Pedagogy and Print

Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire

For the last few days I've been printing my next lockdown linocut. It's another fairy tale illustration to a fable I have written about a man who builds a folly in his back garden. One neighbour hates it and calls in a planning officer to inspect it who finds that it needs to be demolished. This print shows the planning officer measuring the folly. Another neighbour loves it and starts an online petition to save it. It's actually a self-portrait, although sadly my hair is no longer this dark. 


The weather is so lovely, we are continuing to go on regular walks for our exercise and well-being. Now that the trees are decked out in their summer clothes it is harder to spot the wildlife, but we are still seeing interesting animals that we have never seen before. We had a good sighting of a stoat last week, and earlier this week I spotted a whitethroat for the first time, and then saw another one today. Once you can identify a birds song it is easier to look out for them.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold

Another lovely letter from my aunt (lives alone, housebound, in her 80s. Has beautiful handwriting. Can be naughty and almost inappropriate in an innocent way. Often says it like it is though. She is happy for me to include her words. Here are the highlights of the letter - anonymised by me):

My old darlings, 

I hope you’re both well. Thank you for the letters and cards.


The weather is fine and the garden looks lovely. It’s going to change though. M brought the shopping on Tuesday and said so too. Two huge bags of groceries but always gets the wrong bread. Squashes it so it’s misshapen and won’t go in the toaster. And I don’t like brown. Never thinks to get multigrain or granary. I always put it on the list. Multigrain or granary. But I suppose things are still in short supply. Flour particularly. 


Have you been out to the supermarkets this week? I hear people are going to wear masks and gloves. Do you think it will be permanent? The paper says they might never get a cure for corona virus. It wouldn’t suit me to be out like that. M wears a scarf around the face. Do you?


The beaches here are empty I’m told. People stay indoors watching television. Did you watch Belgravia? It was drivel. So many of them can’t act. I like that actress who played the duchess.Was Harriet Vane in the Lord Peter mysteries. Still it is better than all the violence they show. 


I laughed at what you said about Aldeburgh being like a ghost town. You won’t remember going in the 70s with grandma and granddad. We had a picnic. Less people about then. Suppose it feels like that now. I haven’t been to Aldeburgh in years. I miss the old days but never look back. 


Boris Johnson  has taken on far too much. A new baby. Just recovering from the virus. Not married to that woman either. He was in intensive care. Have you seen him on the news? His face has changed. His eyes look closer together. Never a good sign. Could be dishonest. He is always fraught. That manic look. It’s too much and his doctors should have said so. And his hair all over the place. What do other countries think? We used to be such a smart nation. And he has said yes to that high speed railway. And did you ever see such a man as his father?


That Scottish woman is one to watch I think. Sturgeon. Clever. Mind, there’s rarely a smile. The same with that creature from the Home Office. Never smiles. And you’re right. They’re all arrogant. Disdainful.  I like the new Labour man.“Piers” [sic] Starmer. Very smartly dressed. Married. Presents a morning news programme. He looks healthy. You need your health in these times. 


Stay healthy and write again soon. I look forward to the letters. The days can be long sometimes. Tell me all your news.

Love to the dogs. 

Lots of love, xx


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I  am a dinosaur. I have never joined Facebook or Instagram. I do not have a Twitter account and have never accessed a blog. I confess that I do not even have a mobile phone. However, at the beginning of Lockdown, in addition to being invited to participate in the Plague Journal, I was also invited to join an online writing group where each week we are presented with a challenge. Yesterday, inspired by Carol Ann Duffy, our coordinator asked us to write as though we were the spouse of a famous person. For a second I considered world leaders but, repelled at being close to any of them, I chose instead a handful of favourite artists and submitted the ditties below. This all seems rather frivolous but in this strange and vivid rush of early summer I am so enjoying looking at everything a bit differently and writing down my responses which before Covid 19 might just have been an incessant flow of insubstantial impressions and unarticulated thoughts. So, through Lockdown, I am learning to collect my thoughts... and through Social Media 101, impose them onto others unknown!!! 



Richard Long


He’s off again

Walking a line

Or maybe it’s a circle this time.

I followed him once

But couldn’t see the point.


Edmund de Waal


Pot after pot after pot

Why don’t you show a bit of imagination?

Introduce a bit of colour?

Be a bit more like Grayson?

One day I suggested he contact

Emma Bridgwater to see

If she could manufacture them for him.

They all look the same

Nobody would ever notice.

He turned white!


Anthony Gormley


After wrestling with that Angel 

He seemed to get a bit stuck in the mud

All  those bodies in Another Place.

Everywhere I go I trip over rusting bodies 

Stacked up in warehouses

Sticking out of walls

He just hasn’t got them out of his system.

I said, be careful what you wish for or

You’ll end up looking like that.

Mark Rothko


He’s been sitting in front of it for hours

Just looking

Yesterday he repositioned it

Lifted it a centimetre off the ground

Said it would make a difference

I reminded him about the wall behind our bed

But he said there would never be enough paint.


Jackson Pollock


He’d always been a sloppy eater

His mum said the mess

Around his highchair

Was unbelievable.

