Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

British or not British?


Everything is getting confused, yesterday B Johnson in the Parlement: Tax for non-british NHS workers 624 GBP in order to save the NHS. Today, tax over said a minister. It was not very popular, so he drop it. It was done probably to seduce the Brexit hardliners, and to show himself as a really strong ruler. In recognition for the work of the 2 foreign nurses who "saved his life" in his own word. May be on the 30 of December, he will say Brexit done and the next day that he will think about it? Who knows? Nobody knew about the Covid six month ago.  


Rob and I are so upset about the treatment not only of foreigners but also of her majesty subjects. That business of dividing people by their passports seems to be easily accepted. With all the rest coming with it: injustice, hate, immorality (refusing free treatment to a Fidji soldier who belong to UK's army in Afghanistan). Since we are married 33 years ago, Rob never ask to become French because he is not, even if he eats snails with garlic, and I never ask to become English because I am not, even if I love marmite. And now thinking about retiring, we can't go and live in England, when I retire, I will probably make the money that is required but I am not English. A lot of English people in France need to become French because they don't have enough to go back to their own country, really feeling bad about it. Even our poet of Tours/Oxford is asking French nationality (like for Rob, "plus Anglais tu meurs", more English you die, and they probably each of them know the entire English literature). Our children have UK passport since birth, our son went to school and then uni in England for 10 years is expecting a child who will not be English unless his wife give birth in UK, they both have a solid cultural knowledge and uni degrees in UK. Does it have to be so "exclusive"? I read that fruits and vegs are going to be lost by the absence of east-europeans pickers, what is the logic, are there enough British people or not ? 


I don't know if we are supposed to write about politics in this journal, my problem being that I have nothing to say about flowers, cats. Even walking, I like it repetitive, it is all along the Loire at the bottom of our street, or in Chambord around the château since we can drive. We noticed that most our English friends are gardening intensively. Robert had cleared our very small patch of land for the first time since I don't remember when, I like to think that it was an "espace protégé" for the protection of birds. I prefer Nature in the wild. Probably because my father and I have done so much efforts "to get out of the earth". At home, Politics is our hobby, we spend a lot of time at it during the Covid adventure, reading, talking, thinking. May be we should do yoga as our daughter advise us? Or planting things instead or leaving it to the birds to do the job (every year we discover new plants they have seeded)? 

My confinement book is for the moment "De Gaulle et Churchill" by François Kersaudy, such temperament and willpower in completely different ways, they both had direct experience of the first war. Our leaders B Johnson and Emmanuel Macron assimilate themselves to the two great men, little self-knowledge they have. I hope it is just an idea of their PR, not like a crazy man who think he is Napoléon. I am waiting for the 18th of June with anxiety, Président Macron is probably going to speak incoherently during 20 minutes, we say in French " when you have nothing to say shut up". I wish he takes model on the Queen's speech on the 8th of May. 


I have seen up to today 60 different operas on the Metropolitan New York website since the beginning of French confinement on the 17th of Mars. Every day I think "that the best one" and listen to the best arias and the ouverture once or twice again. It makes me so happy to have discovered such a world, like every body I have seen before 3 famous Mozart's ones and that was it: Mariage de Figaro in New-York, La flute enchantée in Berlin, and  Cosi in Wells-next-the-sea.

Nabucco- Luciano Pavarotti



A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

It has become harder and harder to find amusing glimmers of Crazy in the partisan political and cultural wars tearing at the fabric of American society. This was probably always going to happen in a country as large and fractious as the U.S., but no one doubts that it has been fueled by the Dear Leader, who sees division and distraction as the only paths left to his re-election prospects.


Fortunately, Dear Reader, His increasingly frantic behavior has provided some fresh material in recent days. At the beginning of the week, our Dear Leader announced to the world that He was taking hydroxychloroquine as a COVID19 prophylactic. As you'll recall from previous episodes, between bouts of touting bleaches and UV light, our Fearless Peerless had been urging the use of anti-malarial medications as a sure fire cure for what ails ya,' once you got the bug. In a demonstration of his sublime Stable Genius and natural gifts as a medical researcher (having luckily inherited the scientific gene from his uncle the M.I.T. professor - which suggests an interesting line of future genealogical research), he has now divined a use for this medication as a to prevent you from catching the corona virus prophylactic as well. In the wake of the news that his military valet had tested positive, the steely, unflinching Germophobe-in-Chief opened this new frontier in the war on COVID. That he has tested negative every day so far is, of course, proof positive of His unfailing instincts at work.


Chafing at the restraints on his access to an adoring public, Dear Leader has been calling various groups of the faithful to the White House and even venturing back into the heartland to bring His message of cheer to a beleaguered people. In one recent instance this led to a memorable disquisition on the importance of our Second Amendment rights (to bear arms) to protecting potatoes in Virginia. The puzzled farmers gathered understood from this that they were to alter centuries of practice and rip up their tobacco plants for a new crop of 'taters. Later in the week, the Dear Leader traveled to Michigan, home of both the gun-toting militias whose patriotic actions have previously adorned these pages and "That Woman," as he fondly calls the governor while withholding aid to her state. His purpose? To model appropriate behavior and proudly not wear a mask in public. That He was photographed saying this while holding a transparent plastic shield before His face only further reassured the faithful that all was well in Crazy Town.


