Cotswold Perspective

Rosemary, Rodborough Common

I cleaned our solitary bee hotel in the Spring hoping that some new residents would decide to move in during late April/May. Solitary bees are non aggressive and much smaller than honey bees.


Last week I noticed that one of the tunnels had already been completed and sealed off by a Mason bee, and in the last few days five more nesting tunnels have been finished.


The bees build a series of cells inside each of the tunnels starting at the far end and gradually moving forward. They deposit pollen inside each cell and an egg. The pollen is mixed with nectar and is there to provide food for the developing larvae. Finally each individual cell is sealed up with some mud. Each tunnel holds roughly 12 eggs, and so my six tunnels potentially represent approximately 72 little bees, which will hopefully develop and fly away next April. 


A bee manages to complete a whole tunnel from start to finish within two days. The eggs at the far end of the tunnel are all female with those nearest to the entrance being male. This enables the males to leave first so that they are ready and waiting to mate with one of the females as they emerge from the tunnels. Once they have mated the males job is done, and they die.

I am now watching out for the Leaf-cutter bees to arrive, they normally turn up slightly later. The leaf-cutter bees cut holes and semi-circles into the leaves that they collect which they then use to line and separate each cell. It is quite a work of art that they perform inside each tunnel.


During October the bee hotel should be placed in a cool dry place for the winter and then put back outside during March the following year. This will help to protect the bees from winter weather, and importantly prevent them being attacked by parasites.


Solitary bees are very important pollinators, so having an hotel is a great and very easy way for us to help them. They are fun to watch, and require very little maintenance or assistance from their hotel proprietors!!!



Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

I was “talking” to a friend the other day via Instagram. Its how we met. She lives in a small village on the south coast of England. I was telling her how I had been looking at masks on Etsy. For awhile now we have been required to wear them. I had tried to sew one myself but not having a sewing machine or any sort of sewing talents, it came out… well… not so well. My neighbor, who knows how to sew and has a sewing machine made me a good one, but I've been thinking I should get one more so I can have one while the other is being washed. So I went on Etsy to look and found someone making them out of lovely Liberty print fabrics.  


I mentioned this to my instagram friend who told me she has a friend and neighbor who is also making masks using Liberty print fabrics. A few minutes later, she messaged me to say that she had commissioned her friend to make two for me.


Today she messaged me to say that the masks were finished and that they would be posted to me today. Such a generous gesture. And I worry that she and her husband went to the post office to post them. Wouldn’t it be the worst sort of irony if in the posting of my gift virus masks, my friend and her husband came in contact with the virus at the post office? I worry too much.


The Heart of Cornwall

Tristan, Truro, Cornwall

The easing of Lockdown has meant visiting the coast is entirely possible again, it has been tantalisingly close and yet out of reach, as we are a maximum of a twenty minute drive to either coast. On our first outing we headed to the North coast with its magnificent cliffs and smashing surf. As we ascend the cliff tops to the beach, it is the unrelenting vastness of the horizon, where sea meets sky which captivates us all, it’s a space like no other. We sit on the sand and are lulled by the rhythmic draw of shingle and surf. It feels like we can breathe. Our second visit is to the south coast and a beach on the Roseland peninsular, we spend the day there, staring into rock pools, swimming and resting in the sun, an idyllic day. Swimming in the sea has alway been something special for me, no wetsuit, I’ll bear the cold as I need to feel the water as it embraces and carries me. I bob with my son in the water gazing back at the shore and my wife and daughter as they doze in the sun. The world feels bigger again.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Caged Birds


Ignoring the whining mid-Atlantic 

Algorithim’s exhortations “turn round,”

Trusting old school gut instinct, stubbornness

Prevailed so we sailed past the sole turn off.

Not then the new carriageway, now above,

But the old road, aka “scenic route”, stalls, snakes,

Jungle, clearings with rusting cars [in use]

Palm oil fruit piled high, sweating stagnant swamp.

“Local colour, authentic film-set stuff,”

Was not enough to offset heat, smell, rot.

U turn: an opening by chain-link fence

Enclosing triple-layered stilted boxes

Zinc clad sweltering for battery hens.

But why one window in each, that towel,

Those gaunt gantry steps accessing levels?

Cooped, hidden migrant workers wait orders

To re-start. A single hand at a pane

The lingering shame: cage economics.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

News of the cyclone in the Bay of Bengal is heartbreaking. I try, without any reality, to imagine how I would be feeling if I were a refugee from Myanmar, imprisoned on a silt island - part of the world’s biggest refugee camp. My family lost or maybe still out there, on an overcrowded boat prevented from landing. Would I comprehend or care that Covid has entered the camp. Squalor and filth all around and the noise everywhere of loss, despair and need. If, still alive after the cyclone has passed, would I look up at the clear blue sky and marvel at it’s clarity, be thankful for another day in hell on Earth? Or would I note the ominous lack of con trails, and still have the hope and the heart to dream of another place?


