Clean, sort, tidy

Lily, Camberwell, London

I have noticed that I can’t help but spend money. So, I have challenged myself to not spend any today. I have always loved the delayed gratification of ordering something that arrives in the post or that you have to go and collect; gone are the days of sending or dropping off your photo film and receiving back the images that surprise, remind and maybe disappoint. When I was a child I loved a catalogue, whether it was for plants or clothes I would carefully fill out the order form and hope my mum would send it off for me with a cheque enclosed (she didn’t). So the internet is a dream come true. Nearly everything is delivered to us. And now there is even more encouragement to 1. shop to support local businesses and 2. have it delivered so that you are not out there. However I think Amazon is generally getting the benefit and all the low paid couriers are risking more. 


It's the anticipation and the waiting and the looking forward to the arrival that appeals to me. And the cause and effect, the feeling that something is happening, a problem is solved by making a purchase. These actions normally “before Covid” (the term the youngest often uses, that has replaced “when I was little” as a statement of times past) provided the compulsion to this ripple of an addiction. But the compulsion is greater while there is less to distract me and less real things to get on with, less events to look forward to. This week I bought more A4 paper to re stock the office and home-school, weekly groceries, a really good electric pencil sharpener, a new blue lamp shade, a book written by my great grandmother to give to my niece (she has her name as a middle name), the shampoo and conditioner that will solve all my hair frustrations and an antibody test for Covid 19. There many other things I resisted buying.


This week has felt a little different after we were told to “Stay Alert”. The main road we can see at the end of our street (that is a main artery between London and Kent) can now be heard again as a soft drone in the background. There are less queues for the shops. The parks are busier than they have been or were usually “before Covid”. Our little park at the end of the road is a pub garden today, in a very gentle Sunday afternoon chattering manner. There was barely any room for our football and frisby passing now one does not need to exercise to be outside. We can see and hear more people gathering and being noisy again. But there is still a springy force that keeps everyone a distance from each other. 


I took the boys to our local wood (our corner of London is surprisingly green and wooded) on Friday afternoon, a thought many other families with small children, middle aged friends in pairs, twenty something groups of friends and a group who wanted to burn incense in the wood also had. Everyone naturally moved away, to the edge of the path or wound away to find a less beaten path. I’m not sure if it is out of consideration for others, self-protection, obeyance, fear of being told off… But it does not feel friendly. There are less smiles, hellos and other random greetings and small talk. People are reaching out to each other within known boundaries and connections: the Thursday night clap is an opportunity for our streets’ residents to smile, wave and notice each other and neighbours on my road arrange to safely congregate with glasses of wine outside their houses on warm sunny days. But strangers are more wary of each other. The mostly unfair stereotype of unfriendly cold Londoner is more evident. 


Therefore instead of spending money I need to spend more smiles, say hello more. And see what I get back.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Over a weekend when the Country was largely fixated on escape to places that locals wished they wouldn’t, we have quietly slipped past the 41,500 deaths total albeit that this represents a decline in the rate. When we started this enterprise seven or eight weeks ago the phrase used by PHE was that “20,000 would be a good result”. It seemed a bit flippant given the tragedies contained within the figure, and it was difficult to agree - then. Now, though...


The political rumblings most brought through the weekend to today concern the return to school. Among the ‘experts’ wheeled out was one - and this is picked up widely in the Press - who’s chosen to endorse the programme by drawing comparison between the poorest (and apparently least home-schooled) and better-off kids with the assertion that “poorer children could end up a whole week behind their more affluent counterparts” or words to that effect, ie we better get them back in to formal schooling asap. I was too busy choking on my breakfast to note it verbatim. I’d have thought that if that was all the difference (assuming there is a difference) then it’s easily made up in conventional schooling. Otherwise every child that’s ever had an illness or injury requiring time off would be educationally scarred for life. 


Today is a running around, suitably distanced at each stop, sort of a day mixed with planting out some more of the greenhouse successes and ferrying barrowloads of bark mulch. The fishing trip’s delayed a day - a rare overcrowded diary. Two items that sprang spontaneously in the past 24 hours: a while back I offered an aluminium bench to a fellow polytunnel enthusiast - and suddenly Monday is the day to collect, and then stumbled across a very hopeful link to a supplier of garden stonework where I may be able to get the wall copings needed for the finishing touches to ‘the Beach’ without having to sell a kidney. That needs urgent investigation, though only through their gate as they’ve chosen not to allow wandering around their yard - so they’re bringing some samples forward for inspection.

Central to the day is a carefully distance-choreographed delivery of a Birthday cake and presents to our Beloved Editor, Margaret, and hopefully, illicit coffee with her and Peter in the garden. Happy locked-down Birthday, Margaret!


