Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Saturday morning, and news/social media alive with replays of Health Secretary Matt Hancock, at the Briefing yesterday, Friday 15th May:

“Right from the start we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes. We set out our first advice in February... we’ve made sure Care Homes have the resources they need”.

An interesting use of careful language: “have”, not “had”. So, not a lie if they have it now. Whether they tried to “throw a ring around”... who knows? And what was the advice in February? The only ref I can find is this, Feb 25th: “Guidance for social or community care and residential settings on Covid-19...It is very unlikely that people receiving care in care homes will be infected by the new coronavirus” so, the advice was “nothing to worry about”!

That advice was withdrawn on 13th March.

But if Care Homes (always an easy target for the virus) had good supplies of PPE from the start, if they hadn’t been reassured there was no risk, if they weren’t seeded with untested, hospital-discharged coronavirus patients, then maybe the current ONS estimate of 12,000 Care Home deaths would have been mitigated. Sure, that’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘maybes’ but it doesn’t look good when Ministers try to rewrite history. 


It’s the weekend, a bit grey this morning, but better is to come from Sunday onwards and it’s the first weekend since we were let loose. I’m feeling pretty chipper, off to the reclaim yard soon and then maybe on to the bit of relatively remote beach I plan to fish on Monday, just to make sure the ‘layby parking’ isn’t coned off. For there is much fly in the Norfolk diversions ointment...

With perfect timing and as part of their ‘Wednesday Relaxations’ there’s finally a ruling on motor boating by The Broads Authority here in the Broads where boating is part of watery life - and it ain’t good news: no hire boats allowed, not even for the day. It’s caught up in the same ‘Hospitality’ bind where things aren’t due for revision before July 4th. And you can bet it hurts, Hospitality being worth approaching £4bn to Norfolk and thus a big tax-earner.

In the same vein North Norfolk Council and Yarmouth Corporation too, fearing Norfolk folk will be fixated on seeing the sea, won’t be opening Public Toilets or carparks on the coast, hoping to deter visitors. My guess is that there will be visitors, they’ll find parking somewhere, and some of them will be caught short.

Even more perplexing, remote, beautiful Holkham beach is closed - Holkham Estate claiming they “must protect their Staff”. Well, of course they must - but visitors don’t need Staff to accompany them to the beach. Anyway, what staff?  Staff to empty the parking machines? I’ve never seen Staff except in the cafe - close it!  As for toilets, ditto - ‘go before you go’, like we did in the old days.


Unfortunately the beach is a long way down an undoubtably private road with no parking possible on the narrow highway, so closing is in their ‘gift’. Close the money collection points, close your cash cow, but don’t stop us getting to the beach... the pic (below) was taken earlier this year on a day when the carpark was pretty well full. Not exactly crowded, is it?




John Underwood, Norfolk

Reaching out.

How nice of you, Jail-house, to reach out from lockdown and send the image of the Barber shop from the 1658 Orbis Pictus. I write when I have the urge, or feel blisteringly angry and need release, or have something that seems to chime in with current events, but usually without any feedback. Off go the words and pictures into the ether, and that is the end of it.


I think that I prefer my much later version of the book as the cuts seem to be more detailed, and the English text is very quirky, but I suspect that your early edition is a pretty rare thing. Thank you so much for sharing!


Yesterday’s poem arrived almost complete in my head at three in the morning when I unaccountably woke. I spent the next half hour memorising it, and thought that I would go back to sleep, but then feared that I would forget it all, and had to get up and write it down before it evaporated. Which disturbed my wife Ally, and it was a couple of hours before she could settle back to sleep. I rarely write anything but descriptions of books, and this journal has encouraged me to just put it out there. I am hugely conscious that the audience contains several brilliant published poets, and my son Jack is a poet, so I have to not think too much about that and just hit the submit button before I bottle out


I love so many of the “journalists”. David Horovitch’s “ what the fuck” comment made me laugh out loud yesterday, and cheered me up immensely.  I am a political animal, and have been since I was a student, so it was good to have someone else expressing bewilderment and disappointment at our  government’s response. In the spirit of reaching out to fellow contributors, the images below are for you David, and for you Chris Gates. Both images from the 1777 Comenius’s “ Visible World”.



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

A Right Proper Test


Nuanced opening partnership

Builds unbeaten stand in first test.

Conditions humid, tropical,

Bounce erratic, variable,

A Burnley Flyer’s paradise!

Determined English resistance.

A lock-down crowd enjoyed stoic

Batting display, no flashy strikes

Just pushing singles day by day

Picking their shots, finding a way

To frustrate the opposition.

