From the black shed
David E, East Norfolk
The Norfolk Coast
Those who feel they “own” our outdoor spaces are getting nervous about how many will embark on journeys to scenic places in the National Parks or the coast this weekend. Our local councils on the coast are still saying “don’t come here” and trying to dissuade visitors by keeping car parks closed.
Surely there’s enough space for everyone on our fabulous coastline. The Norfolk coast is over a hundred miles long, from King’s Lynn, past Sunny Hunny where the sun sets over the sea, through the salt marshes of Northwest Norfolk, along the cliffs where the North Norfolk ridge meets the sea and where woolly mammoths are found. Past the retreating coast at Happisburgh where the oldest hominid footprints outside Africa were found in 2014 then onwards through the holiday villages to Hopton.
From the age of six I have never lived more than 15 miles from the North Sea; in Scotland, the North-East or here in Norfolk so I guess I’m an Easterner as opposed to a Northerner or a Southerner. As a child we used to go cockling at Wells, winkling at West Runton or crabbing at Cromer. We still have the occasional crab but we leave the cockles and winkles alone. Mostly we visit the more remote beaches where the skylarks sing overhead and the seals laze on the sand. So let’s welcome everyone who needs some outdoor exercise - don’t we all.
Nicky, Vermont, US
Well, I did go down to the parking lot on my own though I met a friend there who had been collecting plants from a farmer in our village. Farmers grow starters in greenhouses and then sell them because the growing season is too short for gardeners to grow many plants from seeds. My friend has been been sick for weeks, since returning from a puppetry workshop in Montreal in early March or late February. She told me she had tested negative for the virus, but while she mostly kept a sensible distance from me I worried when I was downwind from her. That said though, it was lovely to see her and talk to her. And she spotted an eagle flying above us. Of course I didn’t have a camera or binoculars but it was great to know it was there and I did see it glide on wind currents. And then she spotted a raven. All good.
I managed to turn the square chunk of metal and wheels into a bike and then back into a carryon sized chunk. When my friend left with her car load of starters I rode the bike around, did figure eights, and remembered that I do like to ride a bicycle. I ventured out into the road a little but the choices were either uphill or downhill and I haven’t yet figured out the gears. With the tiny wheels even the slightest incline can use gear help. At least for me. So gears are the next challenge but yeah for the moment of delight while careening around the parking lot.
I discovered that people go to the parking lot to hang out. In their cars. Alone. It’s actually a “Park and Ride,” a place for people to park and then meet someone else to share a car into the city. (The “city” being the small town, 7000 people and two main streets, that is the Vermont state capital.) Because the parking lot is paved and because people aren’t commuting with each other there was lots of space for me, the bike, my friend, ravens, eagles, and people sitting in their cars listening to the radio or talking on the phone or doing whatever it is they are doing.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Idiosyncratic, published poet with track record of prophesy and dynamic Old Testament presentation skills required for newly converted Garden Hermitage. Proven knowledge of immunology essential. Must be thin and vaccinated. Birkenstock’s and uniform supplied.
Duties to include the preparation of top quality contributions to daily online Plague Journal; mole and rabbit control; occasional counselling and guidance to wandering members of the household seeking respite from comfortable middle class ennui. Opportunity exists for those wanting to practice sign language skills and stand up techniques.
Former outside lavatory block adapted to attractive Country Living style cell with pretty medicinal herb garden and laboratory attached. Installation of hot tub and fixed BBQ considered for right candidate.
Application must be supported by references.
A photograph would be appreciated.
James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA
AV (After Virus)
Ignored, a woman dressed in sophisticated town gear stood in the rustic village square avoiding the ox carts. After a time a group of women approached her and took her to their shared house.
“My name is Amelia Thompson,” she said. “Outreach ambassador from the Stayhome Corporation.” Thompson took a tablet of light from her bag. The peasant women crowded around the table and gasped at huge homes, shag carpets, chairs large enough to hold a family.
“Where are the children today?” Thompson asked.
“They are with the men, as is right and proper.” Morag the leader said.
“Could I see the men and explain,” Thompson asked. “Then they could sign you all up.”
“Not likely. We’re not having you wandering into their lions’ den.” Megan said.
The women laughed and raised their glasses of home brew.
“You speak for everyone?” Thompson asked, pushing her silken hair back behind her ear. The air was close. Thompson crinkled her nose. These rural woman were strangers to deodorant.
“Of course we do ducks. We rule.”
“We are offering you the opportunity to sell your agricultural and home craft products to handpicked, wealthy markets in the city. In addition we offer a unique Stayhome experience where folk from the city come and live with you.”