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

We had a long board meeting yesterday, reviewing the first formal attempt we have made to forecast our results for the 2020-21 financial year. There was intense debate about the appropriate level of marketing expenditure for this year: cut it, because we need to save money, or protect it, because we need to drive sales. The "cut it" argument won the day. Of course, like any business decision, it is not actually as black and white as that, but I felt comfortable with the outcome. We are modelling a slow but steady return towards normal levels of activity, but of course these projections could be blown off course if the lockdown has to be reintroduced at some point later in the year, the so-called “second wave” scenario.


Away from work, I have been busy preparing for our termly School Governors’ meeting this evening, where the main agenda item is a review of the school’s risk assessment for accepting a potentially large increase in pupil numbers from 1st June. The school has remained open for a small number of vulnerable and key worker children, and now the leadership team is considering how to accommodate the return of some or potentially all of our Reception, Year One and Year Six children. The decision to reopen the school rests with us, the Governing Body. 


In addition to the school’s own risk assessment, we have a series of other documents before us to aid our decision-making, including a position statement by the local schools network in our town, guidance from the Diocesan Education Service and the Department for Education, and most interesting of all, the views of parents. The school conducted an online parental survey last week and as well as collecting feedback on the success or otherwise of home learning (and the delights of Microsoft Teams), parents were asked “if your child was permitted to return on 1st June, would you send your child to school?” The answers were two thirds “yes”, one third “no”. There was space to provide comments explaining the answer submitted. The “yes” answers tend to highlight concerns over the negative impact of isolation on the child’s development, for example saying “as an only child he has had no real contact with other children for nearly 2 months”, or “we think it is important for her mental health and wellbeing”. The negative answers generally show concern about the challenges of enforcing social distancing amongst a bunch of 5-year olds, and also reference individual health issues, or potential threats to the health of teachers. Overall the parents’ verbatim responses seem far more mature and measured than the silly posturing of politicians, trade union leaders and journalists over the last week. I do not know which way this evening’s decision will go, but personally I would like to see our school reopen for those children whose parents are comfortable with the idea.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

A very warm day yesterday and today is predicted to be similarly hot. 


I phoned an ex colleague in the evening and we caught up on the news. We worked together for years and our lives were shaped for a while by some tyrannical managers and peculiar workmates who gave us many laughs and tales to share. Sadly, it was one of those “did you know so-and-so died” conversations although none of the deaths were related to Corona virus. Funny how people who were once so powerful seem diminished by the passage of time. One of our managers was especially difficult. Probably had an unhappy life. Does that excuse the behaviours? The foul temper? Cruelty? Spite? As we spoke we both chuckled at how ridiculous and unnecessary it had all been. We ended positively - planning a meeting one day when the world re-opens. We want to continue raking over the hot coals! 


I’m going shopping today. More paint. Not sure whether to order online or go to one of the big hardware places. Click and collect. Click and it’ll be delivered. It’s very impersonal but does it matter? It’s only paint after all. 


Reports and headlines on the iPad news this morning say Trump takes antimalarials and accuse Boris of being an absent leader. Photos of the Queen show a sad face with legends above and below declaring that she has cash worries. Prince Phillip must have been in the counting house, counting out the money. The Queen must have been in the parlour eating bread and honey. 


Talking of honey, apparently today is World Bee Day. On that note I’ll buzz off (cringe) and take an early solitary walk before it gets uncomfortably hot.


The Runaway Diaries

The Runaway Diaries - Sophie Austin

The Return


I wake at 3am. Your dad is not in bed and his quiet breathing has been replaced by a metallic scraping that rattles through my mind. It sounds like a robot crunching through the earth devouring all it sees. It turns out to be ‘essential’ road works taking place just outside our house. At 3am. Your dad returns to bed ‘I want to move to the country’ he says. ‘Can I come too?’ I say.

We’ve returned to London. 

We cleaned the Welsh farmhouse top to bottom, enjoyed a final walk to drop off thank you cards to our neighbours in the valley who have been so welcoming and kind, had a last meal with Peanut Butter toast the stray cat, waved long and hard at the bats in the barn and had an emotional last ride on the quadbike. You were treated, much like the Queen, to a fly past of your favourite machines - a helicopter and three airplanes and then we bundled you in the car and with heavy hearts we left our haven of the last 8 weeks.


We left in the evening hoping that you would sleep on the journey, but perhaps catching our nervous energy, you were wide awake for the 3 hour ride. I was curious to see what returning home would be like for you, 2 months is a long time in your short life and you are growing more aware and knowing every day. 