He said he half remembered the outrage

And liked it.


FINALLY, Mrs Yves Klein does the laundry...


Mon Dieu

Sacre Bleu!


From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

Yesterday we were very involved with a party on the green outside our houses – socially distanced – and I spent hours making ragged home-made bunting out of scraps and old shirts – my sewing machine was a good investment.  We neighbours joined on the green (socially distanced) for the silence in the morning too – and I thought, not of the war, but of the 30,000 dead in the last two months. 


I am angry with the government. We knew about this in December. The news from Wuhan and Italy, the need to track and trace and go into quarantine was evident and could have saved so many lives as well as the economy. The confidence trick played on the public over the last ten years by smooth talkers from over-privileged backgrounds, with the NHS worn down, talk rather than action, and the build-up of enmity to foreigners (which depleted the NHS too), made me wary of the VE Day celebrations in case they were used as a tool for jingoism. More news keeps coming of test-case scenarios in 2017 and 2018 accurately depicting the current pandemic – and yet the government built up no supplies or plan of action. 


However, our event on the green was just about neighbours getting together at a distance and worked well. We brought out our own tea and cake – placed our own tables and chairs at a distance and could get close enough for conversation without going too close. I grew up all my life with so much talk of the war – sometimes I worry that it means we don’t look at the present. Nostalgia is dangerous, though history is important, and it is important, of course, that Nazism was defeated. We are lucky to have good neighbours who are friendly but not intrusive.  


The red-brick houses we live in were built in 1946 after the war as council houses. The arrangement - with big gardens at front and back, extension for outside loo and coal/garden store (now mainly kitchens), the arrangement where we are in a long crescent with the green in front, is amazingly different to what would be built for lower income people now - shoe-boxes in comparison. At the back we have hills, fields and woods. All the conversations with our neighbours were about how lucky we are to live here. Our well-built houses represent the new attitudes after the sacrifices of the war towards sharing society more equally. Whoever the builders were back in 1946, we appreciate your work.  My father was a builder, master carpenter and joiner, and fought in the war (North Africa was particularly traumatic, I think). He wasn’t home to celebrate VE Day as he spent another year in N.Italy. I’ll raise a toast to builders and tradesmen here, to their long hours, their practical wisdom and creativity, and hard physical work and financial risk-taking. Self-employed builders experience unpaid breaks, unpaid holidays and sadly often very late payments or unpaid bills from those wealthier than themselves. They will be the last to receive compensation from the government, though it's great that compensation exists even though they will pay interest on it and weren't expecting to have to take loans.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Too Soon


A circular table at 

the gilded Freedom restaurant

is set with six places,

cutlery and flatware aligned,

red napkins sculpted into

jocular shaped N95 masks,

the chef’s initials 

embroidered in white.


Silk flowers, yellow, white,

form a centerpiece sprayed

with aerosolized rustic scent.

Liberated from repressive

environmental legislation

water glows, effervescing

in long stem lead glasses.

The partizan menu, signed

in the owner’s extravagant hand,

is entitled: Unlocked.


In the kitchen ungloved

chefs jostle, unmasked,

shoulder to shoulder

preparing cordon blu fare, 

sweat dripping from stressed bodies.

A waitress, her fever suppressed

by paracetamol, no health insurance,

picks up two plates, sneezes over

the ducks, and pushing through

the double doors leans in

between two customers,

who are sniffing their glasses

of red from the Liberté vineyard, 

the end of one transmission

vector, the start of another,

as the six socially un-distanced

fat folk raise their glasses

in celebration of the

reopened economy.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

Since Wednesday (I think, though it’s anyone’s guess) I have been unwell, lurching from one room to another with dizziness and nausea, until finally I could lurch no more, and half passed out, with much (unusual) attention from medical Junior 1 and my blood pressure monitor (I was forbidden to operate it for fear that I would scare myself). The next day, prompted by Junior 1’s nurse colleague, I phoned my new surgery and had a chat with a lovely young doctor, who after a list of questions declared my vertigo, for such it was, to be of the non-sinister kind. Though heaven knows what has brought it on. I suspect the aftermath of the worst of the stress. I declined the offered anti-whatever medication, but was taken aback and greatly cheered by his matter-of-fact acceptance of my request for a Happy Pills top-up.


So yesterday I searched high and low online to find out the pharmacy’s Bank Holiday opening times (the doc having thought it would be open), to find none, only that the phone would not be answered. So I thought I had better just go, and take pot luck. I geared myself up and tottered across the park (which involved the usual fearful, unspoken, ‘after you, no after you’ Covid-dance at the narrowish gate), armed with camping stool and magazine, knowing that the queue is long and slow. It was only when I got there that I found a notice taped up saying that the pharmacy would open later.


