Isolating (seriously)

Jean, Melbourne Australia

Thank you Margaret and another of the journalists for alerting us to the Artist Support Pledge! A print by UK artist Jonathan Lawes just arrived so I now have a mini still-life to brighten up what's been a gloomy chilly grey morning. The print looks wonderful along with pieces of German pottery (found in Auckland), a little dish made by New Zealand potter Richard Parker and the bird by sculptor Ilana Goor in Tel Aviv. Having beautiful things to look at on a dull day is a godsend.


Yesterday an old friend invited me out to a restaurant for her birthday dinner in mid June. Is this even possible? Or just plain crazy! I played with the idea of this delightful possibility for about 12 hours but this morning had to go to the clinic for a blood test and could barely tolerate sitting in the waiting room for 10 minutes because there were other people there - all socially distanced of course but it was still so confronting! A big wake up - I'm not ready for normality. This friend is also an American and we've known each other a long time so I can be frank with her. And Mary in Bristol, my old friend HAS renounced her US citizenship unlike you and me who are still holding on. But we still talk about what it MEANS to be an American - unavoidable in these awful Trumpian times - with or without the passport.

Susan in country Victoria - I wonder if we might have worked in the same library?

David H. - it's got to be Yul Brynner, right!!



Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

Today it is better times. There is sunshine and finally some warm weather. Also, my colleague who spent 5 weeks in the ICU with severe corona infection is getting better and better and no longer needs the ventilator. I was also told that none of the nurses and staff in the stroke ward where I work who became infected by corona virus last week have severe illness so far. Also, no new corona cases in our ward, so everything is better.


As I got the usual exercise by walking to and from work (3 kilometers one way) it is now perfect time for a cup of tea, lots of candy and a film if I can find a good one. Since it is better times I am sure I will.


A Poole-side View

Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole



Incarceration adds substance to the dreams:

His spirit soars under cerulean skies,

Takes eagle-flight to mountains' snowy peaks

Or spirals down through valleys of the past.

Memories cascade, even behind locked doors.

So many pictures in the slide-show of the mind:

Children cavorting on Welsh or southern strands

And eating greasy crumpets by the winter fire,

Undergraduate rowdies, strangely silent here,

Listening to the professor's measured words

(He self-amusing with Greek and Latin jokes.)

Libations then before the strange, new world

Of man-hours, time-and-motion, two weeks' leave.

But new joys too: love, family, parenthod.

Good at his job and handy round the house,

Family sports coach, guide-teacher of the young,

Those young who now, with techno-talk and new morality

Tread the same path to summits in the clouds.

All these are pictures from the kaleidoscope of years

That he now sees reflected in his near-drained glass.


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, New York

I had hoped that this afternoon would yield something interesting which would work as a contribution to this journal… but NO!. I ended up spending THREE HOURS on the phone with Apple in order to retrieve my Phone’s capability of sending photos up to the cloud. This ability seemed to have stopped at about 6am this morning. Anyway, it took three hours non stop of someone at the other end telling me to do all sorts of things I didn’t understand. In the end none of them worked and we ended up having to erase every last thing off the iphone and then every last thing got put back on… which, for me was quite traumatic. Anyway, all’s well that ends well and the Iphone is up and running again even if I am not.


Tomorrow Michael and I are scheduled to have Coronavirus antibody tests done. That should be something to write about. I will let you know.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

I was sitting there, post-breakfast yesterday, just coming up to 9am, and the ‘to do’ list is burgeoning: 

  • Winkle out two huge pots of spent daffs, (front door display) ready for replacement things too difficult for Sheila to spell for me but sounding like HooToo somethings.

  • Replant Echiums that I planted a couple of days ago in a more reliably sunny place - they will be in the shade of a Walnut tree only now beginning to show leaf.

  • Collect 48 slabs from local concrete works for wall coping.

  • Cut grass. Strim raggedy bits. Or the other way around, so mower picks up.

  • Generally tidy up my ‘work in progress’ around the Potting Shed Project, looks crap.

  • Ditto around ‘The Beach’ gravelled garden. Looks even worse.

  • Have crap-consuming bonfire

  • Form auto doorway for hens.

I was feeling slightly overwhelmed as nothing except the two last can be attacked with real enthusiasm, the rest requiring resolve which I’m lacking. Think I may be in the grip of post-fishing blues.