When we reached the Hammersmith flyover, a deep sense of regret hit me. This was London. Busy and bustling even at 10pm, but the bars and restaurants shuttered and queues even at that time outside the supermarkets. 


Dad had to jump over the neighbour’s wall and then climb over ours to let us in to the house. The lock had jammed and I felt sorry for our poor neglected house. As I carried you through the door, you immediately did the sign for home, and I cried for the second time that day. You were delighted to see a huge pile of books that we hadn’t been able to take with us and promptly, at 10.30pm, demanded stories whilst dad unpacked the car. 

You eventually went to sleep at 11.30pm after a few false starts as you needed to remark on your new old bedroom and get reintroduced to the teddies we’d left behind. ‘Oh yeah’ was repeated over again as you remembered each one. 


The following day we made the decision to happen upon your cousins and aunt in their local park while they were walking the dog. It was an emotional moment as we saw them from afar and you realised that they don’t just exist on a phone screen. You were nervous at first but by the end of our ‘chance’ meeting you were running around with them and even gave them an entirely illegal hug. It was overwhelmingly happy sad. We then did a flyby of your grandparents. A moment in the garden that felt so important for all of us. We probably won’t be able to do that again as we get more ensconced in London life, but it felt safe to do so today and like a shot in the arm with much needed love, connection and familiarity.


But as the sun went down and we remarked on how our garden had turned into a cat toilet, and we heard the neighbours shouting and the ‘essential’ roadworks started up, my heart ached for the deep green isolation of our Welsh hideaway. 


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Thank goodness for days of lovely weather. People can get out and about, gaining their quota of vitamin D, which may or may not be good against Covid. Perhaps most significantly, exercise is being taken by many people who possibly weren't doing much in that line before lockdown.


Yesterday when I wrote, I was feeling a little woebegone. In fact I decided the post looked far too introspective and wrote to Margaret asking her to bin it please. Thankfully she persuaded me to change my mind and when it appeared it really didn't look as bad as I had thought it would. Today, I feel much happier in general for some reason. I am finding activities that keep mind and body active. This afternoon I might even venture out on a bicycle if I can balance it correctly. Balance is something I have to take seriously. It is many years since bike riding days and my memory says it is easy. A brief try the other day revealed it isn't at all. A trip to Quarr by bike would be wonderful indeed.


Alerted by best beloved last evening, I listened to Olly Mann on Radio 4 describing his 1994 diary, which has much to say about St Chris and his Bar Mitsvah. His words about the St Chris boarding experience brought much back to me. It all rang true and his experience in 1994 almost mirrored mine in 1954. Some things it seems hadn't changed much between those dates. I did enjoy my time there and remember St Chris with much more fondness than the grammar school I subsequently attended.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Have been out at a meeting today with real life people. The painting at The Pigs is going well and it is looking pretty in pink. I have seen lots of the men I work with this week as another team of decorators are painting Byfords in Holt. 

Oops, I have overcooked the kale.

The roads are full of white vans and everybody seems to be building. Scaffolding trucks are everywhere, even at the pub next door. Going to have lunch/ dinner now as by the time I come in from watering it is dark and too late to eat.


Slightly zoned out on THE SITUATION but there is general unease and uncertainty about the actions of Matt and Boris. Lack of trust. Why do they not be more direct and tell it like it is. Why does it all have to be slippery. Arguments beginning between the government and the scientists. The schools seem to be winning the not opening on June 1st argument.


Lunch calling. Love Annabel x


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Belated Birthday Wishes to Margaret! I wondered if you receive a wonderful homemade card from Peter every year or was this because he couldn’t get out to shop for a store bought one? Our family has a tradition of homemade birthday cards going back to my childhood. My father was a great one for puns and limericks ~ I just yesterday came across one he wrote for my birthday in 1981 ~ “I do not know from whence ~ I got the idea for a fence ~ but thank goodness that I’m handy ~ because it fits the needs of Sandy”.  The gift that year was, as you might guess, a fence which he made for my first house. I have Handmade cards from all my brothers, and children going back years in a special box, all of them treasures! I hope you had a lovely day, Margaret, in your beautiful garden!


Yesterday I put the first coat of paint on the newly repaired back porch ~ thanks to a good friend, another artist, in exchange for an old tabletop Kelsey hand press, which I no longer need for demonstrations at fairs, but one which he has been admiring for a number of years! Bartering between friends is a very satisfying way to get things accomplished, as long as you are not in a hurry ~ we’ve been talking about this for at least 3 years and the old porch boards were groaning!


Sunshine for the next many days, work to do in the garden and the little tailpiece almost done! So many good things to read about in the journal these past few days ~ greetings to you all!