Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Sunshade base arrived this morning! Husband thinks the brollies are the ones made in Jaipur for the elephants. In my inner eye I have already attached ours to the boat for use as a spinnaker and then adjusted as a drogue for when we eat the crab sandwiches!


Husband also mentioned that when in London yesterday the Boris/Santander bikes still appear to be in use. We both thought this odd as we would have thought they’d be branded vectors. 


Friends in Oxfordshire, mother and daughter, have just acquired second hand bikes.  Mother’s is white and therefore named Blythe Spirit. Daughter’s is mottled purple and named Bella Donna. Both names could not be more perfect for those riding them!


The brolly is lovely and goes well with the brick!



Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

I have spent this last week preparing my income tax returns - returns in the plural, as I have TWO returns to complete - one for the UK and one for the USA. Unlike citizens of the United Kingdom, all US citizens are taxed by the American government under the same personal income tax system no matter where they reside. There is only one other country, Eritrea, that operates under this system. So, I am required to complete the return.

I rarely need to pay any US tax as there are numerous exemptions but to achieve these exemptions a great deal of form filling is required. These forms have become so complicated that for the last twenty years or so I have required the help of a US Accountant to complete them. Every year as I wade through this pile of paper I consider the question - Why have I not renounced my US citizenship? What still holds me to the country of my birth despite the fact that I have lived in England for over 50 years? I have affirmed allegiance to the Queen, taken the required UK citizenship test, paid the fees and acquired a British passport. So what is it about my birth home that still draws me so strongly?

This is a question I return to again and again. The concept of “home” and what it means is so multi - layered and once I have these forms out of way I hope to have time to consider it further.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Take a break, think about beauty


Light leached flat by overcast skies

settling on overhanging trees,

casting a cosseting spell

over the stream tumbling 

white frolicked dashing

between rocks, bird song all but

drowned by rustling shushing.


If there is beauty within me, then what

is mirrored from this glade?

Branches feather arcing over water

falling, framing, balancing?

There is more than the board brush

of composition: buried away is detail,

both visible and invisible.


I came here to remind myself that

it is in the still eye of a silent mind

that beauty dwells; in the moss

growing on the rocks; the instantly

forgotten ripples from water sluicing 

into a pool, energy fading in the

minuscule wavelets soft curving,

fluttering on the shore of grey pebbles.


The rocks are ancient beyond time,

and in the animation of water, 

motionless, as seconds pass

in the slow reveal,

exposing another clue—

an oak leaf turned over in my hand,

the handwritten leaf of a notebook—

beauty glimpsed, overlaying,

springing from the mystery of the unseen.


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

There was an unusual photograph in our local paper yesterday. It showed the funfair at Skegness, on the East coast. The picture was taken from Hunstanton in North-West Norfolk, about 12 miles distant across that part of the North Sea known as The Wash.


Unusual because the view of Skegness is normally obscured by smog, that layer of air pollution lying across the land and sea and which we don’t always see unless we are at some altitude. It has become obvious that the air is cleaner since lockdown. Colours seem more vivid. The sky, devoid of con-trails is an even deeper blue because of the absence of fine particles which absorb light. The stars at night are brighter. Even the fragrance of flowers seems more intense.


The UK has broken its record for coal-free power generation in April. No coal has been burnt for 37 days, the longest uninterrupted period since 1882. The national grid has even had to switch off some wind farms for fear of overloading the grid!

Cleaner air is good for our health but is good for the environment in other ways. Bees depend on sight and scent. Pollution breaks down scent molecules making it harder for bees to forage for the plants they like. This effect probably applies to other insect pollinators too so will have an effect on our agricultural systems. Plant growth is improved in clean air. 


I wonder what will happen when the pandemic is under control. Will the volume of traffic increase to its former level? Will our energy demands grow as the economy recovers? Will our political and health leaders tackle the problem more earnestly? Let’s hope so.



Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

It has been a struggle to try to keep our two non-corona wards corona-free. Almost any symtom can be an indication of corona, it seems, so it is difficult. Last week, in my ward, they had a patient without typical symtoms, in hospital for another condition who tested negative on three consecutive days, but positive on the fourth day. After that, a few of the staff fell ill, and this week everyone has been suspicious of every patient, and we have had more cases. Thus, on Friday they changed the routines so we all have to use protective masks in contact with all patients, not just those who we have tested for corona, and only single rooms for all patients. 


