At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

At one time yesterday there were five people at our house. Socially distanced outside, but still, it was thrilling. Eric and his son Micah arrived with the gift of two buckets of Lily of the Valley, B’s favorite flower, or one of many of her favorite flowers. We set to digging up turf, moving compost from the raised beds to the front of the house, and generally enjoying each other. Micah came with a really good child sized spade. 


Two propane technicians arrived to hook up propane to the generator. Before they left one of them had to come into the house, both upstairs and downstairs, to make sure our gas stove and dryer and furnace were all working.   He is the first person other than us who has been into our living space upstairs since March 13. I found myself apologizing for the chaos. He was kind. I opened all the windows to get a breeze blowing, he didn’t touch anything, we both wore masks, and still I was nervous.  


And while those four people were here our neighbor Andy arrived with seed potatoes, a gift for us because B. has grown potatoes once before and really likes to do it, likes digging in the dirt to find the treasures. He gave our seed potatoes to Eric who is building raised beds at his house, and then returned back to us with another brown paper bag with nine seed potatoes for us.  


It was thrilling to have all these people around, and to talk to them. In person. And Micah is such a pleasure. He and I moved the dug up turf to fill up a hole I discovered near the house.   


I’m grateful for summer and the ability to socialize outside. It makes me dread next winter, but better to stay in the moment and the moment includes beautiful days when we can be outside, apart and together. Planting flowers and potatoes.  


Throughout the rest of the day I sat on the front porch writing postcards to voters in North Carolina warning them that they might have been expunged from the voter rolls and what to do about it. One of the Republicans’ favorite voter suppression tactics is to take people (minority and immigrant voters especially) off the voter rolls and not tell them until they go to vote, too late for them to be able to do anything about it. So there’s an army of people across the U.S. writing postcards warning voters. Good to be able to do something however small about the political mess we are in here. And a pleasure to be doing it on a warm day outside. No snow.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

Often I am struck by something written by a fellow journaler, but then the moment is lost and I don’t act on it, reading avidly on as I do. So many juicy entries to devour and savour! Today, therefore, I am doing a quick resumé of yesterday’s thoughts.


Lily: I too have pondered the question of incomings and outgoings, and how these have probably changed for most people. For myself, my income has been cut - but because I go nowhere near shops or, for that matter, the ‘shopping’ bit of Google the only money I spend is what I transfer to Junior 1’s account every week after they’ve added my list to their Tesco blitz. (I have no say on the choice of supermarket, just have to go with the flow and be grateful, which I am.) So my bank balance hovers at about the usual level. It’s interesting that when someone else physically picks out the items on my list my squeamishness about buying ‘luxuries’ is cut out of the equation - thus, instead of my usual Lidl dark chocolate I get Green & Black’s - fabulous, of course, but I daren’t look too closely at the receipt. Still, perhaps I’m worth it. Interestingly, smiles are dispensed a-plenty here: as I’ve written before, those who give, and to whom is given, a wide berth are those who also give an appreciative smile and a called ‘Thanks!’ People whom one perhaps normally would not even look in the eye, never mind speak to, for fear of being thought aggressive or dotty. Let’s all keep on spending smiles, even in the future, as Lily advocates.


Sue: despite the above, I have had to make the occasional online purchase. For the first time, something didn’t arrive at all, and my email to the dispatchers remains unanswered. I suppose it was bound to happen some time or other. (It was coming from America, I found out too late, or I might have looked elsewhere.) For interest, it was a pot of monolaurin, said to dissolve the virus - felt it would do no harm to add it to my medicine cupboard. In the end I ordered some from another seller, who said it would come in about ten days - it arrived the next day! Wonders never cease.


James: I grew up believing it was my duty to see as much of the world as possible, otherwise it would have been a life wasted. It’s only now, and not only because of advancing years, that I am beginning to feel un-guilty at contracting the boundaries of my world - currently by a great deal. I suspect it might be partly because everyone else is experiencing the same reduction: time will tell.


