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Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Silver lining Covid, part 2


After Opéra, cooking.

A lot of article in Plague Journal concern gardening. I am really surprised about that, not being addicted myself to gardening even if I appreciate greatly gardens and visit them with pleasure. I try to "translate" this activity into french, then I think it will be cooking. Probably the french emotion of the senses that you have to repeat every day. 


When I asked our dear Aurea how long she needs every day to keep her garden as it was, she said 3 hours a day. I could not believe it. Nothing spectacular, many different corners, each of them with something eye catching. By the front door, a huge Rosemary bush mixed with Ena Harkness. Here and there: a historic low apple tree, a fir tree, her favorite Madame Alfred Carrière on the curved Norfolk brick wall... virtually no annuals. 


Before confinement, I rarely cooked, Rob being very good at it and knowing better if he wants to eat. So it happened during those last two months at home that he does lunch and I do supper. I am becoming very good at all kind of soups, risottos and fruit compotes. Well done me, I feel now that I can now feed myself with pleasure of cooking and eating and sharing. I will never come to the ankles of the very technical and artistic wonders of Christophe Hay of La Maison d'à côté et Rémi Giraud des Hauts de Loire, our two local favorite restaurants still closed because of Covid restrictions. That is my special désire for June.



Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Not such a sunny start today... 


Have started to paint a ceiling in the spare room. Paint while it’s cool. Just sitting out in the garden now. 


Enjoying this peaceful time of day... no news, no thoughts of lockdown or illness or death .. just the gentle buzz of bees and some occasional noise from the gulls...



Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

I am encouraged by moves to continue the gradual unlocking of the lockdown, allowing retailers other than food shops to reopen. We are all going to have to get used to a new retail experience with queuing systems, distance markers on the floor and perspex screens at the checkouts. It is vital for the economic and mental health of the nation that we work out a way of continuing with normal life, whilst managing the risks of Covid19. Journalists often talk about the importance of having a strong economy - what does that mean? Well in the context of the business I help run, our annual corporation tax payments (around £1.6m) would fund the equivalent of two single form entry primary schools. The employer’s national insurance we pay (around £1m) would pay the salaries of 40 junior nurses. The income tax and national insurance paid by our staff and directors (about £2.75m) would cover the state pensions of nearly 400 OAPs. It might be a challenge to the mindset of many companies to understand that paying tax is something to feel proud of, not something to be avoided. But maybe all those businesses currently tweeting their support for “our NHS” should be equally open about how willing they are to pay their taxes.


Meanwhile the absurd distraction of the Cummings saga drags on. In my view it was hopelessly badly handled by the PM. If instead of trying to brazen it out, the PM had given his advisor a public telling off, and if Dominic Cummings in turn had openly apologised, then maybe the world might have moved on. But as things stand it looks like the PM will end up having to fire him because of the mounting revolt on the conservative back benches. I was disappointed to see the bishops wading into the twitter storm: they certainly weren’t demonstrating forgiveness, compassion and understanding for a man under pressure who made a bad decision.


And beyond our immediate Covid19 concerns the world moves on. There are Brexit deadlines looming. Our company’s largest export markets are Holland, the Czech Republic and Finland, and it would be helpful to know well in advance of 31st December what our terms of trade will be next year. And having unleashed a devastating pandemic on the world the Chinese authorities have decided now would be a good time to clamp down on the people of Hong Kong and increase their military threats to Taiwan.    


But at least the weather was glorious over the bank holiday weekend!


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Before Covid, I had the great pleasure and stimulus of helping out in two shops for a couple of days a week. Both sell old things... one old glass and china and the other old books. In both, part of the joy, especially for regular customers and collectors, is to touch. A glass mustn’t just look right it must feel right. A cup or a bowl is likely to have a different design on each side and is often held up to the light or pinged to check for hairline cracks. And who, browsing in a bookshop, is going to judge a book solely by its cover? And what about those of us who cannot help but smell the inside of a book? Both the shop owners have frequently said they feared I might get bored and leave. I have assured them that though not the best jobs I have ever had, they are by far the nicest! 


The bookshop is determined to reopen. We are to have a second zoom meeting on Friday to discuss access and safety. It will no longer accept cash. All transactions are to be contactless. I shall so miss the children who come in and sit on the floor pouring over Beano and Dandy annuals who come to the counter with their tightly held purses to count out their own money. When it wasn’t too busy I used to teach them to use the till!  They loved it and I loved knowing that it was all part of engendering an early love of bookSHOPS and not just of books. 


