John Underwood, Norfolk

I count myself lucky to be unconcerned about tonsorial matters during lockdown. A quick whizz with the hair clippers and my on/off beard and mostly off hair are both sorted in minutes. Ally is wondering how she should present her neither-one-thing-nor- the-other barnet. Too short to put up, and yet too long to style as the hairdresser originally cut it. Only time will tell. In the meantime we look at the changing hairstyles of public figures on the television and comment with amusement on the new beard here, the floppy fringe there, the dark roots showing and grey asserting itself.


My grandfather was a barber, and I have a book of Edwardian hair styles that he must have looked at. It bears the rubber stamp of the family shop in Poole High Street (the shop is still there, now a model shop) dating to the early 1900’s, before he set up on his own in the front parlour of the terraced house in Reading where my mother grew up. The little book is a future binding project, as the limp card boards are separate from the text block. I haven’t yet worked out how to reattach them without losing the lettering on the spine. Every couple of weeks, I take it off the shelf and muse on it, trying out different approaches in my mind. 


It seems that Hairdressers will not be allowed to open their premises for some while, and when they do, presumably bloodletting will not be amongst the services on offer, unless by accident. 


From Comenius’s “Visible World”, the 1777 twelfth edition


Isolating (seriously)

Jean, Melbourne Australia

As of last night Victoria eased restrictions so now 5 people (in addition to the number of normal residents) can get together at someone's home, 10 people can meet at outdoor gatherings, boot camps and weddings, and 20 mourners can attend funerals if inside and 30 if outside. They advise no hugging, kissing or shaking of hands. The state hasn't yet set a date for students to return to school. You can golf, hike, fish, and go boating but not go camping. Hairdressers and barbers can open but have to keep to the 'one person per 4 square meters' - not sure if this is physically possible! Meanwhile, there are still outbreaks of infection in the state, the largest in West Melbourne at an abbatoir and meat packing firm. And the premier has said we mustn't go crazy and visit family and friends every night! 


The pressure to open things up is on and I can see the signs of wanting to break out in myself. Yesterday I couldn't bear the thought of being in my flat or walking round the neighbourhood streets so I got in the car and drove to Carlton, a part of town I've always loved, near the university and normally full of life. Quite a few cafes and restaurants were open for take-aways and looked well set up for social distancing, and wine shops, clothing shops, a make-up shop (!) were open, but the book store was closed and a number of other store fronts were clearly and eerily left vacant. I was expecting to get a buzz from venturing out but it just felt empty without people filling the streets and cafes and without all the myriad interactions that give colour to life.


Today started out sort of misty and grey and rainy, but now the clouds have shifted, there's more light and the burnt orange of the changing leaves is sparking up the day.


The translation of 'Brisbane' has commenced and I am now on page 9. Just finished an extended riff on the smell of Gleb's waterproof jacket, indelibly linked to his first day of school and an newly acute awareness of his feelings. I had never before heard of the domra but this is the lute like instrument Gleb is advised to begin with after being told by the music school that his hands are too small to manage a guitar fingerboard. You can check out what it sounds like on YouTube - including a granny playing one in a St. Petersburg street!


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

On a serious note, I am aware of my moods. The lowest point for me was Monday this week - the morning after the PM’s Sunday address. The shock and terror of the illness and the lives that have been lost has numbed us all, but on Monday with all the confusion and criticism surrounding the Prime Minister’s address, the enormity and complexity of the task ahead really started to hit home and has caused me to accept that the worst is undoubtedly still to come.  The fear and sorrow of those who are inevitably going to lose their jobs and livelihoods; the way in which children and young people are going to be disadvantaged; and as a very real winter of discontent looms the silence and loneliness of those who are already ill, old, bereaved or alone. Most of us contributing to this journal will still be cataloguing small but meaningful pleasures. There will be delight and amusement at creative solutions and there will be comfort.


Right now, I am more angry with the media and the naysayers than I am with the government.  There is absolutely no going back. We have to learn to live with this virus and with the massive impact it will continue to have on all aspects of our lives. As in every sphere, mistakes will be made by all of us - not just the government.  Weariness will dull us so we have to keep a balance. Blame, the most insidious response, will simply slow us down and make us less agile.


