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Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

When the Journal started we knew there would be difficult times ahead, but few people can have predicted that twelve weeks later we would be looking at a figure well in excess of 41,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the UK. Heartbreaking. Enough said. There will be plenty of time when the pandemic has ended to work out what went wrong. The end still seems a long way off. The masks have arrived in the post.


This morning we should have been travelling southwest for a week in a cottage near the coast on the Dorset/Devon border. It would have been a wet journey. What has happened to all that May sunshine? We don’t mind staying at home although it would have been good to catch up with family and friends, calling on David’s sister and husband on the way, and visiting friends who are potters in Somerset. We had also hoped to see our friend Jenny, an intrepid traveller and the world expert on indigo, in her new house in Devon. Instead we might actually venture outside the town (through the medieval gateway - pictured) for the first time on Monday, with an early morning trip to the beach, which is less than half an hour's drive.


The online journal has been one of the best things to come out of lockdown. It has been fascinating to read such an eclectic mixture of pieces from people with very different lives. Many thanks to Margaret and Sheila for initiating and masterminding the project. I’m a bit disappointed that so few contributors answered the call to send in photos of themselves, but at least we know what some of your cats look like!


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

My last entry in the regular daily journal, and I find there is an awful lot I want to say. I am confident that the business is now safe, and therefore our 240 jobs are safe, and our thousands of “direct selling” sales agents can be assured of continuing supply of products to sell. I haven’t mentioned before that we actually manufacture food products, including nutritional protein bars. And today’s photo is of a section of the new production line I have referred to in earlier postings. What you see is the start of the bar forming process, where the mix is extruded into 16 continuous strands. These then pass on a conveyor belt through a 22 metre cooling tunnel, are then cut by an ultra-sonic guillotine, perform a 180 degree right-hand turn, are enrobed in chocolate, pass through another 22 metre cooling tunnel, perform a 180 degree left-hand turn, move into a single file, pass through a flow wrapper and are packed into cartons of 21. The machine can produce over 18,000 bars per hour. It is a sight to behold! 


But my delight at a well-run manufacturing operation is tempered somewhat by my dismay and anger at the performance of our directionless and incompetent government. And I am writing as a natural conservative, and supporter of the government (though I can reassure you that I didn’t vote for Mr Johnson in the leadership election last summer). One cause of my frustration is the failure to get children back to school - we are denying children their fundamental human right to an education because of a lack of clear direction from the top, and a reluctance to face up to the power of the teaching unions and recalcitrant local authorities. Another failure is the “nonsense on stilts” quarantine policy. Who could have dreamt up such a plan, and why did no government minister point out its manifold illogicalities? And why can I buy a can of beer in a supermarket, and drink it sitting in a park, but not buy a pint of beer in a pub and drink it sitting in its beer garden? Why do we have a two metre social distancing rule when the WHO guidance is one metre? And when did we introduce a rule which said that gatherings of more than six people are illegal unless you are waving a protest banner, however legitimate the anger of the protesters? And how cruel and short-sighted of our NHS administrators to shovel sick elderly people out of hospitals into care homes without testing them for Covid19, and leaving hospitals half empty, the grim reaper cutting a swathe through care homes, whilst people die at home from untreated cancer and heart disease. 


But I am thankful for one small mercy - the reopening of places of worship. I have put myself down on the rota at my parish church to act as a supervisor/antiseptic wiper when we open our doors once again. And I finished reading the biography of Thomas Cromwell, and have picked up a new (to me at least) Sebastian Faulks novel, Paris Echo. The change in the weather means that I no longer need to water the garden, which is good news. I once spent several years working for a large water and sewerage utility, and so I am very conscious that garden watering is one of the gravest environmental sins - probably on a par with driving a fancy sports car. So as the lawn gradually turns from yellow back to green, I think we should all try to feel optimistic, and remember to get out there spending money with local businesses and tradesmen to get the economy moving again!



Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

See you later, alligator, by Franklin Lewis Macrae


I thought when we started these Plague Journals that by now quarantine would be over and we would be back at school. Things have got a bit better but no school still and no friends. We haven't gone back to our swimming lessons or anything like that either. My mum said the shops are opening next week but it will be odd. We started wearing masks too in the last few days because it is busier now when we go out. The Plague Journals have been our English lesson. My mum has made me improve my handwriting and banned some words. She has shown me the Plague Journal of another boy named Billy. He is older than me but mum said his writing is awesome. I don't know what our English lesson will be now. My mum said I have to say thank you to Margaret Steward aka the Tudor Mermaid and to Sheila for all their hard work. Thank you!

Thank you by Marli Rose Macrae


Today is the last day of these diaries and then we will write every week. I have enjoyed writing my diary. I love writing. I have enjoyed telling you about my dreams and my dolly bunnies. I think I want to be a writer when I grow up, I like writing stories. I don't mind not going to school because I like being with my mummy and I do more writing and drawing at home but Franklin hates it. Thank you very much to you for letting me write for your diaries. Love from Marli Rose Macrae


Pedagogy and Print

Nick Wonham, North Hertfordshire

I went back to school this week. Having asthma and on the vulnerable list I haven't been in since before lockdown began. I'm travelling in later on the train, avoiding the peak time commute, and so I see hardly any other passengers; I don't feel at risk there. Tilly's made a mask for me to wear, and it will be the law to wear it from Monday, but it doesn't feel necessary when it's empty. Walking down Seven Sisters Road however is something else. In the small town where we live everyone is still religiously respecting the two metre social distancing rule; when several people appear to be about to converge on a pavement they do an elaborate dance to avoid each other. In London it seems no one bothers anymore. There are no movements to the edges of pavements, no pauses, no concessions. I see groups gathered together chatting who are clearly not from the same household. Queues form outside shops and banks with customers standing two metres apart, but pedestrians pass by them within a few inches. 


My school, a school for students with severe learning difficulties, feels very strange. The few students who are in are generally the ones who are most difficult to manage and who would most struggle staying at home. There are a lot of staff to work with them though, so they have at least one person to supervise them and sometimes two. I'm still not working with the students though; I've come in specifically to work on paperwork that I can't do at home, trawling through files of photos on the computer to create qualification evidence and Records of Achievement for my class of sixth form leavers. Usually we would be using the summer term to organise the transition to their next provision, but all this is on hold. My school leavers future, a scary concept for their parents to consider at the best of times after fifteen years or so spent within the security of our school, is now more uncertain than ever.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Gosh hasn't that 3 months gone by quickly.

Still here and have survived unscathed. My friends who got ill are better. No disasters to hit me personally yet. My mum is fine which was my big worry and will continue to be.

The garden is planted, Roger is back. 

Earnie and I have had some lovely walks and seen lots of birds and hares and deer.

Nearly got shot, nearly got run over, lost half a stone, havn't stopped or watched hardly any films apart from Contagion or read any books.

Lots of cakes, scones and masses of almonds have been eaten.

Did get the paints out in the end but only just.

Don't know where the time goes but that's how it alway is.


Boris, Mat et al will continue to amuse, irritate and annoy us. We will still shout at the telly.

The shop might open next week or the week after.

I'll probably shout at the customers and smack their hands if they touch any thing.


I feel I have been accompanied through the lock down by my fellow diarists and have to give a huge thank you to Margaret and Sheila for asking me to join in and for all their hard work in making it possible. I think it has been very therapeutic being involved and an interesting thing to do and I would like to say thank you to all the other scribes who I have loved reading about.

Anybody passing, come for tea and a weird cake in the needy garden.


My other lockdown companions have been my neighbours but mostly Earnie, the cat, the chickens and all the blackbirds who have followed me around and sung me songs. They are singing now.

Love Annabel xxx


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Made it so far!  It’s been a journey hasn’t it!


Thankfully, I can write today. The past 24 hours have been a bit worrying with someone close to me feeling unwell.  That person is much better now thanks be, and it seems there may not be too much to worry about. My own reactions to threats of this kind concern me a bit. Truth to tell I find I react so very strongly through my emotions that a partial paralysis results. This is not physical, but I lose motivation so that I don’t do things I would otherwise wish to do, such as writing in this journal, playing music and so on. For now this very minuscule pandemic event is over I’m pleased to say. It’s moving on time! Oh dear, I appear to be echoing a recent Boris!


