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The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin


This journal is a gift that has shone out like a diamond in the dung heap of this Corona crisis.

As we reach the 12 week mark I want to reflect on a few more treasures that I have discovered and that, as a family, I hope we will be able to cling on to over the coming months:

Over the last twelve weeks, having become suddenly unemployed, I have been gifted time. These hours have been easily filled, but not in the military style of my pre-corona life, but in a more relaxed and less urgent sense. I use this time to do all the things that I deem essential - sleeping, eating, reading, writing, listening, looking, learning and dreaming. And hanging out with you of course, we do a lot of these activities together. 

Keeping our distance has highlighted the space in between. I have realised that the pause between people is filled with nature and what a joy it has been to see how the natural world has filled this gap in abundance; spring flowers dying back to allow for the summer blooms to burst open, the ducklings waddling in the park, the wind tickling the tree ferns, rain water puddles reflecting blue skies. What an honour to be nature’s witness these last few months. Your discovery and enjoyment of this space has been a clear reminder that we are part of the natural world and it dominates us. Not the other way round. 

From WhatsApp neighbours groups, to Zoom calls with colleagues, waves across the street, shopping left on door steps, cars borrowed and flour shared, I have loved embracing the communities we are part of. This includes those local businesses like the inspirational florist who has managed, even in lockdown, to source amazing flowers that we have sent to friends who needed a lift and the local baker who hand delivers exquisite patisseries every Friday. Being part of our community has also included clapping loud for the NHS and shouting even louder for Black lives to matter. As you get older I hope this sense of community will envelop you as much as it does me and we will work together to preserve it. 

I am so grateful to the words printed in this journal, the books that we have read repeatedly before we put you to bed and those writers who have kept me company before my eyelids fall at night. I have eschewed the news opting for more reliable stories from the best writers of the day. I long to share stories again, on stages, in parks, on street corners, but for now I am enjoying being told the tales. Stories will outlive us all; is it strange that I find this comforting? 

Friends and Family
They have shimmered and sparkled through this shit show - their wisdom, humour, memes and voices have resonated in the darker moments. I hope that it will not take a crisis like this to encourage you to treasure those who love you.

I chose to write my entries to you, my two year old son, in the hope that, if reading this in the future, you will realise why you love Peach Saverins, appreciate the natural world and have faith in activism.

It has been a pleasure to write this to you and, for those who have read my weekly updates, I am grateful to be able to share our journey. 

Keep shining, we’ve along way to go!



A Poole-side View

Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole



Yesterday was  a red-letter day on my calendar. Is it odd for an octogenarian, in only his second season, to feel excited at the prospect of the Croquet Club re-opening? Perhaps it's because we have had such low expectations of fun during lockdown. But that is how I felt when I heard that the club had opened its doors. (Well, not literally. The clubhouse was shut and even the lavatories were unavailable on my first visit.) So when my friend John suggested a game, I was never going to say no.


It's not quite the same as before, of course. There are rules. Self-distancing, obviously. And the cleaning of equipment, ready for the next players: sanitizing spray available in Hut 2 for mallets and balls after play. Wear gloves, bring your own hand-sanitizer. There's a strict new booking system too: 3-hour slots, 2 players per court (singles only, no doubles).


But a game's a game and oh! the joy of swinging a mallet again, of exercise (mental as well as physical) other than walking a predictable path, avoiding joggers, cyclists and prams. Just the two of us, pitting our skills, competing in strength, accuracy and tactical ruse. How I had missed it these last three months!


Yes. I lost. John has always been the better player but I was happy to have made a game of it. We are playing again next week. As I walked home, I felt strangely elated. O frabjous day! Callouh! Callay!


From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

I'm writing to say thank you to Margaret and Sheila for their vision and hard work in putting this journal together and maintaining it for twelve weeks. I hope Sheila's back didn't take too much of a toll. I also wanted to say that I read the two instalments of The Pink Fuzzy-Wuzzy Gloves by Marli Macrae with great enthusiasm. The idea was inspired and very young Jane Austen. I hope Franklin gets to see his friends soon. The school our neighbours' children attend has asked parents to vote on whether they can all go back not just certain classes. And it looks like Monday will see them there again. 


