been jumbled as a result and I haven’t been able to think much, never mind write. But moving fuzzily around in the back of my mind has been a word I encountered (in the context of a review of an interesting-looking book, ‘Sitopia: How Food Can Save the World’ by Carolyn Steel): it was ‘eudaimonia’, new to me. Greek ‘eu’ meaning good, well; ‘daimon’, spirit. Apparently Aristotle said, in a nutshell, that hardship is worth it for eventual health/wellbeing, as opposed to instant gratification; happiness is experienced as much by the journey along the (sometimes rocky) road towards ultimate fulfilment, as by our arrival there. We mustn’t mind being imperfect while travelling, because we know it’s in a good cause, both personally and societally (in microcosm, a bit like getting all sweaty doing the housework for a shiny clean home, perhaps?). More in-depth definitions are interesting to read. (Anyone familiar with Maslow’s pyramid will see a reflection of this idea of ultimate self-actualisation, too.)


The second word, in the same article, which struck a chord was ‘Gaia’ (Greek goddess and mother of all life, the word meaning ‘earth’). This I had already met in the form of the Gaia Hypothesis, having spent half a lifetime doing up houses and, while doing so, trying to chime in with the environment. This became more imperative once I had a child, so as not to poison her before she even got going. Essentially, the hypothesis states (remember, this was in the 1970s, when it was all eccentrically new) that the earth is an organic, living, being exactly like every creature on it, and should be respected as such. Muck about with it at our peril. Again, the subject warrants further reading.


The words’ appearance was timely in the present situation. To me they signal the only obvious message: push on through thick and thin, understand and respect our planet and its inhabitants, while keeping our eye firmly on the ultimate goal of harmony, health and, ultimately, happiness for all, animate and inanimate. We’ve had a nearly-final warning, and must change our thinking and ways.

Meanwhile, now that masks are at last on their way to becoming ubiquitous, yesterday I sat down and made three differing prototypes. Inexperience, an ancient, temperamental, sewing machine plus peering at, and rewinding, videos on a small screen meant it took five hours to make three masks, from an old shirt, with material left to make a fourth, should I feel that enthusiastic (unlikely: the Juniors were not remotely interested in having their own, bespoke, models). I’m quite pleased with the results, although the elastic makes my ears red and Dumboesque - not a look to rock. (Just heard plumber sneeze, so am glad I’m wearing the thickest one, lined with puppy-training material.)


I have taken Marie-Christine’s proxy advice to heart and gone heavy on the ‘loud eye make-up’, and will practise smiley, coquettish etc looks in the mirror. For the hair, apparently equally important, it’s too late - all gone, and just sprouty bits left (first thing in the morning, more like hedgehoggy - how do you chaps manage?). I’ve already discovered that the backs of stud earrings ping off with any movement of the mask elastic, and are hellish to find. (I persevere with make-up and jewellery all the same, because with such short hair I feel I have to hang on to my femininity.) This morning I did slosh on some eau de cologne, in the plumber’s honour, but I doubt, having read on, whether either of us will benefit from it (he is masked, too). I was fast asleep when he arrived, having gone heavy on the medications last night, so clearing the decks (which I forgot to do yesterday) and getting presentable were even more challenging than usual, in a great rush with dining room full of kitchen gear and with piles of clothes and essentials quickly cleared from my bedroom (where tank is) and piled around me in my already miniscule cupboard of a (temporary) study as I write. No time or chance (kitchen taken over, water and gas turned off) for any breakfast (no porridge! Discombobulating disaster!) so a bit of bread and cheese balanced on corner of chest of drawers, against which my back is jammed as I squeeze in between it and desk. Manoeuvring through it all is quite a eudaimonic undertaking.



John Underwood, Norfolk

Masking up


The copy of  John Evelyn’s “ Silva” that came from Peter and Margaret’s library at Old Hall has a new leather cover. The old , rather pleasing cover had split at the board edges, and was putting a strain on the original cords. I decided to give it a new lease of life and make it a little smarter going in to the future by binding it in  full panelled calf leather. I managed to save the label, and having taken off the old leather, the boards and endpapers too. Everything is now back together, and the newly covered book is waiting to be prettified. A full panelled calf binding typically has three areas of slightly different colour, which creates a panelled effect. Patterns are applied around the panels using brass tools, which are heated and pressed into the leather. The colouring is achieved by masking an open rectangle shape in the centre of the boards, and darkening the unmasked areas with dye and by sprinkling with waterproof Indian ink. The central rectangle of the panels is usually the darkest, and the colour needs building up in several visits. Masking up is achieved using ...masking tape, although I was taught to use card templates originally. Masking tape has several advantages in that it can be moved and tweaked. The whole process is done by eye. If you look at old panelled bindings, some of them are noticeably skewed, as were the binders who produced them, presumably. This just adds to the charm to my eye, and so no measurements take place. Of course, some old bindings are exquisite , multi coloured with onlaid leather, and tooled with gold- a different league. I enjoy fine bindings, but love a phlegmatic wonky binding too. 