Had another cup of tea to see if shortening the day helps shorten the list due to lack of opportunity.


Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary, directly contradicts Matt Hancock, Health Minister’s repeated assertion that a protective ring was thrown around Care Homes from the start. Boris Johnson’s assertion that full ‘track and test’ testing will be in place by June 1st, ready for schools, challenged by their own Scientific Advisers. What chance effective Government, what point ‘Briefings’ when economy with the truth rules? 

It’s beginning to look like the back to school thing will be abandoned.

Then we have Matt Hancock on the Briefing able to announce progress on both the antibody testing and a new 20minute ‘have you got it test’ both of which are very welcome if available in volume. This is rather overshadowed in the News by the ‘U’ turn made by Boris, under pressure, in cancelling the proposed levy of £600 per head for Immigrant NHS and Care Home staff to fully benefit from NHS services - which is generally regarded as a good thing to do and simultaneously a barmy thing to have contemplated. Keir Starmer tries to claim the credit, but more is given to the engaging immigrant NHS cleaner who’s YouTube video went viral where he explained that on his ‘minimum wage’ rate, he couldn’t afford healthcare. That appeared in the morning and by the afternoon there was a change in policy


End of day, extended Sundowner session 5.30 - 8.30... bit of a reckoning:

daffwinkle - check

Echium replant - check by default, no move neccessary

Slab collect - check

grasscut - check

potting shed sanitised - check


So, today, Friday: bit of an overcast start out there, but good for general barrowing of rubbish to clear, and multitasking by having a satisfying bonfire simultaneously. My dear old Dad, a lifelong labourer (Plasterer, a hard game) used to encourage me by reffing the Chinese - who in his day weren’t the Industrial Marvel they are today - by saying how they could build dams, shift 1000’s of tons of spoil by hand, a basket at a time - but of course with a workforce of thousands. “A little at a time, boy, a little at a time, it’ll get done”.  He’d be 114 the day we started this Journal - if he hadn’t gone and died when he was 87...


Which brings me to two very local items for the record:

In our midst here at the local Care Home (and what a knife-edge sort of existence that must be in there these days) we have an old ex-serviceman, Fred Rawes who is 103 today. A war baby - 1st World War. Through the local rag an appeal was made to ensure he got 103 birthday cards, but when I checked all was on target I was told he would be getting closer to a thousand. Go, Fred! 

And, talking of other eras, after 165 years at their delightfully ramshackle but valuable riverside works, Colman’s Mustard are moving out. New owners Unilever (boo) were going to stop production completely to get their hands on the site and move production to Holland, but instead have given a 10 year contract to a sort of management buyout (hurrah) who’ve built a new Mill just outside the City.



Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

I have just been looking back through this wonderful website and realise that this will be my 21st entry in the Plague20 Journal. This is the only exercise in creative writing that I have done since leaving university in 1983 and I am thoroughly enjoying it, if only as a distraction from more pressing responsibilities. And I will take this opportunity to explain that the reason I maintain a veneer of anonymity in my journal entries is to give me the freedom to talk about the company where I am finance director, and the school where I am a governor, with a degree of openness that would not be possible if I identified these institutions by name. I am not anonymous to all of you however, and one of our fellow contributors is very well known to me as close friend of my wife’s.


Two days ago I was talking about the school governors’ impending decision to expand our school offering in response to the government’s instruction for schools to admit Reception, Year One and Year Six children. Our school has had around 15 to 20 vulnerable and key worker children in attendance throughout the crisis, and so as a single form entry primary with a nominal roll of 210 children, this would mean bringing in around 50 more children. The plan worked out by the Head and her senior staff is for each of the three years to be split into an A group and a B group. The As will attend on Monday and Tuesday each week and the Bs will attend on Thursday and Friday. On arrival at school each group will be further split into two bubbles of between 5 to 8 children depending on attendance levels. The children will then stay in these bubbles throughout the day, and for as long as these current arrangements last. They will be taught in a separate room from the other bubble of their year group. By careful planning of teacher allocation, arrivals and departures, and break times, there should be no mixing between the different bubbles. At the infant end of the school we will not be worrying unduly about physical distancing between the children, but as they are in a small, stable group the risks are minimised. There is a lot more detail in addition to this high level summary. And we are fortunate that each classroom opens out onto a playground, and so there will be no need for children to come through the front doorway or mix and mingle in the corridors. All in all it is a complex and very carefully thought out plan, but one which will safely allow the school to deliver at least two days a week of structured education and resocialisation (1 word I had not come across before) to the chosen year groups.  