This morning I am sitting in my garden room watching for squirrels who seem to be staying away. The local cock blackbird is in full song. How does he do it, because he is almost always singing. I cannot imagine how he finds time to feed - life is one long opera.

Margaret and Sheila are both in the forefront of my mind today. I’m sure this is an experience shared. I haven’t met either of them yet, but they have my thanks and admiration for taking on the journal. I have long been fascinated by Mass Observation, and I volunteered to participate in a new version of that. My application was acknowledged - then nothing. I’ve heard zilch from that direction. It was wonderful to hear via the St Chris alumni that Plague20 was happening. It’s been a joy reading other people’s entries and submitting my own. May such joy continue in the weekly version! I still feel there is much to learn from plague time. Best beloved and I look forward to a gathering one day. All being well, we’ll be there!


I’ve included a picture of myself and best beloved, who still wants to remain slightly mysterious...



Thin air

John Mole, St Albans



Looking at his watch

to see what time it is


as if time itself were stealing

the minutes from the hours,


looking at the calendar’s

reciprocal blank gaze


as if somehow tomorrow

might be different from today,


looking intently at himself

though only half-awake


as if a puzzled stranger

had risen from his bed,


considering life’s vague options

and planning what to do


as if they might come suddenly

to offer him a choice.


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

Here we are after twelve weeks, still alive and kicking and able to report that we have (mostly) adhered to the rules of lockdown. We don't know anyone who has suffered from the virus, the nearest being friends of friends. Of the 30-odd residents in our hamlet none have succumbed. None of our family have had covid symptoms either and the two who work on the front line in London and Toronto have survived intact. They report rapidly falling numbers of sick patients and no shortage of PPE.

The family member who has had most social contact is Reuben, aged 19 months, who has been going to nursery every day along with twenty others as children of front liners. (I doubt the two metre rule applies there.)

This seems like a good to time to reflect on what we've achieved in this strange time. What new interests and challenges have we embraced? I have certainly been reading more widely, some novels, travelogues, some Dickens and just yesterday a book explaining the maths behind "R". I've done some furniture restoration, fixed various small problems around the house and garden but still not got round to tidying The Black Shed.

I can say that writing for the journal has been a new challenge for me. I haven't written anything for general consumption for over a decade and it's not always easy to make the themes flow. Sometimes I think “that was a nice simple piece” and other times “no one will be interested in that” but I have stuck to my plan to submit something every other day.

Reading the journal is endlessly fascinating. Peoples' view of the world is so individual and is influenced by their personal situation, both social and geographic. One gets to know the author's attitudes and can get a glimpse of their personality. We can look forward to Margaret's “journal reunion” with interest!



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

End of Term


It’s A Beautiful Day packed into a trunk.

Bare cell walls, a last look round 

at where dreams had and hadn’t happened.

Regret at separation, a division of family.

RCW left with my Rotring Rapidograph,

MH departed resplendent with a beard,

all the rooms in the girls end empty of beauty.


My parents late, last as ever, thank goodness,

as I walked alone through the cloisters,

out past the biology lab onto the school field

where a hale fellow had caused an explosion

that rattled the windows one Sunday afternoon,

and who I had seen, last century,

hanging out of the conductor’s door

of a speeding tube train, face red, eyes gleaming.


The running track cruising down hill,

a scene of my victory in the 200 yards,

that nobody seemed to notice, except my

rival who, drunk, jumped from a window

at a party that night and broke his leg.

I never competed again. The long jump pit,

and behind the hedge, the tennis courts where

I had my first cigarette, a Players No. 6,

from a turquoise, white and gold pack.


I returned through the swing doors

down the corridor, a few remaining notices

flapping in the disturbed air as I drafted past

and out into the main courtyard once filled

by TD and friends with a Heath-Robinson

fire-breathing metal dragon collecting money

for charity from which I trousered a sixpence.


Up the lane came the Riley. In went my black

trunk and me into confinement, a long,

lonely holiday in sight. I looked back then,

as I do now, at the pages of a journal.

I regret that passion has been weakly subdued,

but my unknown heart beats in anticipation

of a new term. But, surely, that will not outdo

the intensity, the shared experience that, then,

kept the future, and now keeps the resurgent tide

of plague, at bay.