Hope there is some day a Journal party. Meanwhile, I'm looking forward to going out in the world more, though I'll miss all the regular entries. Call My Agent (Dix Pour Cent) on Netflix, was one of the frivolous finds of lockdown - a very enjoyable French series about an actors' agency in Paris. The runner beans I planted out at the beginning of the journal are flowering and so are the sweet peas and courgettes. The Vicki Feaver love-in-the-mist are fully flowering and the Margaret marigolds are just coming out, and we've started eating our chard, broad beans, rocket and strawberries - all visible - and edible - markers that time has passed since the beginning of lockdown with some sort of small productivity. I long to see more of my children and friends. Take care everyone - and thank you again.


A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

One senses, both within and beyond Crazy Town, a growing confidence that the fever may have broken at last. No, not COVID19, which continues to worsen, but the fever which has gripped America for the past several years. In an odd way, it feels as if the twelve weeks of this Journal were indeed the crisis of a deeper fever that has been worsening for some time. Now, with the crisis behind us, perhaps we're entering a period of renewal and recovery.  At the very least it seems like a new time of reflection has begun, but it's too early to risk bold predictions. 


By way of explanation, my connection to Margaret and Sheila, and thus the Journal, is a bit tenuous (I've yet to meet our Dear Editor in person, but hope she follows through on her threat to raise the Green Marquee one day.) I was recruited by a friend from my time as a graduate student at Oxford 40+ years ago, and reading the entries from around the UK has drawn me back vividly to the England I first came to know then: the rhythms of life (and of speech), the more local focus, the fundamental decency. I know much has changed since I was a confused Yank going to what I thought was the tail end of the taxi rank at Oxford Station, only to have a dear old lady politely usher me into the next taxi to arrive (yes, we queue in opposite directions to the flow of traffic), but your contributions have reminded me that below the surface and all the turmoil and changes of the last four decades, the place I came to love back then is still very much there and true to itself. It's been a welcome island of sanity and normalcy in the sea of crazy that is Washington and America. Thank you all for that. I can only hope that the snarky observations from this side of the pond haven't clanged too harshly with the generally genteel tone of this joint effort, and have given you in return the occasional chuckle or even outright guffaw. I'm looking forward to the weekly contributions.

By way of further explanation - your Intrepid Reporter suffers from professional deformation. Thirty years as an observer-participant in strange and foreign lands tend to make one cast a sardonic eye over the events unfolding around one. Here's one scene from that time:  yours t., kitted out with a white woolen Pashtun 'pakol,' stranded in a whiteout on an Afghan mountaintop with the commander of the 101st Airborne and three U.S. senators. One of whom was both then and presently a candidate for President of the United States.



Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

A misty start to the day. The view from the bedroom window this morning is of greyness and green. The grass is too wet to mow although it needs its haircut. It’s not really gardening weather. Instead, I suppose, I could do some decorating.  


Yesterday I took a walk in the rain - through Dunwich forest. Hat and coat and I didn’t get too wet. I saw no one but caught a glimpse of a very beautiful deer. It saw or heard me approaching and was gone in an instant. Graceful and fleet. It felt like a good omen.


At the supermarket, getting milk after my walk, a woman in the two metre gap behind me chatted. We had to wait quite a while in the queue because something went wrong with the workings of the till. Neither of us minded. She told me about the treats she had bought for her dog and I mentioned seeing the deer. We laughed about the government and the doom and gloom that is the daily public address. She told me about her father and growing up in the post war time of rationing and scarcity. We said how we seem to have plenty of everything in the supermarket. We said how things are slowly changing and reverting. Shops are opening on Monday. More people are out and about.  


I was home in time to see the Matt Hancock show. The day before it was Boris. And a day or so before - Priti. There’s never any need to rush. The daily briefing is shown over and over on the various news channels. Matt, Boris, Priti. Theirs is the joy of fame, eh? Born entertainers.


In the evening, I pottered in the garden after supper and then watched television. Had a hot chocolate drink before bed. Seems odd to be drinking hot chocolate in June. I spoke with a friend and we talked about meeting up soon. 


Days pass this way. No hard decisions really - my life has not been turned upside down but I miss the easy and more sociable life pre-lockdown. Not having to think about viruses and gloves and face masks and spacing. Constant and deadly risks. 


And so to today... what'll I do then today? Like Lucy Jordan, there are oh so many ways I can spend the day....