I think this is really a wise change even though there is a risk that we will not have enough hospital beds, so will have to send patients to other hospitals. One more solitary week for me here in the North before heading back to Uppsala and my family.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just

On Friday, in a moment's fierce need to get away from the screen, I took advantage of lockdown easing to buy some geraniums and a bearded iris. There was a near-normal number of cars on the road - in contrast to last week when I was almost in collision with a flight of swifts that came at me at rightangles at about 60 mph, obviously with no sense that the road was there at all. But being swifts, before I had my foot on the brake they'd done 180 degree vertical turns over the verge and were heading back the way they came. 


The garden centre was full of plants and surprisingly empty of people; the other cars must just have been out for exercise. Petrol at the main supermarkets in Penzance is now 99.9p per litre - which seems to be taking time behaving strangely to extremes. 


And a curiosity from yesterday's Guardian: the number of coronavirus cases in Cornwall is apparently 0.7 per 100,000 people. I suppose this just illustrates how many cases aren't reported: even in the current hotspots in the north it's officially around 40-43 people per 100,000, which hardly seems extreme - and if the figure for Cornwall were correct, it would make a grand total of 4.1 people in the entire county & the chances of running into one of them (especially the 0.1)  barely higher than of encountering the Beast of Bodmin.


And another curiosity: some restaurants in Germany are re-opening, but diners are being advised to wear masks.


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham

Clarissa saves the world!


When I was born I was given my paternal grandmother’s name, Clarissa. She had died, too young, from septicaemia when my father aged 27, was training to be a missionary. Throughout my life I have only met 2 people with the name Clarissa. One was an elderly lady in the 60’s when I was growing up in Sheffield. I visited her as we shared something special and she was lonely. Arriving in Sheffield after a childhood in the tropics (where I was known as Colissa, the ‘r’ being difficult to pronounce by my Chinese playmates) was especially hard and none of my Yorkshire classmates could bring themselves to call me ‘Clarissa’. It was too posh and what’s more I talked with a perfectly articulated radio pronouncers accent too. Very quickly I became ‘Clare’ with a flattened vowel sound and I learnt to call people ‘duck’ and ‘luv’. After I finished school in 1967 no one has ever shortened my name for me again. 


I was interested to find out that the name ‘Clarissa’ has been given to 35,694 people in the USA since the 1880’s. I wonder if the novel by Samuel Richardson ‘Clarissa’ (1744) had anything to do with it? When I google ‘Clarissa’ I find it is a popular name for Asian Americans and escorts girls. The name has also turned up in novels by Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, Ian McEwan. 


There is a portrait of a young child called ‘Clarissa Strozzi’ painted in 1542 by Titian. It shows Clarissa with her pet toy dog, a spaniel breed known as a Papillon (‘butterfly’ wing shaped ears) both of them looking a bit apprehensive (I can almost see a shiver in the small dogs limbs) but also splendid in the rendering of the colours and their surroundings. My heart is now set on acquiring a ‘Papillon’ if only just for the name.

My reason for bringing up my name in this pandemic diary is the discovery that a graphic novel is about to come out (it is following the actual pandemic timeline so the publication date is ?) and the protagonist is Clarissa! The new ‘gripping’ thriller is called... PANdemIC! There is corruption, heists, sordid corporate deals, economic disaster and Clarissa is there to save the world from the virus!!!  I wonder if there is a dog in the story? 


There ought to be a hero dog in the plot like the dogs that are going to be trained in Milton Keynes to detect the coronavirus. What luck for the Government! These dogs can test 200 people per hour!! Labradors and cocker spaniels have the best noses for sniffing diseases in humans and already they detect cancers and Parkinson’s. 


We are told the British (as well as dogs) are excellent in a crisis at turning their skills to creating new groundbreaking projects. I often hear in the Downing Street briefings that our scientists are the best in the world in the ‘race’ to find a new vaccine or an antidote. We are the best at staying at home too. We are like dogs, trained to sit, to stay! Good boy/girl.

Family photo 1949

‘Clarissa Strozzi’ painted in 1542 by Titian



From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Our second order of fresh salmon from Fulton Fish Market, shipped overnight with ice all around it, arrived yesterday ~ what a treat and so delicious! And actually quite a bargain ~ $82.50 for ten fillets with free delivery.

I wonder if I will just continue buying fish from them this way when shopping goes back to what it once was.