But, in a country as MAGAfied as the U.S., the Crazy pandemic cannot be contained in the narrow confines of the capital city. Thus, a new outbreak of Crazy was reported in Oregon on the West Coast. There the Party of Lincoln, as the Republicans used to be called, formally dissolved itself to declare that it was now the Party of Q. If the gnomic text of the previous sentence leaves you puzzled, you clearly have not been using your quarantine productively to explore the extreme fringes of right-wing American Crazy lurking beyond below even the already moist rocks of reddit and 8chan on the internet. Q, it seems, is a real or imagined - it hardly matters which - disgruntled member of the Deep State with a "Q" security clearance that lets him or her report on the diabolic plot that brings together Hillary (of course, Hillary), Soros and all the usual suspects in a scheme to do something. Or everything. Probably dismember the United States of America in order to traffic children and sell the left overs to Colombian drug lords. Or whatever. Q releases oracular bits of insight in snippets which his followers de-code with all the assiduity of opium-smoking unicorns deciphering the pronouncements of Nostradamus. Their all purpose response to every crumb of doubt cast over this obviously real threat is "follow the plan."  In short, just another day in America. Only this time, the Republicans of Oregon have selected a Q-follower as their candidate for the U.S. Senate in that state. As a friend of mine is wont to say, you can't make this s$#@ up.


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

May bank holiday, which we used to know as Whitsun, this weekend. In this locality it is traditionally the time for the Strumpshaw Steam Rally, an opportunity for old and young to get their boiler suits on and walk lovingly around their traction engines and other machinery with an oil can in hand. It’s an extraordinary event, held in parkland at Strumpshaw Hall where Wesley Key developed a steam museum in the 1960s. Each year dozens of enthusiasts bring their traction engines, vintage farm machinery, model engines and bits of engineering one might need some day, all enjoyed to the sound of fairground organs and steam powered funfair rides. There’s something for everyone, even those who can’t understand the attraction of old machines. 

So instead of trying to entice family members to spend the day at Strumpshaw with me I’ll have to have another go at sorting the drive mechanism on my lawnmower. The belt sometimes slips and I can see it’s a devil of a job to replace it. The instruction manual says “don’t even attempt it”! At least I’ll be able to get my hands dirty.



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

One of the delights of the early morning here is checking up on the posts of the previous day. There is a weird sort of connectivity going on as I find various links to the entirely unknown contributors. I was born and lived in Beaconsfield for 18 years so when it popped up as a location for a post I was mightily intrigued, likewise the Sussex/Eastbourne links where in another world I live; the details about Cow Gap and Fusciardis all very much home territory. Yesterday MFS commented on the wonder of Edward Jenner [rightly so] and this sparked a recollection of the churchyard in Worth Matravers, Dorset, a tiny village squeezed onto the last bit of the peninsular by St Aldhelm's Head. There lies the grave of Benjamin Jesty the [mostly] unacknowledged founder of inoculation so I thought I'd give his flag a wave. If graveyards are not your thing then when the time allows the Square and Compass is worth a visit in itself: a museum of fossils with a rather lovely inn attached! 



Benjamin Jesty


“Born at Yetminster… an upright honest man…

Particularly noted for having been

The first person [known] that introduced cow pox

By inoculation… who departed 

This life April 16th 1816.

Aged 79 years.”


Hard to imagine, that decision to

Risk the family’s lives on a notion

That your cows’ pustules carried resistance 

To ravaging smallpox. Observing how

The daily milking parlourmaids were now

Immune while all around were being laid 

Low, you must have seen the lesioned udders

And made the connection; correlation

May not equal causation but inspired

By what, faith? Desperation? Science? Love?

You deliberately infected wife,

Two sons and yourself. Nowadays we sit 

And wait for remote knowledge to save us

Entirely detached from earthy, gutsy

Hands-on stuff of life. Hard to imagine

Your contribution to vaccination

Overshadowed now by Edward Jenner.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

Fear. I'm fearful. I don't know why. It's 1.30 am. I've woken from a dream that I can't recall. I've not been sleeping well. Last night I got up about this time and recorded sonnet no. 21. It had been such a bugger to learn, the syntax so crazy - 

"So is it not with me as with that Muse, 

 Stirr'd by a painted beauty to his verse'

- and it had been running through my head all day like a song sung by an unwelcome guest or like a virus.  