Jo Sweeting

Wild Woman Press  Self - Islanding (Carvers Notes)


I carve the land I walk on, sculpt the chalk and limestone that is the very bedrock of this island where I was born and haven’t left in twenty five years.The South Country and its chalk downscape is heart-ground and place of my belonging. Early grief left me unable to travel and so I have walked and returned over and over to the same places. This is not something I mourn. Nor would I consider it confining. I refer to myself often as ‘three mile radius girl’, although that is an exaggeration of my limits. Apart from the southern downs I have also revisited North Devon for twenty five years and consider it my sanctuary, a nest forged with memory and time. I note the specifics, the essence of the places I inhabit. I know them to the core.


My daily rituals are walking and carving. Writing and printing. The making of responses to the familiar and often tiny non-human specimens that I find in the fields. Temporary and transient. Note them now or they are gone. The changing rhythm of the seasons are fluid. There is no ending or hiatus between the end and a beginning here.


I am now an island. As truly we all know we are. Self-Islands. For many this experience in the time of  Covid19 is a harrowing one , not only because of the fear of illness but because of the fear of being alone. In welsh ‘Hunan Ynysu’ or Italian ‘Insula’ are words that echo space and solitude. A quiet time. Slow-time. For many who live their lives amidst busy townscapes and crowded offices, theatres and stadia this is frightening. I fear being crowded and having to perform amongst others. We all now stand as islands, breathing in as we pass each other and contracting away from others physical mass. We remove our eye contact and gaze inwards, for a second.

But hold that inward gaze and note the potential. 

Walking as a lone human in the fields, usually attended by two whippets, there is much companionships the company of non- human beings. The soundscape of wind and the song of birds so much louder in these quiet-times.Up in the field, skylarks, rise and fall to their home ground. Huge flat-bottomed clouds banking in a dark blue sky. These tiny birds lift their song and my spirits.

In spite of the virus I breathe deeply for to breathe is to live. I pay full attendance to this place and in it my borders blur and I become less alone. The rhythm of my walking and breathing become tuned. A call and response. I notice. As I walk I note the horizon. The anticipated line of the chalk path passing through me as I walk it, then leave it behind.

During this time of ‘apartness’ we remain in our homes, sometimes together and sometimes alone. The animal in us is grateful for the protection we find in our home. We retire to find privacy. We take cover. Hunker down. Lay snug. We are in a time which is full of retreat but which can also offer renewal whilst we are still. We have returned to our ‘hybernacuIum’ which offers us solace in these dark times. Perhaps we can find nourishment in the time we are free and exercising. A way to store up for our lonely, hungry times.

Whilst talk of reducing the ‘curve’ and progress of the virus continues to consume and confine us the land and nature stride forward. Out on the hills the air is clear, the road noise barely audible. Birdsong is loud and large bumblebees work the fields and dandelions. Buzzards are mobbed by crows. Hawks stoop and gulls tilt. Skylarks flit, as teleprinter across to the field. The sky is pewter and the mood somber. I walk a line in isolation.


What I find on the downs feeds my work but in this extraordinary time, I realised very quickly that I miss the physical presence of friends. I decided that I would use the experience of my thoughts and images collected from the fields to send out in letters.

The joy of writing on paper with a pen and spending time with full attention has been illuminating.- thoughts held in the mind and then written on the page and sent outwards, as a beam from a lighthouse.The call and response is magnified, letters came back and they brought news from other self- islanders. They became distant companions. 

In its original Latin form, ‘companio’ companion means, he with whom one shares one’s bread. In these times this cannot be done. Companionship is limited. The physical weight and contact of a letter held in the hand offers solace and reward. An affirmation of others. We have become distant but fellow travellers. There is connection and rich comfort and a physicality felt which we are all missing at this time. Writing acts as anchor.


We will become a wide and extraordinary, vast and diverse continent again. We will meet again as great herds, flocks and shoals. We will talk of this time and perhaps we will be grateful and more celebrating of the beautiful world we belong to. In awe and more respecting of the responsibility that our wide strides have on the landscape. Perhaps the time after the virus will be full of reciprocity and individual islands finding new ways of offering safe harbour.

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