“You do realize we have pit latrines and bathe in the river,” a woman said. “The men have to carry all the water up from the well and firewood from the forest.”
“City folk want to get back in touch with nature. All you need do is sign up here. We take care of everything.”
‘Not so fast, sister.” Said Morag. “Apart from money, what’s in it for us?”
“Exchange visits to the city.”
“Is your boss a man or a woman?”
“Yeah. Companies like yours are owned by fossil fuel outfits. Who owns you?”
“We are an international corporation,” Thompson said, slipping her tablet into her bag.
“Right. We will need to examine your environmental policies, sweetheart.”
“I can arrange that. It’s getting dark I need to go,” Thompson said, her bladder bursting.
After Thompson’s whirring craft had cleared the skies, the women went back into the house. The sound of toilets flushing was accompanied by the drawing back of internal curtains. Screens glowed as they dissected the Stayhome corporation. All greenwash disguising extractive industries pumping pollution into the lungs of virally susceptible citizens.
“Better make sure all is OK at home,” Morag said, looking at the video feeds from well-lit, spacious nests: baths being taken, stories read, supper cooking on methane cook stoves. Soon they would all be together again. “I’m not having that daft bitch upsetting this,” Morag said. “Now she’s gone, let’s get back up there to our loved ones.”
Further up the mountain as their children slept, they showered and put on clean clothes, and ate their supper with their partners. It was essential to keep urban dwellers believing there was nothing of value out here in the darkness of the back woods.
Hello from Eastbourne
Outside by Franklin Lewis Macrae
There has been some good news. The Lockdown rules have been relaxed a bit and we are now allowed to go outside when we want, to wherever we want. We still have to be sensible and social distance. So on the first day, we went to the forest. The trees have changed with spring and they were lush and magestic. My sister and I walked along a path that was used by rabbits and we even saw a black rabbit bound along the path.
My sister was looking around for mushrooms in the shape of a ring. She told me that if we found one then we could get on a train to fairyland but we didn't find any much to her disappointment. I don't believe in fairies anymore but she does so I pretend for her.
My mum wanted strong sticks to stake her dahlias so we had fun finding some for her. We also found a swing and some rocky banks to scramble up.
A few days later we went on the Downs, to our secret cove. It's called Cow Gap. My mum packed flasks of hot chocolate and cakes and we ate them on the beach. There are great rocks to run over but I slipped on one and hurt my arm. I did climb a gargantuan hill before that though, mum timed me and I took 35 seconds to get to the top. We got near the Beachy Head lighthouse but mum made us turn back as she wasn't sure what the tide was doing and people do get stuck down there. When we got home, my mum made a pot of green soup for lunch. She said it's a Swedish dish. I love Sweden.
The green soup secret by Marli Rose Macrae
Yesterday mummy took us to Cow Gap, the secret cove on the Downs. We are now allowed to go further for as long as we like as long as we are careful. We got into the car and we drove off. We parked by some pretty red brick houses and while we realised along the pavements we looked inside other people's gardens. We spied golden marigolds, dainty colombines of every colour, nodding their delicate heads in the gentle breeze and wallflowers of deep rich purples and reds. But the most stunning flowers were the roses. They were giant and in every colour. They smelled gorgeous. When we got to the foot of the Downs we started to climb and when we were a good way up, we saw that there was an electric fence. Mummy said that something rare must be growing there, a plant that's rare and good for bees and butterflies as they have done this before up there. It was a bit further up when we discovered what it was for. Inside the fence were gigantic, acorn brown coloured bulls. Mummy said they move the bulls around to give fields a rest.
We followed the tiny path that runs along the bottom of the cliffs. The cliffs above were covered in thick brambles, I thought it would be fun to change into a bird and fly through them. At last we got to Cow Gap. Luckily, the tide was out because when the tide is in, you can't see the cove. We walked along the beach and jumped from one big rock to another and collected lots of rocks and shells of all different shapes, colours and sizes. After a while, we sat in front of a huge rock that sheltered us from the wind and we had chocolate eclairs and hot chocolate. We ran up some huge mounds and across some sand and even managed to get close to the lighthouse. We jumped from rock to rock on the way back, we couldn't stay much longer as the tide was starting to come in.
When we came home, mummy made green soup and sourdough for lunch. Mummy told Franklin that the green soup is Swedish and because he loves everything Swedish and Scandinavian, he gobbles it up but I saw it in the Waitrose magazine and it didn't say anything about Sweden. I won't tell him but daddy and I did laugh at it.
John Underwood, Norfolk
Lie back and relax
Do not be alarmed if I begin a sentence with “So”,
Or end it on a rising interrogative inflexion?