I've evolved a method of doing the sonnets: as I go about my daily stuff  I work on them  gently until I feel that they're going  into my bones, I  have a last look before going to bed and then film myself doing them the next morning. Then, not necessarily that day, I move in on the next one... and so on. But when I couldn't sleep last night I thought, instead of just lying there, I might as well film it there and then and perhaps that might help me sleep. I did. It didn't. It wasn't that that was keeping me awake. It was fear. And it's fear again tonight. I have to give it a name and that's what I call it - fear. But what am I frightened of? It's none of the usual; unemployment, penury, rejection, loneliness, It's different from all the other fears, a fear without precedent, not bigger, not worse, just different. Well, I suppose it would be wouldn't it? I, we, have never been here before: the death count still rising, locked down for nine weeks, people queueing outside shops two metres apart, kids home from school, on the edge of the worst recession since The South Sea Bubble. It's fucking weird isn't it? I can distract myself with sonnets and The Journal and P. G. Wodehouse, I bake and joke and behave like a civilised person but sometimes I feel we're all falling through heaven's air mocked by rediscovered birdsong. Yesterday I sat in a friend's garden and had coffee and cakes and later a long phone conversation with another lovely friend - these two things happen every Friday and are now part of the structure of my life. Francis is coming to lunch today. I'm lucky. My life is full and rich and structured but the fear has no structure. It's not a sonnet. It's just there like the man on the stair who isn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he'd go away. 


I can't tie this up with a neat little bow. I don't have much sense of humour in the middle of the night.

Yes, Yul Brynner Jean. Well done. 

I'll decide in the morning whether to press the submit button.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

It’s all a bit Hancock related this morning, very much Hancock’s Half Hour:

With opening schools “from” June 1st, and late in the day there’s still controversy injected by the Press and TV - you’d think they want to confuse Parents and/or cause riots - socially distanced riots, of course - quoting Hancock a couple of days ago: “I wouldn’t support a proposal to start reopening schools unless it was safe to do so - and it is safe to do so”.

and Sage, just now: “there is some risk” in opening “as evidence is inconclusive regarding children’s ability to transmit infection.”

You pays your money and you takes your choice. Or, young Huckleberry, you send your child and you takes your chance... but Matt says it’s ok.


This looming crisis of confidence is overshadowed, overnight, by the Dominic Cummings story, which will probably be picked up by others here - perhaps with interesting variance in opinion and which also impacts on Hancock. For the purposes of Journal record, Cummings is Special Advisor to the PM, generally unloved and certainly unconventional. He has now been ‘outed’ for driving 250 miles from his London home while self-isolating (having shown symptoms) with his wife (ditto) to deliver his young son (status unknown) to parents living on the family farm in Durham. He spent some time living in a ‘separate building’ (holiday home?) on the farm was spotted ‘enthusiastically’ dancing to Abba in the garden, before returning to London, maybe with wife and son, maybe not. No one knows yet.

This manoeuvre appears in direct conflict with the Hancock edict ruling at the time regarding isolation: “this is not a request, this is an instruction” and was the same legislation that floored the Scotch Minister for visiting her holiday home and the Gov Scientific Advisor for importing his lover on a couple of occasions, for occasional coupling. Both resignation issues.

I haven’t taken a shine to Cummings, despite his unconventional approach. Maybe it’s his scruffiness. Those who know me may find this a double kettle/black contradiction. However, and despite the questionable lawfulness, I can’t help feeling sympathy with a father driving 250 miles to deliver his son from harm (we’ll assume son was ok, parents were ok) and dancing enthusiastically to Abba or anyone else, both things I would be inclined to do. It may have needed a bit of pluck too, if he and his wife both felt wretched. 

So, on balance of the sketchy facts known so far, I’d not give him the old thumbs down, just in case he is ‘special’ among Special Advisors. Boris may go to pieces without his chum...


I mentioned a while back how Mr Hancock reminded me of the Gruber character in Allo Allo! Someone else evidently sees the same:



Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk


I wonder if this was required reading at Eton? Certainly, this copy has been well thumbed!



The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin


Peach Saverins


I wake with a start. Did you cry out? It’s hot and my head is heavy with sleep. It’s not the middle of the night, but the middle of the afternoon and I’m trying to catch up on some lost dream time. The doorbell goes again. I haven’t heard that sound for over two months, it sounds alien and I feel like I’ve woken up in a strange new world. In my sleepy state, with the sun pouring in through the window in the door and the smell of the yellow roses exploding over next door’s wall I imagine I’m in pre-Corona Seville where it would be perfectly legitimate to have a siesta and where no one would ring the door bell until at least 4pm. I open the door expecting it to be an Amazon delivery driver; since being back in London your dad is enjoying the opportunity to shop online. Our bolthole in Wales was too far off the road to attempt deliveries and we had to put off kind attempts from family to post out care packages knowing that the local postie would have more important things to do than schlepp to our neck of the woods. 

It isn’t a delivery driver, but a local baker, hand delivering a box of beautifully circular, juicy, cream filled, glistening in syrup, with leaves of thyme delicately sprinkled, Peach Saverins!

Tom, the baker, is living with our neighbours during lockdown, and like many of us has found himself unemployed as the restaurant he was working for has had to close. But rather than getting down about it, he’s set up a bakery in the kitchen and is selling his wares to hungry locals. The three of us sat in the garden, under the shade of the banana trees with a cup of earl grey and savoured the deliciously light and sweet peach saverin. It felt decadent, luxurious and suddenly being back in London didn’t feel so bad.