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John Underwood, Norfolk

A Happy Accident


We have just bought a manuscript trench diary, dating from the first few months of the First World War. It was written by a Captain in the 1st Dorset Regiment in the trenches opposite the Messines ridge and it details all the confusion and horror of life in the early trench systems. We have had several trench journals; the most harrowing was a series of letters sent back during the whole of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. This one is interesting for several reasons; it is written at the start of trench warfare; it has not been censored by the author in any way; it mentions the Christmas informal truce that took place in no man’s land; the author survived the war, and there is a full biography for him. He is, despite all the horrors, resigned to his situation - there was no point in worrying. It is a continuous theme throughout his journal.


I thought that the diary, which is in very tidy condition (we think that it was taken home on leave and left in England) deserved a box to keep it preserved. It is an insignificant looking thing and would be just the sort of item that gets flicked through and tossed into the “ house clearance” pile. A tidy box would not only preserve the book, but set it apart from others. When I had finished the box, it needed some form of tie to keep it closed. I usually use leather thongs or ribbons, but thought that it needed something different. I knew that somewhere in my binding store cupboard I had a metal catch that I had retrieved from a previous binding. Finding it was going to be a problem, as I had popped it into a box perhaps 10 years ago, but after a surprisingly brief rummage I laid my hands on it. Offering it up to the box I was astonished to find that it fitted perfectly. This was pure chance. The catch is not flexible, it can only fit the one measurement. I glued and pinned it in place, and it functions well. 


Not much works out perfectly at the moment in the broad sweep of things, but our journal entries have celebrated small personal victories alongside our anger, calamities and sorrows. They have shown how people have worried about each other and cared for each other. In the midst of it all there are things to celebrate. 

Enjoy the rain! 


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

It seems incredible that it’s been a mere 12 weeks since WHO declared Covid 19 a pandemic. It’s turned our world upside down, we have lost many, others are still ill or lost their economic support. 


On the other hand, many have learnt to bake sourdough bread, improve their gardens, catch up on their reading and Jeff Bezos is on his way to being a trillionaire due to the lockdown rise in online shopping. 


Matthieu Ricard, the Dalai Lama’s French interpreter, in his interview ‘Lunch with the FT’ brought into relief for me the need to count my blessings. To be grateful for Gratitude underpins Joy. He says “In Buddhism, we think about death all the time. It is not morbid; it is simply to give value to every moment that passes by.” 

What am I grateful for?


I’m grateful for being able to live in my little town, 62 degrees north. Yes, the sun is a rare sight but the air is so fresh and the beauty takes your breath away. I’m grateful for the kind, thoughtful, loyal people in my life who are so generous in spirit. We meet all sorts in life and these Angels restore my faith in our fellow man. I’m grateful for my Social studies exam tomorrow after 50 hours of being taught the finer points of Norway. It’s stressful today, memorising the facts but it’s given me such a deep appreciation for Norway and their commitment to equality and equal worth. It’s not something they just say and don’t really believe in. They are very concordant. 


I’m grateful that Margaret asked me to write for this blog and sends me gentle reminders. I’m grateful to Sheila for her resilience and perseverance in spite of her bad back. I’m grateful that you are reading this. Take care, be safe and God bless.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Home thoughts had a day out! In the pouring rain, six of us met at Elsing Hall and wandered around the spectacular moated gardens. All of us chatted as we choreographed ourselves into different groupings and then at the end found ourselves standing in a perfect circle to bid our farewells. In many elemental ways it was a very satisfactory day but there was just a tinge of awkwardness and excessive politeness like that experienced on the first day of school; everyone was testing the new etiquette.  


Afterwards we visited another two friends who had invited us for lunch in their garden but because of the rain we sat in their conservatory with the door open. Again, the etiquette was somewhat awkward... should everything be plated or should we help ourselves... if so should we use the same serving spoons... ???


As we drove home, we felt pleased to have been on our first awfully big adventure and realised that we are not ready to hide ourselves away.