Few chances taken; nicking one

On rare occasions through the slips, 

Quick running between the wickets;

Withstanding calls for caught behind,

Run outs, stumped, niggles for the mind

All psychological rivals

In the battle for survival.

With fifty safely on the board

They look well set to keep the score

Ticking on. Proper Boycott-style 

Test, gritty, dour, attritional.


Thin air

John Mole, St.Albans



If truth could be told

it would find in us


the single image 

of itself alone.


No sideways glance,

no tentative evasion


but face to face

with what has passed.


It would wait patiently

while we sleep


in tangled thickets 

of confusion


then step out

to guide our future


lit from within

by selfless love.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Another lovely day, so I think a walk is called for. Yesterday I went out as usual and visited my best beloved's beach hut, which has been rather sadly neglected of late. I was happy to find it in good condition and ready for use in the near future. Some of the neighbours were down there already. Whether or not the Island council has authorised use I don't know, but the view of those sunning themselves seems to be based on Bournemouth council up the coast allowing it. Quite honestly it seems a good idea and I think it won't be too long before we are 'hutting' again - hooray!!


It was good to see yesterday that most people were obeying the distancing rules and etiquette very well. For pedestrians like me the only real problem was silently approaching bikes. There are many more people riding than quite recently and they don't seem to bother with warning devices - a bell would be good. I was reminded of Amsterdam!


Today there is word that an against the rules gathering of youngsters is to take place on Ryde beach. Apparently it has all been arranged via social media. I really hope the police are on to it. Later on I may walk down and see what, if anything, is happening.


Signed up today to an Imperial College app that will let me officially report my red squirrel sightings. Somehow I think I will make many reports, because I see squirrels almost every day. They really are the most delightful small animals and they brighten my day...


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

I was woken to a strange sound this morning of Earnie barking really loudly which meant that someone had breached the defences. My house is slightly set back from the road behind a gate and if he hears the gate, he barks ferociously. When he was about 3 months old and was this tiny sweet little ball of golden retriever fluff I was here with my friend Annabelle having a cup of tea in the garden and the gate went and he barked this enormously loud hound of the Baskervilles WOOF  WOOF  WOOF. It was extraordinary and very funny. That was in the old days when you could have a cup of tea in the garden with a friend.


Anyway I remembered that the oil was going to be delivered today and that you had to stay in the house while they came in. Earnie was literally dancing on the spot as he was so excited thinking it was Roger whom he likes even more than I do as he comes loaded with dog treats. He had to stay in for 10 minutes with his legs crossed while the oil man was here in before he could go out for his morning pea. It was a bargain. 22p a litre. £160.00 for 700 litres. 


It is getting noisier, there are people in the pub garden chatting. Probably the builders or the owners. I expect it will be a noisy summer when people are allowed out again to pubs but strictly in gardens.


I am going to do a semi virtual art class for me, my neighbour and my friends daughter to liven us up. I have picked them some flowers, found some big sheets of brown paper that the oil cloth came wrapped in and some brushes, paint, paper etc. It will stop me procrastinating if I have to do it as well. Putting ones money where ones mouth is. They are very very lucky as I have cut them the odd precious tulip from the pots and Daisy has had the first iris to flower in her jug.


Lisa has just rung to say that she can't get my nut order from the M&S garage in Aylsham that has been open 24 hrs a day since all this started as it is completely closed and roped off. Can't even drive in or turn around. 

I expect they have been struck down. I think Aylsham has been a bit of a hotspot for the virus which is why I haven't been near any of the big shops. I only went to Aylsham to take food parcels to Lisa and her family early on in all this as they were afflicted and couldn't go out.


In the outside world:

There seems to be alot of obfuscation about all the things the government did to protect the care homes, 'we threw a protective ring around care homes'.  Testing etc. Really?  Not enough PPE as it was all going to the NHS, no tests. Ill old people being sent back to care homes untested and carrying the virus to the most high risk group there is. The poor carers and people running the homes have done what they can do even moving in themselves but there are huge limits and they, the carers are dying as well. It is half way through May now and the government are finally bringing in recommendations and help which they could have done in January or February if they had been on the ball. Nearly 13,000 excess deaths in care homes in April.

There are still a very high number of new cases of CV19 every day. The relaxing of the lock down seems very odd and very unthought through. I think it is all a big mess really but I think herd immunity is part of it.


Back in the bubble:

Lisa and Daisy have just come to collect the art stuff and they brought me a big bunch of asparagus from another friend who is making masks for various people including an asparagus farmer. It is my neighbours birthday so I am about to break the law again, at least the second time today and take him a card and some chocolates I made.