John: I have wondered sometimes whether this journal is for recording personal stories or for interacting with one another. I suspect it began as the former and has taken tentative steps towards incorporating the latter. Bring it on, I say. It is a lovely way of stopping the social boundaries, at least, from constricting too much.


Hilary: what to watch/listen to? For me, there is no competition. Yesterday’s (I think) Psmith on Radio 4 was just perfect for me. There, the sun is always shining, the butler hovering, trains running on time and, despite human foibles, all always ending well. Anything with Martin Jarvis in it is bound to be a treat.


Annabel: Junior 1’s office has been adopted by a cat. Yesterday she regaled us with the tale of how he walked over a colleague’s keyboard and deleted eight emails. Eight! All from or about very unwell people, stroke victims. It doesn’t bear thinking about. But I think everyone agrees that cats love to recline, Ingres-like, across keyboards. I wonder why?


Billy: when I was a child we lived in Leeds, and my favourite outing was to the very top of the moors, where I loved the exhilaration of standing on the highest tor I could find. I’m with you on the ‘bleak, haunted’ and ‘beautiful’ nature of the area. Very soul-cleansing.

Sheila and cooking: after mentioning Proust’s madeleines a few posts back I had hoped to astonish and amaze the world with my first-ever home-made batch. But lacking the proper baking tray (with little scalloped indentations) I tried a muffin tray. Result: tiny, flat offerings, and certainly not the 12 promised by the recipe. Mind you, they were quite delicious. I will bite the bullet and ask Amazon for a proper tray (as they do stock them). I hope that will produce the wished-for awe-inspiring result (at two - rare - eggs a pop it’s not to be taken lightly!).


David H: you and Martin were very kind to hear the stranger out. You will have given him more than your time and patience, and possible lightened his load considerably. With Lily’s smiles and your ears the world will become a better place.


Linzy: I’m with you on terminology; in this situation, I can’t use the term lockdown, only shutdown; I still have the keys to my house, so no one can lock me in. It rather puts me in mind of the first British snowflake constituting a blizzard.


Finally, a belated happy birthday to you, Margaret. I hope it was a lovely one. And yes, please let Jacinda Ardern rule the world. Or if not, then you and P et al.

Me aged around 10 standing on a Yorkshire Moors tor.



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Lost and Found


I put “Freya” on repeat, which I

am reliably informed is very

Euro Dance Club, a surprise

to my ears as I quarry

unforeseen strata

aligned like horizons

compressed, folded

into intersecting mist-

capped hills.


I have stopped moving,

like lava I am stalled

at an intractable boarder

between new land and sea,

my firefly spirit hitting

sea water, evaporating

in the steam of lost dreams,

fresh reality cooling.


Hypnotic bass and electric sighs

excite my auditory nerve as a

visual arrives from a wizard,

a photographer of emotional light,

that sends me into vertiginous valleys

carved into Alpine rock, darkskies,

mist, with a touch of menace woven

into the sweet flavors of color.


Ah! There it is. The digging 

has paid off. It’s all about

romantic sensibility, unearthing

the flaw on the face of perfection,

a slow reveal of the thought,

cooling now like igneous rock.


Here we are looking east and

seeing at the heart of the flawless

a dark virus wormed into the

third eye of the exquisite.

The contrast of beauty

polluted with malevolence

draws us in ever closer as we

stand hand in hand, like children,

before the inexplicable clouded bright.


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham

Dogs in times of a Pandemic


I don’t know if the slow easing of the lockdown is working, especially when I see news images of busy streets, the underground getting increasingly crowded and beauty spots inundated with visitors. For the latter we can blame the weather, as the temperature is set to rise throughout this week so the pent-up excess energy of people is likely to explode onto beaches, moors and into forests. The situation is confusing as the message is still to stay at home while allowing us to go for long drives and enjoy the countryside because that is important for our well being. Personally I am happy walking around the environs of Wymondham enjoying fresh air, watching changing cloud forms and tree blossom which is now past its best.