“Could clean the house for hours,

Or re-arrange the flowers,

Or run naked, through the shady streets,

Screaming all the way... ”

(From The Ballad of Lucy Jordan by Shel Silverstein).


Write soon, folks. By next Friday. Lots of love x



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Time up

Put down your pen. Use the treasury tag provided

To collate all sheets you are handing in.

Please remember other candidates 

May still be working; do not disturb them.

Put your answer booklets on the right

Leaving the question paper on the left.

Please check you have left nothing behind.

Do not talk at any time until you have left the room.

Leave your ID card and number on the desk

For the invigilator to collect them in.

Your mobile phones and electronic devices

Are on the table in the hall outside;

Do not use them until you have left the building.

If you have extra time for this exam

Remain seated. You will leave by rows

Starting with this one.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Twelve Covid weeks on and where are we? The country has lost 40/50/60,000 souls according to how you count them and who you believe, has a huge and growing National Debt, shrinking National Income, rising unemployment and sinking confidence. Devastation lays all around, families, businesses, lives. There is a growing feeling out there that waiting for the lowest of ‘r’ is not the answer, we need to get on with getting back to whatever passes for normal.


Personally it’s not been so bad, the fascinating early days of absurd panic buying and shortages are over. We’ve not really gone short, lost no-one. Been frustrated at times but have been secure in our bubble and able to function, kept fit (mainly) and healthy. I think (though some may disagree) my personal hygiene has improved. We are, of course, among the fortunate ones. I wouldn’t wish to diminish or trivialise anyone else’s experience, just my own. Maybe the comparison could be that after the devastation of WW2, some were heard to have had a ‘good’ war.

The duplicitousness of Government, their lack of organisational skill and general smugness has been a touch wearying - but then I guess it’s normally like that, just that this time they were under daily scrutiny so we saw it close up. An answer to anything is beyond me. Way out of my pay grade. The fact is we, out here in the real world, wherever we are in the world, have largely fashioned work-arounds for ourselves, not always following the rules to the ‘nth degree’ but finding an accord. Or is that just me?


Anyway, KBO - and for a 12th week chew-over, well, here’s something or two that’s emerged overnight:

1) while we’ve been happily (or worriedly) Journalling away, more or less affected, more or less coping, wondering what might be done to stop it, it turns out here in the UK we never stood a chance anyway.

The Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium has analysed 20,000 samples and can trace 1356 sources of infection between end February (Italy) and March (mainly France and Spain) in travellers arriving in the UK. Less than 1% can be attributed directly to China.

So, before any sort of lockdown or quarantining could help, we were extravagantly ‘seeded’ throughout the UK by our own countryfolk returning, mainly from jollies. How richly frivolous, how absurdly typical. We never took it seriously enough when it was manageable. A sort of industrial ‘just in time’ approach to national wellbeing, everything since is damage limitation.

2) A fine example of ‘make of it what you will’: Matt Hancock appears at the Briefing claiming 85% of confirmed cases were contacted by ‘Test and Trace’ allowing further searching for their contacts. This is conveniently beyond the 80% accepted as being necessary to be useful and he no doubt hopes we’re impressed. His accomplice, Dame Dido Harding wriggles a bit saying they’re not claiming ‘Gold Standard’. Matt waves his arms enthusiastically, he’s evidently hugely impressed, we should be.

However, ‘Alternative Sage’ says that 8117 were tested positive, only 5407 (67%) were contacted and during the same period, a further 23,000 cases were found showing symptoms but not tested, so the actual figure is approx 25%. 

How long do we have to put up with this misinformation crap? Forever, probably. It’s 40 years since an exasperated Robin Day spluttered “Why should we trust you - a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ Politician?” and I don’t suppose much has changed in Westminster. 


And finally, for the 12-week record, the greater Great Yarmouth area, 20 minutes from here, is currently experiencing ‘r’ at 1.2 - so don’t go there.


Gosh, that’s turned out to be a bit gloomy, don’t mean it to be. Take care. See you next week.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Farewell Daily Journal! You have been great! I have not kept a diary since I was a child and I have learned SO much from all of my fellow diarists - not just in terms of content and opinion but also in terms of style. I have been fascinated by the way in which our mutual trust in each other has resulted in ever increasing openness and honesty.