I would not be fulfilling my duty to you if I didn’t wrench a pandemic reference into my post. I grab at a bookbinding technique and flail around like a drunk searching for the door key for a life metaphor. In this case, it dropped into my lap, or rather, it dropped into our post box in the form of two masks made by Alison’s sister. Ally has been making different face masks , ahead of the days when we will be wearing them when (if!) we go out somewhere. They are serviceable and well sewn, and I have been wearing them on my visits to the local village store. Not everybody wears a mask in the shop, but I have grown to rather like the people running the place, and feel that wearing a mask respects them, and possibly protects them. The new masks that have arrived in the post are the equivalent of gold tooled bindings. They are made from coloured and patterned fabrics, are lined with different fabrics, the pleatings are perfect. There is also a pocket for a filter. I asked Ally if one of them was for me, and she said firmly “no! they’re mine!”. Apparently, having a bling face mask is a sop to not having a haircut or using a handbag any more - a pandemic fashion accessory. So, I will have to stick to my rather clinical looking white masks . I did contemplate drawing on a toothy grin with an indelible pen, but I suspect that it might look rather iffy, down the village shop…


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

I went for a walk up the hill before lunch. Calling this "the top of the hill" is a misnomer. We feel like we're at the top because the road up the hill ends here and the scenic views from the front of the house are of the valley across to the taller and more famous Greenhow Hill opposite. However, the view from the back of the house is of steep meadows reaching up to the real top of the hill. When the grass is long, it looks like a green sea with waves furling and unfurling in the wind. It's lovely to walk up there in a fresh breeze and enjoy a different view.


Today all the farm gates are open because the grass was cut in the meadows yesterday and is being allowed to dry out today as it's guaranteed to be dry. We've kept our hens in to protect them, as later on the yard will be busy with farm vehicles charging up and down in a rush to get the silage in before the rain comes tomorrow. The tractors will probably be working in the fields after dark, using big headlights, and clattering around in the yard long after we're in bed.


We love watching the sea gulls crowding round for goodies as the grass is cut and turned. Then come the red kites, wheeling majestically above the fields, swooping down and banking upwards without landing. Just now I encountered a kite on my walk, it hovered right above me, so low that I thought for a moment it might be considering me as prey. When it left, the air was full of the distinctive trilling cries of curlews. They nest on the ground. I wondered if their nests had been destroyed by the grass cutting.


We are not farmers. We are kindly tolerated as rent-paying spectators of real life. We have lived in the country for twenty years because we love the space, the air, the wild life and horses. However, we do not always exactly see eye to eye with our neighbours, especially when it comes to rural activities like shooting. I once banned the beaters from our horses' field because I had a pet pheasant. Sometimes I have complained because the gunshots frightened the horses.


Last summer the farmer told me that he was getting some men in to shoot the pigeons as they were making a mess in the hayloft next to the house. I protested, feebly explaining that I happened to have a pet pigeon, which I had rescued from our bullying hens and nursed back to health in our kitchen. By this time "Pidge" was flying again and living back with his flock. It fell on incredulous ears, the shooters came anyway and I never saw "Pidge" again. Sometimes red kites are found by walkers in the area, killed by shooting or poison, and it makes the papers because they're protected (by townies and goody doers, as the farmer calls them).


At our last farm, we were once out for a New Year's Day walk with visitors, taking extra care on the steep hill as it was very icy, when a cow came charging up the hill towards us. Naturally, we got out of its way as quickly as we could. The farmer appeared, puffing, alongside. "Stupid people", he shouted, "can't even stop a cow". Exactly.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Today is the 150th anniversary of the death of Charles Dickens! As I have gotten older I have found myself drawn more and more to his work and delight in reading, listening and collecting his books ~ What a legacy he has left us all ~

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