One particular house we pass on our wellbeing walks has the most perfectly cut hedge I have ever seen. We always look to see if the owner and presumably the cutter of the hedge has missed a leaf or two but he never fails to create the crispest of edges. The precision gives it an architectural aesthetic similar to a Le Corbusier building and I also think of Mies Van de Rohe’s ‘less is more’.  This week the sight of the best-kept hedge in Wymondham sprouting a considerable number of stray spindly branches almost made one gasp! What has happened? I wondered if the garden-proud owner had gone down with the virus? Maybe gardening wasn’t giving him mindfulness anymore? Or maybe he is just too afraid to come out onto the narrow path between his house and his neighbour in case someone passes too closely? 


I haven’t been in a shop for weeks now, well, just once to relive the experience of picking up items and paying at the till. It felt strange and I was slightly on edge as I had left my mask at home. The cashier, usually friendly with some comment to make about life, was quiet, she was possibly on edge too.


I heard the other day that ‘dogs are enjoying the pandemic’! How did they arrive at this statement? Was there a survey, did dogs fill in a form? It must be down to the fact that their owners are at home all day and dogs are receiving (more often demand I think) plenty of attention and in return the owner receives a large amount of slobbering love. Dog love and attention is too sloppily wet for me which is why I have always preferred cats.

Those concerned with animal welfare are warning that dogs will really suffer now their owners are returning to work and that the sudden absence will cause great distress. No mention of harm to cats during this pandemic except that owners are advised to create a quiet place for them to escape what they describe as the noise of families in lockdown. I have always thought cats are great at finding their own hiding place. So independent! I looked on the internet to see if there were independent dogs and there is a list of breeds that can cope with isolation during the day, including the greyhound. That surprised me. I thought of those long graceful legs buckled up under the body, needing a good run out on a field or wide beach but sadly stuck indoors… pent-up energy waiting to explode!


Dog  monoprint by Clarissa


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I have been thinking about the dilemma that schools are facing at the moment. I am glad that I am not involved in making decisions about when they should open and feel sorry for the teachers who are working so hard to do the right thing for their pupils.


Rowsley Primary school in Derbyshire where my daughter in law teaches and two of her children attend, (the oldest is now at Lady Manners senior school in Bakewell), was gifted by the Duke of Rutland (Haddon Hall) in 1840. We moved to Derbyshire in 1991 and our third son went to Rowsley school. I worked as a volunteer helper in class as well as doing some teaching there. I remember the headmaster at the time telling me that Haddon sent a yearly donation to the school of £20 and that this had never changed. He wrote to thank them and gently mentioned how the cost of equipment was increasing all the time. They didn’t increase the amount but did offer the use of Haddon for us to organise an event to raise money. Unfortunately being a very small school we were unable to organise an event suitable for such prestigious surrounding. However Lady Manners school in Bakewell, set up in 1637 by Lady Grace Manners (Haddon Hall again) for the education of poor boys in Bakewell and Rowsley, did take advantage of the generous offer and were able to benefit. We attended one event which was a play, put on by the students, about the purported elopement of Dorothy Vernon (heiress of Haddon) with John Manners in the 1500’s. They were certainly married and Haddon came into the Manners’ family. Lady Manners School has a fascinating history. In 1830 ‘reading, English and writing, and Latin and Greek if required’ were taught freely but those parents who wished their sons to be taught Arithmetic ‘were required to pay 10/6 (10 shillings and 6 pence) a quarter.’ How the curriculum has changed.


But back to Rowsley School. The current situation is a continuation of an annus horribilis for the school. It began after the Easter holidays last year when the pupils came back to a school surrounded by scaffolding and barriers, seriously restricting their outside space and losing the Reception and Key Stage 1 (infants) outdoor working area. The KS2 (junior) playground had to be shared by the whole school so no football - much to the dismay of the girls and boys. But the roof needed replacing and for a term they all coped.  

In September the scaffolding was still in place. I’m sure there were good reasons for the slow progress but it was very frustrating. Then, during a rainstorm, water leaked into the infant classroom soaking the carpet. This was dried out but remained with an unpleasant odour so cushions were collected for the children to sit on. At last the scaffolding was removed and during half term a new carpet was laid. This involved moving everything out of the classroom and then back in again. But it was worth it and the classroom looked lovely. The school could get back to normal at last.