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

From today we are told we can go out for exercise for as long as we wish and as far away as we wish, as long as it doesn’t involve crossing a national border, except France I believe! 

While we are there we can meet with a single person, but not a couple, from another family but if we are a couple we have to separate for some undetermined distance to make it appear that we don’t know each other! What’s the logic I ask? I can only assume that it’s a misrepresentation of “R”. If an infected person meets with a single person then the maximum risk of spread is only one, but if a couple it could be two. This hypothesis doesn’t hold water since the “R” value doesn’t apply to each social interaction and is merely a calculated value from the shape of the infection curve. In any case the risk of transmission outside is very low at two metres distance, even lower on windy days like today. Harrumph!

So I’m off outside with my shears to trim the portugese laurel tree in the courtyard. In doing so I will get my daily dose of vitamin D which may well be important in reducing severity of coronavirus and may be part of the explanation of why some people don’t do so well. Tomorrow I plan to finish the nasty job I was in the middle of when the lockdown started - rubbing down the hull of my boat before applying the antifouling - an even more nasty job!

You’ve perhaps understood my mood today!


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

According to the new Government guidance I can now meet a friend for a socially distanced walk. Now is the time to confess that I have already been doing this twice a week. We arrange to be on Westwood at a certain point at a set time, where we happen to encounter each other and then walk in the same direction, well over two metres apart. So nothing has changed there. In fact very little has changed. We certainly won’t be jumping into the car and rushing off to the coast. But there is exciting news in Beverley. Boyes has reopened! For the uninitiated Boyes (occasionally referred to as Boys - es) is a regional store with the slogan ‘good for value’. Their first shop was opened in Scarborough in 1881 and it is still a family business. This is the shop where you go to buy more or less anything - a saucepan, tin of paint, packet of seeds or even a pair of outsize knickers. Best of all they have an excellent haberdashery section, and they sell elastic, for which the local mask makers are apparently desperate. Sewing, apart from patchwork, is not my strong point but as I now have elastic I might be just tempted to dig out the sewing machine and have a go.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Yesterday proved interesting. Nothing much to write about the app, except I haven't heard of anyone being called for a test yet. It remains to be seen whether the slight freeing of people results in a free for all, as I fear it might.


On another front, I went for a long walk in the afternoon, exceeding the one hour for exercise in fact. Walking about seemed to reveal that road traffic has increased slightly - maybe more people back at work already. Down near the yacht harbour I encountered a seal - only the second one I've seen in the Solent. I have heard there are about 40, but they don't show themselves often. This one was disporting itself very openly and seemed content to doggy paddle around, apparently looking at people on shore, like me! I found it a very exciting happening. Got a rather poor quality picture of it!


When I got home I was looking at my garden and a squirrel turned up - not unusual. This one, however, wasn't red, but horror of horrors, grey in colour. Greys are totally banned from the Island. I watched for a time and realised that unlike mainland greys, it was rather small and had ear tufts like a normal red squirrel. By this time I had relaxed into the idea that it was probably just a colour variation, although I'd never heard of a grey one. My best beloved, with whom I was talking on the phone, suggested I get a picture and contact the Isle of Wight Red Squirrel Trust. After a struggle with a flat camera battery I managed to grab my iPad in time a get some not very good shots. I then messaged Helen at the trust and she pointed out I had solved a mystery. It seems several reports of a 'grey' being seen had come in from my neighbourhood. She said that the grey colour variation is rare, but does exist, and that the one I'd seen was a true 'red' despite appearance to the contrary.


Come the evening I decided to listen to music from streamed via Spotify. I've never mentioned this in the journal before, but I am a 5-string banjo player and love bluegrass music, which is what I put on. This developed slightly and I got my banjo out and played along for a time, practising accompaniment. Eventually I got tired of holding my heavy instrument (14 lb weight) and put it down. By this time I was well in the mood so to speak and started to dance. I really think I have lost it - dancing on my own late at night, but it was great fun and good exercise I guess.  What madness is to follow that!...