Very quiet days here ~ listening to music, books on-line and the readings by Dickens’ great great grandchildren all interesting to hear and see how many of them are actors. The engraving is going along nicely which, for me, is the best feeling to be so engaged with my work.


Pups and I sat out on the new Adirondack chairs last evening watching the light change, the birds and beautiful clouds in a deep blue sky ~


I’ve been particularly enjoying so many of the posts from our fellow journalists which I look forward to each afternoon and wish I had something more interesting to report, but all is well here and here it is again ~ my favorite day of the week ~ Sunday. I think it will be a split-pea soup day with the homemade rustic bread I baked yesterday!


Isolating (seriously)

Jean, Melbourne Australia

There are so many wonderful connections in the Journal - here's another look into the world of bookbinding. In the early 70's I worked part time at W.T.Morrell & Co., in Nottingham Court behind Neal Street, while also learning hand binding at Back Hill. I'm sure nothing had changed at Morrell's since it relocated from Soho around the First World War. The men worked upstairs forwarding and finishing and the women downstairs, sewing, headbanding, washing and mending pages. There was also a firm of gilders on the lower floor. If you wanted to go upstairs you had to run past their door because they would try and catch you (the young ladies, that is) and give you a hug. In the afternoon the boss had his cup of tea with us in the sewing room, and at 5 minutes to 4 the woman in charge would say, "Shh, he's coming!" and the talking and singing would stop! I had to get permission for a work permit from the Women's branch of SOGAT and naively, thinking it would strength my case, volunteered Morrell's was letting me do some 'assistant finishing' (trimming out, siding and putting down endpapers). Well, the union officer (a woman) was outraged and said they would come and shut down the firm if THAT continued!

Terence Conran's office was directly across the laneway from my window and I could see him looking magisterial and smoking a cigar. Next door to Mr. Conran was a firm of graphic designers who livened things up by putting cheeky messages in their windows and blasting Stevie Wonder's Innervisions into the laneway. Whatever I learned at Morrell's and at Back Hill is completely and deeply embedded in physical memory, just like riding a bike! It's the triumph of a traditional apprenticeship. Even then though it was clear the firm, owned by a Piccadilly bookseller, was tragically being allowed to wind down. I loved that place and the people who worked there but left when it became obvious that the work was dwindling, and that they would never let me really go beyond the limitations of 'women's work.' Morrell's eventually closed down in the 80's and everything was sold including walls full of finishing tools. I'm very happy to have one of their nipping presses in my flat in Melbourne!



Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

Astute fellow journalers, especially those in the book trade, will have spotted my typo of yesterday: the printing room should of course have been the bookbinding room. I had been tussling with sending the pictures and was obviously being, by then, careless.



As things are, Saturdays are always difficult. Yesterday was particularly awful, and by the end of it I felt shattered, like a dropped glass.


So I absented myself and in the gloaming used the last of my strength to trudge wearily along a favourite footpath - which is however full of blind corners and so not, at the moment, for the prudent. But by then I didn’t care. The main thing was that my woes were slowly won over by the dense greenery of all kinds which towered and leaned over the path (reminding me that I had promised myself to take a bag and gloves there, to gather delicious nettle-heads). It felt embracing and reassuring and wonderful.


And - joy of joys! That was not my only reward. As I was about to round a corner, a large, senior-looking badger ambled out of the undergrowth barely two metres (wise soul) in front of me, crossed the path, ducked under some wire, passed me in the opposite direction, then doubled back to follow a gully alongside the sports ground, off for his or her evening foray. When I think of the fruitless evenings the Springwatch crew spend glued to their monitors, looking, waiting… Go me! I was astonished and enthralled.

Thence I trod even more quietly, hoping for more encounters, and saw one rabbit derriere as it hesitated, half in and half out of some undergrowth.


And on the way home I passed my usual foxes waiting for their care-home dinner. They no long mind my standing quietly, watching them. This time, there were only two: I so hope none have fallen foul of the increased traffic.


And earlier in the day, the grimness was punctuated by a conversation with an old chap who loved plants and birds, and told me of the sparrow-house he had made from an old chest of drawers. He was sad that they hadn’t taken to it, after all his work, but still they came to his garden, along with starlings, and that was happiness enough for him.


So: a peculiar day, for peculiar times. But writing it down has brought the happy moments to the fore, when they might otherwise have been overlaid by the other ones.