Now Rowsley is at the confluence of the rivers Wye and Derwent. One evening, less than two weeks later, both rivers burst their banks and the school was completely flooded. The people who managed to get there in time worked late into the night trying to stop the water invading the school but they were overpowered. No chance of just drying everything out now. Within a few days the whole school had moved into the village hall next door with limited space and few resources. The teachers, along with support from local head teachers, rescued what they could but, due to the contaminated water and health and safety restrictions, a huge amount had to be thrown away. Local schools offered classrooms, into which the school could be split. Accepting would have made life a lot easier for the teachers but it was decided that it was important to keep the whole school together.


This time, to the credit of the LEA, work progressed fast. Every day there were at least two Derbyshire County Council vans parked outside with teams of workers busily employed. The children and teachers coped yet again. In January 2020 the school was ready for two of the classes. The teachers spent many hours ordering equipment and organising their classrooms. The postponed infant nativity went ahead in February. At half term the third class moved back in. All back to normal at last...


Then in March Covid 19 struck. The teachers and children are coping - some better than others. Our daughter in law is working harder than ever trying to ensure all of her class are ok and learning, along with supporting the parents. She is also in school one day a week teaching vulnerable children and the children of key workers. Now she has the added stress of meetings to try to work out how to safely bring her Reception and Year 1 children back into school. She will still have to provide work for her Year 2 children to do at home. Teachers all over the country will be struggling with this but hopefully not on top of the challenges Rowsley School have faced.


Corona Diary

 Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Graysons Art Club was on the telly last night. I love it, wish he was on every week for ever more, inspiring seeing all the pictures people submit.


I have had a very very exciting day today. Been to the Holt Garden Centre and spent a fortune on a hose on a stand, leaky hoses, hose connecters, hose stops, hose joiners, 2 way hose connectors, 3 way hose connectors, seaweed feed, fleece and more. All very thrilling, really wanted to go mad and buy a shed and garden furniture. Obviously didn't as don't have any money but the thrill of shopping was nice. 


Then I drove along the coast road to Sheringham with the sea on my left passing my friend Roger's grave on the right so I shouted Cimabue out to him. I think he heard me.


I picked up Earnies tick stuff at the vets, left in a box outside, then I drove to Cromer, still along the coast road. Saw a train, a proper train that goes to Norwich, not the steam train that goes to Holt! A link with the outside world which feels a long way away.


It immediately feels holiday ish from Sheringham along to Cromer. People in shorts, barbecue smells, lovely sea, people playing golf, empty taped off mobile homes in the holiday parks. All very green before it gets faded in the summer.

Then I went to Lidl! My first supermarket since the middle of March. It was fine, not too busy, calm and polite. Filled up on nuts and olive oil etc and even got some anti bacterial wipes. They're like gold dust. Came back the country way along the lanes where the smell was overwhelming muck and pigs but all very cow parsley frothy. Four fighter jets just flew over my house like big swifts.


I haven't got time to discuss Matt Hancock or Boris who has vanished again but MH came out with his protective ring comment again.

Love Annabel x



Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Woken at the crack of dawn by One Man Came to Mow who is taking social distancing to extremes and would probably mow by moonlight if his wife would let him. So, this morning will be spent meditatively brushing paths. A zen like activity which I enjoy. 


After lunch, I shall sit under my jolly brolly and continue reading ‘Being Bernard Berenson’ by Meryle Secrest for no other reason than it was the next book on top of my To Be Read pile... but, incidentally, it is beautifully written.


This is all part of my use of  ‘time bleached of events.’


‘Time bleached of events’ is a quote from an essay written and read by Ian McEwan towards the end of this morning’s BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme. In it, he reminds us that ‘now’ in Lockdown ‘is mightily enlarged’ and, as we try to make sense of it, and use it, we should not ‘confuse laziness with stillness’. 


He quotes Kierkegaard (why not?) who said life can only be understood backwards but only lived forwards.


I shall have a lot to think about this morning when brushing the gravel paths of my own personal ‘i Tatti’.