Over the course of a three hour zoom meeting the Head explained the plans in detail and answered the broad range of questions raised by governors. We were able to confirm our agreement to the plan and therefore the school will indeed open its doors to these three year groups from 4th June. Letters were sent to parents yesterday asking them to confirm their intentions. We are expecting half to two thirds attendance initially, and would hope to see this increase during June. 


We also formally approved the school's budget for the new financial year, noting that the benefits of the recent significant increases in government funding for education are starting to come through. As the chair of the finance subcommittee, I know that some years the delivery of a balanced budget has been particularly challenging. But this year it was a relatively straightforward exercise. I am concerned, however, by a shortfall in pupil numbers for this coming September's new Reception year. If this were to carry on, it would start to undermine the school's financial position. Luckily there is to be a big new housing development on the edge of town, which will attract young families and which in turn should help sustain our roll. 


Meanwhile I hear encouraging news on the BBC about the development of a potential vaccine. I suppose this experience of a global pandemic is a reminder of what the world would be like if we didn’t have vaccination programmes. One year we might be felled by a measles epidemic, another year it might be polio, another year rubella, and our modern world (the one we remember from before the lockdown) might never have been possible. Take a bow, Edward Jenner!


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA

Envy of the locked down


Breaking social distancing,

sniffing the air, ears pricked,

a pair of deer, princesses on heels,

stopped, surveyed, and

cautiously entered the garden.


Noses to the ground they trod

lightly over the grass, shaking

the inconvenience of water

from their hooves. A raffish squirrel,

tail bristling and erect, rudely broke

cover, dashing out onto the grass.

Throwing their heads in the air,

haunches folding preparing

for flight, they watched the

ruffian turn and scamper up a tree.


Bending their necks they resumed

eating fresh leaves laid down

for them by the rain. Picking their

way across the stream, noses in the air,

they catwalked into the undergrowth,

disappearing from sight of the

peasants watching them,

their locked-down faces pressed

pale against wide windows.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

The beach, by Franklin Lewis Macrae


Mum has paid for a subscription to a company that sells learning activities for Marli and I. This is because we have ran out of stuff. She ordered some learning workbooks and story books from Waterstones too. Marli got 'The Explorer' and I got the fourth Podkin book called 'Uki and the outcasts'. I really enjoy these stories. We did our work outside in the garden as it's very hot. My mum and dad don't like us using computers, they prefer us to read from books and workbooks. Most of the school work for me has to be done on the computer because the teachers didn't send any books home and I can't resist messaging my friends. I am getting told off and I upset my mum this week. This is why she had ordered so much stuff.


When we had finished, my mum told us that she had discovered that Fusciardi's, the ice cream shop was opened. So my mum, my dad, my sister and I all went to the beach with our swimming costumes and had ice cream although my dad had a coffee. My sister and I played in the sea and we made small sand sculptures. It was extremely exciting to be able to play freely on the beach again and everyone was cheerful, I think because Fusciardi's was open and it was like before. The beach is a delight when it's hot.  


Seaside and Strawberries by Marli Rose Macrae


Today mummy said if we finished our work we could go to the beach and have ice cream from Fusciardi's. In the morning I checked on the strawberries and there were three ripe ones ready to be picked. I've been checking them first thing in the morning for weeks. I was extremely pleased because last year we only got three strawberries in one summer! I think last year the slugs and birds got them but this year we have put a net over them and straw underneath them. We also have two raspberries plants and a loganberry but they aren't ready yet.


After checking the strawberries, we did our work in the garden as it's so hot. Then we drove to the beach. Mummy queued up for the ice cream while my daddy, Franklin and I continued to the beach. Franklin and I changed into our costumes and we ran in. It was freezing but we splashed and played until we warmed up. Then daddy called us in for the ice creams. Mummy and I had lemon sorbet, Franklin had strawberry and daddy had a cup of coffee. It was so good to see Fusciardi's open again. Afterwards, we had another swim then we made sand piles on the sea shore. We then drove home and had hot baths and hair washes before our tea.