We have all done so much and as a band I feel we are a pretty decent community.


Going forward, I will probably return to the bookshop when it reopens in July but it seems as though the antique shop may well remain closed for some time. As a result, a co worker and I have decided to start up a small project on line. We have chosen to call it The Gilded Angel as we both love the medieval churches of Norfolk and the particularly distinctive East Anglian angels which feature in so many of them. The items we intend to promote are the sort of incidental treasures which have always been found in these places of sanctuary and in the houses which surround them.


We met today to discuss the detail. Socially distanced, the question of handling the teapot again caused a discussion about the new etiquette. I think the householder must prepare everything and serve everything. I am also quite keen to obtain a hands free sanitiser dispenser to have by the front door as I think the ritual reinforces confidence and will help break the awkwardness people will feel in the next few months on entering ‘foreign’ territory. My husband is less keen on the idea. I think he favours people not coming at all until we have all been vaccinated in three years’ time!


I hope that by the end of next week we will have stopped lighting the wood burner each evening and moved back into the Summer Sitting Room in time for the longest day!


As we close the Daily Journal, I send my thanks and good wishes to you all and especially to Margaret and Sheila.
A bientot!


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

Two metres or not two metres, that is the question. The safe social distance measurement is currently under review. It seems to be different in every country now. Yesterday on Jeremy Vine it was up for discussion with regard to the reopening of the hospitality industry next month. Obviously if customers have to keep two metres between them, then it will not be economically viable for small cafes and cosy pubs to open again. More easing of lockdown rules were announced, so that people living alone can now choose another household to meet up with and spend time with. Charity shops can open again from next week too which means I can get rid of the bags behind the sofa.


Handyman Kevin came round yesterday to fix the shower, that has been in need of attention since March. He can turn his hand to most things and is so kind and helpful. Frequently uttering the three little words “That’s no problem” to all my household repair requests. Joy of joys to have a working shower! It’s torrential rain here today so doing the shopping is going to be a bit of a drag, or maybe we will be the only ones out, queueing in the downpour? 


Grace has a new start date for returning to work - 3rd August provisionally. She’s a makeup artist on a Netflix show filming in Liverpool. Lots of health and safety concerns to consider! Still not sure when I am going back to work, but face masks are compulsory on public transport. I’d better get practicing my smokey eye look, as our smiles will go unseen! I am desperate to get my hair done now, fingers crossed that my appointment is still on for early July.


I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of this journal and reading everyone’s contributions, stories and poems. It’s become a bit like a confidant as we slowly manoeuvre towards a ‘new normal’. Somewhere to process what is going on in the world, rant a bit, share thoughts and fears, and hopefully make you laugh occasionally! Keep well everyone xxxxx


In Flat N.4

Petra Wonham, Edinburgh

The world has changed a lot since the last time I wrote on here, and not all positive sadly. I have decided to make a list of mine and my parents favourite sounds:


Mother: First glug of pouring out wine, baby giggling, seagulls, crunch of fresh snow.

Father: Cat meowing by the front door when getting home from work, yellowhammer.

Me: Metal rings against china mug, cowbells, wood pigeon in the morning, scissors snipping hair.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Yesterday I walked past the village school just after school had finished for the day. One of the parents, a local farmer’s wife, was in the playground carrying a heavy wooden play cooker and loading it into a small horse box. More play kitchen appliances were in the playground. ‘Are you moving house Lisa?’ I joked. ‘Sort of,’ she replied. The head was with her and explained that they were moving lots of equipment out of the Key Stage 1 classroom to make space to accept more children. It was being taken to the farm to be stored until...


The reception children starting school in September will start school in a very different environment to those who started last September. Ofsted will have to completely change how they rate a Reception class. Many of the things considered essential cannot be there now. One of the important lessons of learning how to share and work together will be different. Kindness may have to be shown in different ways. Still, that is three months away and perhaps by then children will be able to have physical contact with each other. I do hope so. It is so alien to them to isolate from each other. The teachers are working very hard to help the children who have continued to attend school and those now returning to feel happy and safe in a strange environment, and will carry on doing so. We will not know the full impact of this pandemic, mentally and educationally, on these children for some time. 


Goodbye until next week. Stay safe everyone.

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