Spent a happy hour or so yesterday planting out some decorative giants, Echiums and Cardoons. The latter were bought in, haven’t seen a Cardoon plant to buy since, well, donkey’s years ago, following inspiration from the lovely BBC series “The Victorian Kitchen Garden”. I don’t want to eat them, just rejoice in their presence. The Echiums are a gift from a neighbour who has them perennially self-sown around his garden. Then I took a chance and planted out my reserve competition Pumpkin - the first one got ‘frosted’ last week, and I doubled-down by removing the protective fleece from the crown of the Tree-fern too. Doing that should ensure we get a late snap frost this week of course.

Anyway, here’s the start of our sundowner preps, with a remarkable sky. Cheers!



Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

I have been hoping and trying all day to come up with something interesting to write about for this journal but nothing of any interest has happened. The highlight of the day was an on-line wrestling match with Amazon.  


I do my best to plan ahead so that we have what we need and so that I don’t have to go to stores very often. It’s too scary out there. And up until now, Amazon has been able to provide us with so many things we need. And so quickly.


However, I have been waiting a long time for my orders of printer ink, coffee, household cleaner and flea and tick medications for Jay. When I went online today to see if they might finally be on their way, I was surprised to see that not only had they been shipped, but according to Amazon, they had been delivered.  


NO. No they had not. It has taken all day having on line chats with various people in other parts of the world to get to the point where Amazon has agreed that the items they claim were delivered are actually lost. And refunds will be forthcoming. I felt victorious until I realized how pathetic it was to feel that way. 


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Wings Clipped


We were everywhere:


bloated with new experiences we

PIDs (Privileged Intentionally Displaced)

awash in acronyms and access,

staff answering our beckoning needs

suffering paid moves and home leave.

Intimate airport facts:

at LGW there is a little used

family bathroom at the end

of a corridor leading nowhere.

All such knowledge now lies like

plastic covered chairs in deserted

terminals. All over. An end to

premature sunrises, airports

appearing in the dark

like space stations, deserts

climbing towards the sky,

crippling airline exploitation,

all of it grounded by the

vengeful viral travel blocker.


In place of unfulfilled, restless

craving for different places

and unknown languages

in dusty places is the realization

that my wander has stopped lusting.

I don’t want to see any more

sights, except those in my garden,

the views up the road from

the top of the hill

are blue and endless.


I am grateful for being

here in this transformed land,

roads divested of travelers.

Now I walk in peace,

feet no longer itching.

The only take-off I experience

is when I remove my coat.

My passport is in a safe

with a lockbox full of memories.

I survived. All I have now is ample.



John Underwood, Norfolk

Yesterday and today have been unusual days in bookbinding in that almost everything went right.

I feel like “The Man Who…” in a Bateman cartoon. “ The Man Who Thinks He Got Away With It” perhaps, although that tends to suggest a less than perfect outcome somewhere down the track. 


I have been working on a couple of projects simultaneously, basically because I am waiting for the courage to complete the five volume folio set of Blomefield’s Norfolk”, that arrived to me in a red cloth library binding, and needed a lot of precise work. Prevarication is supposed to be the thief of time, but in this instance it enabled me to sneak in a lovely little project. The book is by the scientist Robert Boyle, and is titled “A Free Discourse Against Customary Swearing And A Dissuasive From Cursing” and was published in 1695, “available at the rather charming address of “the Three Legs in the Poultrey over-against Stocks-Market”. Imagine offering that address to your car insurance bod on the ‘phone.


The Boyle came to me ( sounds like a plague infection) complete, but with both boards off. Sometimes one can create a simple re-back, fixing new leather to the spine, and re-attaching the boards, but my view has always been that if the cords that hold on the boards have rotted, then the text block will soon follow, and so I decided on a complete renovation. This involved taking the book to pieces using a surgical scalpel. The original label is carefully eased off and glued to tissue paper to strengthen and preserve it. The leather is pared off the boards in one piece and scraped to remove any adhering detritus. The endpapers need removing carefully, and the pastedowns, (the endpapers glued to the inside of the boards ) needed lifting in one piece. This was managed by lightly dampening the paper, sliding a scalpel blade under an edge, and peeling the paper away from the board with scalpel and bone folder. The text block was separated from the stitches that held it together, and the taking apart was complete. Putting the book back together was relatively simple although in total it took a couple of days. The pages were sewn on cords, the old boards reattached, the whole book covered in new leather which had to be dyed and ink spattered to match the original leather covers. When everything was dry, the original leather was glued onto the new leather, and dyed again to match, sanding the new leather to appear worn. The endpapers inside were replaced- and that was the most pleasing part of the process. Because they were the original C 17th papers reused, they looked just right. A stain on one leaf matched the stain on the leaf opposite, where it had offset. Absurdly pleasing to be able to take a book apart, bind it securely, and make it look much as it did before I started. For all kind of reasons, it doesn’t usually happen that way. I think that it worked because I was not hurrying. I knew that I wasn’t going anywhere, and could afford to spend a couple of hours teasing a piece of paper away from the board that it was glued to. It is difficult to talk about things going well during a pandemic, especially considering the losses that so many have suffered, but  I think that there is a need to find joy in small things where we can.



Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

“I wanna go shopping!” came the answer, “I wanna see other humans! I wanna hug people!!” replied my daughter, Grace, when I asked how she was this morning. I think she speaks for a lot of us now. We are ready to socialise again, before we become socially awkward! We want to drink Prosecco at Gino’s and make eye contact with the flirty waiters. “ Do you think The Priory will be inundated with new clients, when this is all over?”  “Yes!” we declare in unison. She’s gone for a run  around the reservoir, music blasting in her earphones. I’m carrying on with sorting out cupboards, trying to get rid of stuff. Many moons ago I went to art college and studied fashion. Later I worked in theatre and made wedding dresses too. My cupboards are full of various remnants and memorabilia from this time. Fabrics, haberdashery, vintage clothing, paper patterns, all waiting for the day when they will ‘come in useful’ either for fancy dress or God knows what! I’ve got some beautiful gold shot silk, which I have decided to make a skirt from. Looking through the various boxes I remembered how, when I was a student, I would acquire a piece of fabric (usually from a charity shop, old curtains or whatever) and with no set goal or plan just cut it into some sort of shape, design it into some sort of garment and be wearing it out to a club by the weekend! It was the 80’s, big oversized shapes were in, I remember not really giving a fig what anyone else thought about what I was wearing. Boy George and Vivienne Westwood were my influencers. 


I want to feel that freedom and courage of creativity again. I am reading Christin Geall’s book about elements of floral style, in it she writes about how, when you know how to do something it can limit your curiosity and innovation. If you are an amateur, you naturally break rules when you try to solve problems because you don’t know any better. If you don’t know what you are doing, you don’t have to worry about whether or not you are good at it.


Inspirers these days include Billy Porter, Alexander McQueen and Cher. I am going to make something out of my forgotten fabrics and not bother about whether it will be appropriate to wear them everyday, to the posh butchers or the allotment! No other news because I can’t bear to listen to the reports lately, keep well everyone xxxxx


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk



Shall I turn up the volume

And brace myself for

The unknown and precarious -

Die Hard, Top Gun,

Master and Commander?

Is tonight the night I want

To stretch to breaking point

Every taut emotion;

Immerse myself in a three hour span

Of exhausting darkness;

Experience again

Peril, loss,

Fortitude and resolve;

Address again

The constant question

What would I do now?

Ignore again 

The fast and clever

Camera angles, cuts and effects

Which dictate my answer.


OR shall I reach for 

The cosy neatness 

Of RomCom -

The feisty New York women

Managing everything perfectly

Except their love life -

Giddy and fanciful

Green Card, Baby Boom?

Shall I meet them for two hours 

(Always a shorter more efficient span)

Indulge that secret yearning for

A room of one’s own;

Predict again the happy ending

Securing, as it always does -

Belief - that with

Mock heroics

Witty retorts

And gentle indignation

We can have our cake and eat it.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

I have just written my piece and was about to get on to what Proffessor Tim Spector had to say on The Today programme this morning when my cat Whitty came on to the table and walked on my laptop and stood on the delete button. FFS


He was saying that the government / NHS had not updated the list of symptoms you should look out for just keeping it to the two main ones; a continuous cough and a temperature, subsequently there were probably 70,000 people walking round infected and infecting every one else. He said there are about 10 things that should be added which they have discovered with their app from Kings College C19 Covid Symptom tracker www.covid.joinzoe.com where you report every day.


By lunchtime 1 extra symptom of loss of smell and taste had been added and was discussed on The World at One! They have been saying this for weeks and there are still more to add like fatigue, stomach problems, rash etc but it's a start. They have brought the congestion charge back in in London today as some people go back to work even though they are encouraging people not to use public transport.


Anyway what I had written was all about sticking to the floor and how filthy my house is and lack of staff. Halfway through the big hoovering session with Hettie I emptied the bag and then couldn't put it back together again. Drives me crazy. Had to ring my neighbour for assistance! FFS is my swearing of choice at the moment for some reason. Seem to be saying it quite alot. The downstairs is much cleaner now and smells lovely. All hoovered and mopped, grass cut yesterday so order slightly returned.

There was a little wren in the green house this morning. I was taking the amaryllis out for Froggie as it is emptier in there now and there were no plants on the ground for him to shelter in which I think disturbed him. Anyway the wren flew out and was fine. The air space in the garden is very congested with all the babies. Blue tits, sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds and starlings. There are usually several collar doves but haven't seen so many this year just 1 pair at the moment. Lots of screeching swifts as well.


Going to venture out this afternoon.

Love Annabel x


PS If any body likes Rufus Wainright look on Instagram for his Day 60 finale of of Quarantunes.

It is lovely.


PPS The wonderful Grayson's Art Club is on the telly tonight. 

PPPS: Monty Don is on at 8.00 pm with an alternative Chelsea Flower Show which should have opened today.