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

I was right. Even before I got to the park straight after writing yesterday, it had been scalped. No more waving daisies, dandelions, clover: just matted, sickly monotone yellow-green acres. Still the populace was undaunted, and spread around on picnic blankets and lounging next to cast-aside bicycles, enjoying the (now legitimate) freedom to take back ownership of their park (though was each group composed of family members? All the same age..?).


Thrown into a reflective mood, I mulled over the recent phone call from one of my dear friends, a former work colleague (she is still there, I bowed out a year ago). We worked for a local-government-aided charity which supports carers, of the at-home family and friends kind, and have a lot of shared history. I started thinking about my days there, and how much I loved the work (apart from the admin). I knew I was good at my job, and it was the first - if belated - time I truly felt I was giving something back. To make a (benign) difference in the world: what a gift.


She told me that that council has now, in these different times, given a wider remit to the charity: to embrace all in the community who are suffering, not just the carers (who, it has to be said, are having a seriously rough time, trapped even more than usual in their homes, providing 24/7 care which is often strenuous, nerve-shredding and even dangerous). I almost wish I were still there, being of use, instead of being at home feeling shamefully sorry for myself.


Their work has become more serious, heavier; while face-to-face work has obviously stopped, the telephone helpline is even more exhausting than usual for those on duty, and they need extra downtime either side of each shift. On a brighter note, she was loving working from home: was actually able to achieve a great deal more, with a lovely view to boot. Still, the bosses will doubtless at some point rein everyone back in to the office, where they can keep their suspicious beady eyes on the real workers.


As ever, plus ça change.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Some people have gone back to work and the tubes and buses are quite busy. Seems impossible that social distancing will be observed. I think masks should be compulsory. You can make masks and apparently puppy training pads act as a very good filter. Wilko £3.50 They also have cheap flower pots. Excited to see Homebase is open but not sure I can face it. The one in Cromer is next door to Lidl and they are very good for nuts, maple syrup, ground almonds etc apart from fruit and veg. A really exciting day out! It might be too much excitement all in one go.

On More or Less (R4) this morning they were quite interesting about the governments figures on testing and whether they had achieved their goals. No was the short answer.


We are approaching massive recession.....

Too depressing.


Monty Don was on Today this morning talking about Nigel. He was a very special dog. I think Monty is overwhelmed by the out pouring of love. He has had thousands and thousands of messages. My previous golden retriever was called Otis and he lived until he was 13. The following year I got Earnie who is like Nigel. Otis was madly obsessed with tennis balls like Nigel. Earnie is more interested in Markies and cashmere accessories.


There were some baby blackbirds in the garden this morning. The wheelbarrow of stripey tulips is beginning to look magnificent.


I think Hilary Q's Indian parasol is lovely.

Need to do some work.

Annabel x



Lockdown in Birmingham

Kevin Godfrey, Birmingham UK

The rain yesterday was good for the garden, but perhaps not enough for some plants; guess I’ll have to keep watering those pots. 


Looking up at the sky I watch seagulls whirling as they make their way to the coast of Wales from which, if I have my compass right, they seem to come and go daily. A flash of memory takes me back to sailing on the Solent so many years ago; looking up at a blue sky and listening to the seagulls. It seems I spent most summers in the sixties on that eighteen foot “Irishman” (a now defunct model of clinker-built sailing dinghy, I do wonder if any are left, but the years have been too many and I’ve not kept up). I miss those years, as I miss a lot of life’s past events and memories.


I have watched the dinghies on Bartley reservoir, tracing their figures of eight over a few acres of non-tidal and calm water. I guess it’s what you do if you have no access to the sea yet want to get out on the water, but my memories of waiting for the tide, watching out for ocean liners coming and going up and down Southampton Water, moving far away from the shore, are too poignant and a couple of circuits of a reservoir don’t do it for me.


Sat now in my garden to where I am isolated for the foreseeable future it’s hard not to reflect on just what is going on. Not for the country, nor indeed the world, but for me, over seventy and retired.