So back across the park, when a dear friend from my former town phoned me, so I found a shady spot away from the path and others, with a clear line of vision, set up my stool and had a glorious hour-long exchange of news and views.  (She also told me of a saying, 'Forming, storming, norming, mourning': interesting, and it makes sense. I think I am tipping into the norming phase.)  It was such a tonic! By the time I got home there were just a few minutes to put the tortoises in the garden for their sunbathe (the Juniors being still abed), heat up lunch and have three mouthfuls and then set off again to join the (now extant) queue. Quite happy, sitting and reading The Oldie (in which I, too, saw and chortled over Chris’s cartoon). Got my supplies (generous to boot, bless you dear Dr M!  Though I probably won't take them, now I know I've got them), and home once more. That was quite a lot of tottering about in my condition - a stark contrast with my usual trotting up hill and down dale - and I was ready for a late lunch and a rest.


However, on arrival I found the Juniors just dashing out to the VE street party up the road. The original day was the only time in her life that my mother got plastered; she missed most of the celebrations because she had to be taken home early and put to bed.  If you’d known my mother you’d have laughed your socks off, because she was so not the getting-plastered kind After a bite and a tidy-up, armed with suncream, hat and shades I joined the festivities.  It was a bit weird, because we were sitting too far apart to make proper intimately-turning-to-your-neighbour small talk, but it got along all right. I became nervous as more people arrived and the gaps got smaller, and declined all offered drinks and cakes, but it certainly was good to get out and do something different. We even brought out the senior tortoise, who aroused interest - too much in the case of the attendant dogs, so I took him off for a walk up the road and then he was returned home. There was much talk of the boa constrictor which had been found basking on the promenade the other day.

After such a different day I was exhausted, but it was sort of worth it, one way and another. Happy pills and new acquaintances. (Still sick and dizzy, but hey ho,)


I’m delighted at the connection with Melbourne Jean. And I’m sure Nicky and I would be delighted to welcome David H to the UaSC club. Like you, I had happy times, too (generously created by people like PS), and I do remember summer terms lolling in the fields as at times idyllic, even though I was of an age to be straining to get out into The World. Any requests for membership from the Isle of Wight?


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Back to school


This morning on the radio, a girl was interviewed about going back to school on Monday. 

She was happy to be able to see her friends and teacher again. 

The journalist: You know you can't play games with balls ?

The girl: Yes, I know, doesn't matter. We will play Corona. 

The journalist : Ha ? 

The girl : the "virus" runs after the others, if he touches you, you are dead.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

The past few days have been quite stressful here as my son, a musician, and his wife, a substance abuse counselor working from home at a new job which she is not happy in, have been having problems. We are all very close, and I heard about it first from my daughter-in-law, who has decided to leave, pack up all her things and go ~ we don’t know where. This has added to an already very difficult time for them both but especially for my son, who is left with all the bills at a time while not being able to work.


Thankfully, I have been engaged with an engraving and a new book which has helped to distract me and keep me focused on that, but we have had quite a few long facetime conversations where I can see my son’s bewilderment and distress. I know things will take their own course, and they will most likely, permanently go their separate ways to find new situations and opportunities but for the moment it is very difficult to watch and other than offering a place to store my son’s things and him until he decides what to do next, there is not much I can do to help.


Last night it snowed and I woke to find the ground and all the newly emerged plants covered with snow ~ thankfully, we didn't have a killing frost and the sun is melting the snow. The little brown wren who has made a fine nest in one of the birdhouses near the kitchen garden has discovered the bowl of cat food on the back porch and has been helping itself to a morsel every now and then while the old cats lie sleepily in the sun undisturbed. Little Dickens is still quite the whippersnapper, barking at dear Plum to do this or not do that ~ Life going on much the same as it has for weeks.


I have discovered the lovely instagram posts from both the Charles Dickens and Jane Austen Museums where they have the most wonderful readings of letters and excerpts from books ~ which I really just love!


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

2.50 pm deadline at 3.00pm

Had to nip back to Holt as the lovely lady in the veg shop brought me some fleece for the little seedlings which will be ravaged tomorrow when the temperature drops. Definitely essential travel. 

It takes ages doing shopping now just to get one thing. It is so weird really, like the 60's, pre supermarkets, everyone politely queuing. Having said that the little veg shop is exactly like that anyway.

Just ate the fish, delicious.


A two week quarantine to be introduced for any one entering the country. Why didn’t they do this in January? Such a botch up.


Death count in Spain is over 30,000. Slight relaxation in lock down. One person at a time allowed into the hairdressers after walking on disinfectant, masks all round and whole place swabbed down before the next customer. Every one will go bust running businesses like this. People are desperate to get their hair done. My toes need painting.

VE celebrations. Our lovely queen is speaking to the Nation again. Her talks are getting more personal and directed. “Our streets are not empty, they are filled with love.”


626 deaths in UK in the last 24 hours.

On Cuomo Prime Time, interesting comments from the lovely Dr William Schaffner. We should all be wearing masks, keeping to the 2 metre rule and hand washing and for months if not years. Trump dismisses test and vaccines, it will all go away but in The White House they are all being tested everyday.


I hope we don't get too unlocked tomorrow. We shouldn't be released until masks are the law and every one is tested.

My cheap pots have arrived for overflow pot garden.


The picture is my mum at her sewing machine. She is part of a group making masses of headbands, scrubs etc. She is so practical and always has been. She can just sit down and make something where as I waft about thinking about it.


Its 3.00pm

Love Annabel xxx

900 pieces in 3 weeks

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