It is what we do nowadays.
So pretend you have a friend,
Who tells you mirthfully about a clip she has seen on a social media platform?
Of a slobbery dog sliding on shiny Lino,
It’s paws skittering haplessly as it struggles to grip.
And of a swan landing all flap and flollop on a frozen river
Careening into the other swans.
And she tells of a poor man sliding down an icy hill,
Following this supermarket trolley that he fished from that stream,
And the trolley contains all his possessions.
Together they crash into a rich man’s car haha,
And he shouts and gesticulates but also slips and they both slide
Teeter tottering clutching the one at the other.
You may laugh at the poor man,
It is what we do nowadays.
And she tells of an Indian grandmother in her sari,
Tumbling down a garish helter-skelter to land on the mat
Legs akimbo at the feet of her family and you can see from their faces,
What they think of the foolish older woman.
There is a lightbulb glowing above your head,
You might reach up and touch, it is not hot?
It is energy efficient, we are replacing them all nowadays.
Allow yourself a moment of utter clarity.
So there is no lolloping dog, no graceless swan,
No poor man or older woman?
And the Lino, river, road and helter skelter
Are but the whirligig of time,
Hurtling a soul, cartwheeling it across the floor pell mell,
Towards a painful humiliating end at the feet of your family.
So. So that soul is your soul?
Sorry about the dark pic, John, (Sheila: I have lightened it for you) but thought you might like to see the Tonstrina from the first? second? printing of the Orbis Pictus (Noribergae, 1658?) - a tight-bound volume, lacking tp. The set-up is very like your barber-shop and the text, in Latin and German, and the picture numbering are pretty much the same - no windows though for blood-letting spies.
Plus ca change...
Baltazar shd have been Balthazar in that last despatch although he has now given way to Mountolive. Progress.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
I seem to have overdone something - most likely shifting some bricks, awkwardly, too casually, and have been gently pottering today, definitely on light duties but trying to keep on the move. Sitting brings with it the sting of standing up and any serious work might do harm so I rest. The old back trouble (“senile disintegration”, I recall the Radiographer declaring. “Irreversible, just worn out”) is better for being kept gently mobile and I combine varied small tasks with strolls. My motive as ever has a hint of ulterior: early next week I plan to go beach fishing for the first time since incarceration and it’s a surprisingly muscular sport. I must be fully recovered for that.
So, a spell in the polytunnel, repotting my geraniums in old clay pots ready for the ladder and watering everything. Hunted for - and found - a mound of guineafowl eggs. Sorted a place in the garden for some more Hazels, anticipating fitness soon. Put the tractor on charge after discovering I left the ignition on and had but 3 volts to play with. Mowed a patch of grass for the first time this year as bits were getting tufty - rabbits, deer and the occasional hare have kept it fairly trim, but are selective.
Then, on the way back from dropping off the car for its MOT, I came through the stretch of woodland where the school ‘totem pole’ installation is sited that gave rise to the Henge I posted about before. They’re all rotted off now, but some retain a bit of length and all are a thing of colourful mystery to countless small children as they move on to their ultimate fate, beetle banks. The poles, not the kids. The kids move on to the next pole, it’s the way Mums keep them interested during a walk.
Then I dropped off a bundle of Teasels for school art project, rather than consign them to the bonfire. I mentioned them in a round robin email among my Cottage Gardener chums while offering some spare cauliflower plants and got a quick taker. Noble things, Teasels. Loved by Goldfinches and Nature’s very own hooky stuff once used in the woollen industry for raising nap on some fabrics, including green baize for snooker tables. If you look down into a Teasel plant, the intersections of the leaves with the stem are often filled with stored water. And so on to the final ‘drop’, cauliflower and pumpkin plants for another neighbour. A meander back and it’s running nicely up to Briefing time. Another day gone.
Nearby there’s a report of a Turtle Dove, which is a gentle delight and something of a rarity round here - I last saw one three years ago. Neither have I seen or heard a cuckoo this year though again a neighbour has. A few years back I regularly fished in far, far, NE Scotland - the Brora - always the middle of May (pre midge season) and always heard them there.
Thanks for the Granola recipe Beth - I think we’ve everything except the wheatgerm and I know we can get that and it’ll use some of the semi-dried blueberries I sent for when I had a sudden urge to make a fruity Soda Bread. Just the once.
Honey, raisins and almonds feature in my favourite shop-bought Granola - but the almonds are ‘raw, whole’ and I prefer ‘toasted, sliced’ so there’s a selling point straight away. Bespoke Granola in the Time of Plague. Who’dve thought it.