Going forward, I will be obliged to wear a mask and gloves and spend time at the beginning and end of every day wiping down doors and surfaces. The lovely addictive smell of old books and a little dust gathered will likely be replaced with that of disinfectant. More challenging will be ensuring that customers don’t have to wait too long before being allowed to browse or have their browsing curtailed. At the bookshop on Saturdays, we have one elderly chap who regularly travels by three connecting buses from Peterborough. He stays in the shop all afternoon. 


James Daunt of Waterstone’s has said that if customers choose not to buy a book they have handled, they must not return it to the shelf. They must put it on a trolley which will then be quarantined in a stock room for several days. We await government guidelines but I suspect that whatever we do, many customers will retreat further towards Abe and Amazon.


What will charity shops do?


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

If No.10 thought that by making the extraordinary gesture of handing the stage of the Rose Garden to Cummings for his performance it would put the story to bed - it ain’t worked. Overnight polls show both him and Boris are ‘trending’ at an all time low with the public. Add the thumbs down from 40-odd Conservative MP’s, a fair sprinkling of the rest of the House and the entire Media and it seems unlikely he’ll be in his job much longer, despite Michael Gove’s sporting attempt to endorse testing one’s suitability for safe driving by going out on a drive, saying he’s often done the same. 

For Boris, lost among these bunglers, the danger of death by association is too likely. There’s a grilling for him in front of the Select Committee this afternoon - I wonder if he’ll get a sacking/resignation in first. It won’t stop the heat, but will diffuse an explosion.


The general frisson surrounding the affair seems to have sparked Matt Hancock who has his best Briefing to date. Can’t remember much about the content, but he was waspish to great effect with the Hacks. There was a moment of ‘why Policy shouldn’t be formed on the hoof’ though: a vicar was allowed a question and it was “now we’ve established leaving home with kids in the car is OK, will the Government review fines imposed on any members of the public doing the same?” Matt strayed just a bit too far in the affirmative before grasping wriggle-room and reminding himself and the vicar that it’s a Treasury matter.

Amid the confusion regarding the much vaunted ‘return to school’ policy due to start next Monday (and currently it’s estimated that only 20% of those eligible will be sent by their parents) Sir David King, former Chief Medical Officer, now head of the ‘Alternative Sage’ group formed to give the advice other Sage Groups aren’t allowed to give, says in interview today “We should not return to school. We should not undo any aspect of the lockdown until the test, trace and lockdown policy is fully in place.” You may recall we were promised transparency, a chance to see the Sage advice that informs Cabinet decisions and that on the one occasion documents were published whole pages were redacted. 

Good news from Northern Ireland - zero Coronavirus deaths in 24 hours for the first time and (touch wood, touch wood) the trend continues downward both for deaths and admissions throughout the UK.

Here, after a few days of intense heat today is forecast cooler so I plan to return to my bricklaying after a visit to ‘my’ reclaim yard where yesterday I was called to deal with a swarm of bees. Collecting a swarm is the most satisfying thing to do; it simultaneously saves a colony from an uncertain fate and can set up a new beekeeper - which is what happened here. The Yard owner, Danny, needed no encouragement to host this swarm if we could get it, and after dropping it into a box (ie temporary hive) and leaving it on site inverted but propped open so any flying bees could join their mates, I went back in the evening to install them in a hive I’ve given him. Rather than dump them in the open top of the hive and closing the lid - the easiest, quickest way - I went for the charmingly theatrical: You form a wide ramp to the hive entrance, shake the box of bees on to that and then watch as they march steadily up and into their new home. He was entranced. I was entranced - and I’ve done it a dozen times before. Anyway, I borrowed a bee-suit for him in anticipation he’d want to get close to the action and I left him in the gathering gloom watching the last few hundred stragglers walking up the ramp. I need to get back and collect the suit and check they’ve accepted their new home and haven’t swarmed off again, which is quite possible. Ungrateful little B’s.



Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

3 a.m. again 


stealing the spider’s web of brain

the garden party of lost youth 

lies just across the swaying rope

spanning the chasm while ahead 


a mansion caged of attic rooms

the silent tiger Cosway looms

it seems a simple step to take

a foot upon the tempting bridge


narcissi cling to cliff face cracks

echoing voices from the past

stretched timpani of heartbeats drum

that something wicked this way comes


your tightrope walker of the lanes

adrift with hawthorn blossoming

sees tree bark faces wrinkled stares

storm clouds erupting with her fears


the curse of memory it seems

is doomed to haunt her in her dreams

waking she may not drown but still

she dreads the wide Sargasso sea

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