When I was young I was faster! Were not we all? A heart attack five years ago gave me a sense of mortality: Wordsworth had it as “Intimations of Immortality, and perhaps it’s the same thing in some ways, his subtitle was - “from recollections of early childhood”. 


There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,

The earth, and every common sight

To me did seem

Apparelled in celestial light -


My past seemed to me to consist of summers and sailing. It cannot have been so, but the winters and rain and cold do not figure highly in my store-box of memories.


I am slower now. Are not we all? And now a hip replacement operation has added to my sense that I am somehow not invincible. I am, ‘with all the world’, isolated from most of my fellows of the human race. We sit in our houses and, if we are lucky, gardens, and reflect on being alone and actually avoiding others; that still seems so very strange to me. I wonder when it will end - when can Denise and I hop in the car, drive to Harborne and have a cup of coffee in a café, browse the book shop and drive back via Woodgate Valley Park for a walk among the fields of horses and along the stream? I am lucky: I have here books, a garden and the lady I love; I know many cannot say that and my heart goes out to those really alone.


I remain optimistic; we will come out of this and life will slowly get back to normal. But in the meantime I must close my eyes and remember that I was once younger, faster, carefree. We reach a stage where the years ahead are fewer than those behind, a sort of cresting the hill feeling. It does not worry or scare me; I am a pragmatist and humanist and will enjoy the life I have.


“Il n’y a qu’une vie, donc elle est parfait“. It means ‘ there is only one life, therefore it is perfect’. The feminine pronoun for La Vie renders it more poetic in French.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

As we step over the threshold into The Brave New World laid before us by Messrs Johnson, Hancock & Co Ltd, by Royal Appointment Purveyors of Dreams and False Alarms, the ONS ‘Excess Deaths’ figure published yesterday was 59,700. Just saying.


From today, apart from greater freedom to get ‘out there’, carefully, alert, to visit, play golf, tennis, generally live a little, we can also buy and sell or rent houses, as those perennial occupants of bottom of the Love League table - Estate Agents - are allowed to open and once more convert old rope. Actually, a whole cohort of young Agents who’ve never known anything but a bull market may have a shock. Us oldies have been through two or three recessive property markets in our time and we may be on the brink of another. However, it’s a staple of a buoyant Economy, and back in the 90’s a Clinton Strategist, asked what was most important famously said, “the Economy, stupid” so they must be let loose to have a go. Plus ca change...


As expected, we got confirmation the furloughing scheme will be extended, but detail‘s still vague concerning the ‘tapering’ that passes more of the burden to Employers over the last three months to October.

Meanwhile, media behemoth Twitter may be single-handedly altering both the Property and Employment scene: so successful has their ‘work at home’ policy been, they’re considering abandoning the crystal palaces they built for workers and allowing many to work at home ‘forever’... (Shudder) I should maybe declare a lifelong rather ambivalent attitude to work. My sister, recognising it, sent me the ‘Peanuts’ cartoon below years ago. Overall in the UK 44% of workers are thought to be working from home against 14% in normal times. 


I seem to have put on a bit of weight during lockdown, only a kilo or so, but it has forced a move up the trouser size. Out of curiosity I measured myself and found I’m now 44/44/44. I have become a lockdown cylinder.


A lovely bright ‘n’ breezy day for social release here in Norfolk, but as we no longer golf or play tennis, we have a sedate 11am appointment at a Garden Centre ‘click and collect’ - a mixed bag including some Cardoons, for impact. We moved from there, the only customer in sanitised conditions, to a bit of a scrum at another, more aggressively retail outfit where silver surfers had turned out in force where I got, via very clearly marked-out ‘lanes’ through the display areas, some hot red geraniums (alright, Pelargoniums) for my ‘ladder installation’ plus compost from a very happy looking Proprietor.

Back home, I saw my first pheasant and chicks for the year, a chocolate ‘melanistic’ hen with a colourful collection behind, looking like they run on clockwork. Glad I cut the grass yesterday - long grass is death to pheasant chicks as the hens are generally hopeless mothers and will stride off, shedding chicks until there are none left. I do leave a fringe of nettles though, so they can all dart under cover if a crow or buzzard comes over.