Just removed a baby blackbird from the studio.

Love Annabel xxx



Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

Quite an exciting day for me yesterday, as I made my first trip to the local shop. We have been relying on Sainsburys' deliveries since the start of lockdown, but due to a problem with the computer while trying to complete our order, we were lacking some essentials. As we can only get one delivery slot a week, I volunteered to go down into town.


When I drove through on Wednesday the streets were deserted. I saw a maximum of five people and there were hardly any cars in the car park. Yesterday, however, there was a small queue outside the Spar shop, quite a few cars parked and a crowd of bikers sitting on the wall opposite the shop. This must be due to 'unlockdown', an unlikely sounding new word I heard this week.


I joined the queue, noting that everyone was being very good about social distancing but no-one was wearing a mask. Only six people are allowed in the shop at once. I clutched my mask, worrying whether I would feel silly, but when I reached the door I saw that all the shop staff were wearing them, so I quickly put mine on. It's one of those paper ones with elastic to go round your ears and this was the first time I had worn it. Let me just say, I should have had a test run first, these things are not easy to wear and I now understand why the 'scientific advice' in the beginning was that people touch their faces more when they wear one. It persisted in sliding up and down my nose and I kept dropping my shopping list and carrier bags so that whenever I leaned over to pick something up, it covered my eyes so I couldn't see what I was doing.


The assistant who served me was wearing a very smart visor, which patently stayed put and did not interfere with his movement. I made a mental note to acquire one of these. As I left, I told one of the shop assistants that it was my first shopping trip for seven weeks and she rushed to open the door for me, "oh bless you" she said, which was lovely but reminded me that others see you as you are, not as you think you are. I am not seventy till August.


I have to say, the shop would have delivered as they have done on a few previous occasions. I was just too embarrassed to ask the lovely young volunteer to cycle all the way up the hill with a shop consisting mostly of wine and chocolate. Essentials are whatever you consider them to be. We have already booked our next Sainsburys slot and all essentials are covered.



Then and Now

Peter Scupham

This Dark Season


Dusk unwraps our familiar otherness:

a swung gate, a tip-tap at the window,

an old cat rummaging for sleep

in a greenhouse, that frail hutch of gleam.


Step out, pause where the tree-line anchors

a floating pasture of cloud-shreds:

a deer, a fold of moonstruck shade

waits as custodian of that silence


we knew when, adrift in our lost gardens,

we, too, moved as the air moved, lightly

picked up by time, dropped as dead leaves

pluck from their corner to lie down again.


In  this dark season of gifts and strangers,

we balance the moment: rough grass

and star-peep. Eyes trap the solitude;

old bricks drowse and tremble in the cold,


your hand in mine goes whispering

as a wand of light conjures night adrift

over a presence step-changed into  absence.

Stiff branches ease back into conversation. 


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

Saturday. It’s warm but not sunny, and I’m clearing last year’s dahlia bed of weeds, so that I can see and protect the emerging dahlias. Actually, it’s not weeds I’m pulling up but thuggish euphorbia and very pretty linaria, but I have these plants in profusion. The other thuggish invader is Japanese Anemone, lovely in itself, but inclined to want to take over the whole bed.


Yesterday evening I spent cutting back Fennel which is making a takeover bid too. I love it , but not so much of it. I came in to make supper smelling of fennel , which was rather nice. Funnily enough, yesterday I also tried to make some fennel and sultana bread ( like Carluccios used to do) but though good, I didn’t put enough fennel seeds in it. I’ll be more generous next time. I managed to get a slot to order some more Shipton Mill flour and some fresh yeast, so felt very pleased about that. I’m still not brave enough to attempt Sourdough.


The post has brought some treats lately. I’ve bought several prints from artists involved in the Artists support pledge and the Printblock’s Offcut scheme. Look them up online. They are both great Initiatives to help artists sell at a time when galleries and exhibitions are closed. I’ll have a lot of framing to do soon!


I’m not a Social Media person, but I’m so glad my friend Mark Hearld introduced me to Instagram two years ago. I’ve made so many interesting friends and contacts, indeed many contributors to this journal arise from those contacts. It is a community, like this journal is becoming. And at times when one is housebound, such a community is even more valuable. But I think it is also the visual nature of Instagram that I enjoy, glimpses into others’ worlds and lives, artwork, paintings, animals, gardens, houses. Most of those I follow don’t see it as self advertisement and selfies, but passing on a way of looking at things. I like that.


Back to the garden and clearing the dahlia bed.