Restrictions for many

Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany

School is supposed to be back to normal after the summer holiday without social distancing but maybe with masks, at least the teacher's association demands them. I hope the current low in infections will stay. Outbreaks to a larger extent here were all due to neglecting hygiene and keeping a distance, when large groups of celebrating people touched each other, sang and got too close.


On the 20th I am going to see my students off by handing over their graduation reports in a small ceremony, a lot of their plans have to be altered and I am not even allowed to invite them to a barbecue let alone celebrate at a big party with them.


Ole and I have plans of cycling from home during our holiday and maybe supporting the severely hit restaurants by visiting them for an outdoor meal. The swimming pool in our town will not open all summer but there is one 17 kilometres away, therefore a combination of cycling and swimming could also be on our agenda.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia



“At Home” the cards used to say

Propped up on the mantlepiece

For all to see, but the invitation today

From the editor invites a wider audience.

In the jail house of these strange times 

We can, like Mary’s projects, clean, sort, tidy, 

A tally of sorts, red herrings as we count our blessings, 

Gratefully sheltering from the forgotten frontline, 

Bookbinding broadland type, painting during lockdown

The dog days when words know no distancing.

These musing then and now from self-isolation where all is quiet

Come like the runaway diaries’ thoughts from the 

Top of the hill, from near and far: thoughts from Crazy Town, 

Hello from Eastbourne, Bristol calling to the South Downs, from the Suffolk coast,

Hudson Valley, rural New York, rural Norfolk, a Cotswold perspective

Birmingham, Youlgrave, Twickenham, Merrywood

Great Chishill, St Just, East London, Wood Lane,

Poole-side; thoughts from a black shed,

A factory in the Midlands, the vie de chateau,

A florist in lockdown; restrictions for many

In a very small island, a bumpy landing on the South Coast

From the thin air that surrounds us. A corona diary that’s seen

Pedagogy and print in action where everyone has been

Something like a star, even words from our feline!


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Walked as far as the racecourse this morning. Horse racing at Beverley resumes  today, but with no spectators. The area of common land surrounding that part of the racecourse not within the enclosure has been sealed off to prevent people gathering there. Is there any point in holding events like this at the moment? The bookmakers obviously think so. Thursday night clapping to show support for NHS workers has now ended. Instead we shall be holding a minute’s silence in the street at 8pm, in tribute to all those who have died from Covid-19. This will be followed by everyone singing ‘Over the Rainbow’.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

As the last Prime Ministerial Briefing within the initially-declared 12 weeks (and the last in the Journal’s preliminary period before we go Weekly) it was a bit of a let-down.


“We’ll review the Five Tests...”

1) NHS’s ability to cope - admissions are down, vent bed occupation down. Check.

2) Sustained fall in death rate. Check.

3) Rate of infection down: 5195 seven day av beginning April, 1419 this week! Check.

4) Full confidence in testing ability / PPE supplies; all at full strength. Check.

5) Confidence any adjustments to lockdown won’t result in 2nd spike. Check!


“The Government is satisfied all 5 of our tests have been met.”

Woohoo! Here we go then... or not.

For our forbearance, what do we get? 

All shops can open after this weekend. Well, we’ve known that for some time.

Anyone self isolating alone can ‘attach’ themselves to another household for socialising, even overnight ‘socialising’. Apparently you enter a bubble.

Zoos can open, but no-one can enter the Reptile House. Well, of course not. Dominic Cummings is hiding in there.

Churches can open, but only for individual contemplation - no mass Masses.


And that’s it. I suppose it’s a welcome normalcy for some, and I really shouldn’t be grudging if it’s a boost to anyone. But I really was hoping for more than that on this occasion. Is the restraint a direct counter to claims that the lockdown brakes are off prematurely just to service the Economy? What, if anything will happen between now and the much-quoted July 4th review? 

Whatever it is, it’ll be in the Weekly!



Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

Lockdowns have eased considerably here, just north of New York City. Michael has resumed work in the outer world and shelves at the grocery store have filled up. Vainly I was relieved to finally visit Paula, my hairdresser, who restored me back to a state where I can, forget, once again, what my true hair colour is and I don’t have to look as shaggy as I have for the past few months. It was an oddly unnerving feeling I had as I drove to my appointment. Remarkable to be frightened of a hair appointment. But once I was there it was fine. On the top floor of a building and Paula and I were the only ones there.  


Meanwhile, as we come out of our virus lives, I am glad to know that Margaret and Sheila would like to continue on with this journal. Personally, as I have participated in the project, I have been given a bit of daily structure and a place to capture what I have noticed in a way I may not have noticed otherwise. I also support their hope to archive our communal project somehow. I do literary research for biographers and spend much time in libraries and archives scouring manuscript material for clues about how people lived. Not just direct evidence of their lives, but peripheral historical details about what might have been going on around them as they lived their lives. What we have created with the Plague Journal will serve a very important purpose for future literary and artistic works. The daily details of our diverse lives lived in such a strange time will inspire many ideas and projects.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

Like so many of us, I meant to take stock as the daily journal comes to an end, but have been rather stymied by a particularly full week of term (foolishly combined with an attempt to repaint the outside of the house, just as it started raining relentlessly, and with posting stuff on Instagram which people turn out to want to buy...). 


And stymied too by a kind of mental inertia, which I suspect is one of the things that should be taken stock of. I'll probably go back to Oxfordshire in 3 or 4 weeks' time, assuming travel is properly allowed again, or possibly even as it isn't: I don't have the books here that I need for a summer's research, so it will come under the heading of 'travel for work'. At least, I know I should be intending to go back - but the idea of loading the car, let alone driving it, is almost too much of a mental effort, let alone a physical one. I can't really believe the road goes beyond Exeter. Anything the other side of that is 'upcountry' at the best of times (arguably anything the wrong side of Truro is 'upcountry') and at the moment it's a fabled and violent land of mainly masked people that exists only on screen. I don't feel any enthusiasm about returning to it and will have to try to remember that the other side of the screen is unmasked people talking about Shakespeare and student hardship funds.


Personally and locally, one moment of relief was hearing an interview with an Oxford epidemiologist on Radio 4 a couple of days ago, where she argued firmly against lockdown as a strategy and referred to its specific measures as 'farcical': clearly there are plenty who say the opposite, but my instincts are all to question how it can possibly make sense to lock up an entire country for a virus that is known to focus on a particular section of the population, who could and should have been fiercely protected. What do you then do when you get a genuinely undiscriminating virus? It leaves you nowhere to go. Though unlike some people formerly in the news I haven't acted on my instincts.


Another less contentious piece of relief was getting an email from Gilly at the Yew Tree Gallery in Morvah, saying she is now open by appointment: it made me realise just how much I've missed looking at paintings, sculpture and jewellery in real life. Sea and sky have been spectacular; bluebells and foxgloves have been glorious, and I wouldn't have been without them - but as well as being social creatures, we are making creatures, and the things we make have more dimensions than appear on Instagram. (Dianne, of which: the St Just Cancer Research exhibition is going online this year - not ideal, but surely better than nothing.)


All for now - as (despite strictures on the virtual) I've signed up for a webinar on Breaking the Rules with artist Naomi Frears. And Smokey needs the laptop.


From our feline in St Just

Smokey, St Just

Jane says we may be going to the other house quite soon next year when lockdown ends. I am not sure what I think about this. 


I shall like not hearing my Enemy pass close by in my sleep.


I have also been disturbed by an almost Enemy-sized seagull. It flattened itself against the bedroom window and tapped three times on the glass with its beak.


In the other house I can go on my own to the very end of the garden because Jane thinks the wall there is too high for me to climb. I shall enjoy going to see about this.


But the sunniest window sill in the other house is narrow, and Jane's behaviour there is less predictable. She isn't always in the same place at the same time, and some days I have to go about and look in several rooms to find her. Some days she isn't there at all.


Here Jane has painted my bed for me and I am quite pleased with it.


But I have been quite unwell since we have been here and perhaps that is because of lockdown and I shall be better when it ends.


Before we go I must try to get to the top gate again.

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