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From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

We have been promised a new road. The existing main road which passes to the south of our village has been an accident blackspot for years because it is a single carriageway road between two sections of dual carriageway. Residents from each side of the road have had their say about the necessity and the design but all agree it’s needed. The planned start date is 2021 but who knows.


In preparation for the work the archaeologists have arrived to see what they can find before the earthmovers take over. This week they have been digging holes along part of the route. I’m not sure how they decide where to dig but they must have some idea from old maps and aerial photos. I don’t suppose they just take pot luck!

A friend is a keen metal detectorist and has spent many hours in the fields about. He has found coins and various interesting bits but mainly dozens of musket balls. There must have been infantry stationed here in the past. When we started creating our garden from a farmyard over 20 years ago I went round with a metal detector. The headphones hardly stopped bleeping! Unfortunately all I found were nails, spikes, bits of wire, lengths of chain, horseshoes and fragments of harnesses. The wrong iron age!

I spoke to the archaeology team this morning enquiring on progress. “Slow” was the answer which I imagine is the stock response of archaeologists. So far they have only scratched the surface so to speak but they have found numerous pits and pottery fragments which are thought to be prehistoric, probably iron age. 

Who knows what else they will find when they really get digging? The construction of the new A14 near Cambridge was an archaeologists’ dream. They found extensive Roman, Saxon and neolithic remains and evidence of three henges. (Regular readers will know of the Burlingham Henge). I don’t suppose the A47 in East Norfolk will become a magnet for archaeologists but you never know.


Late Stone Age/early Bronze Age polished flint axe, +/- 4000 years old, found at North Burlingham, near the current workings.


Clean, sort, tidy

Lily, Camberwell, London

When London went into lockdown 2 months ago I saw footage of the empty streets, and around us the atmosphere fell quiet and still. I decided that at some point I would walk around central London so I could experience the emptiness of the streets I normally enjoy walking around but without the noise, the need to arrive somewhere and the swerving, slowing and accelerating to move around others.


Since it looks like shops, businesses and schools will steadily be opening again I thought I must grab the moment to walk in empty London while I can. Of course I should have been working but a very good friend did remind me that I would probably be very annoyed if I hadn’t done the things I can only do now.

So I set off this morning at about 10. If I had walked it would have taken 30 minutes to reach the south side of the river but I decided to take a train to London Bridge - partly to get to where I wanted to be a little faster but also out of curiosity to see how a familiar train journey is different. I shared the carriage with one other person. 


London Bridge Station was empty. The hotels, cafes, shops all shuttered up. Most doors have a now tattered home-made sign explaining why they are shut. I fear many of these signs will remain when other doors open again. There are people around. Builders, couriers and van drivers, runners, mothers with children, the occasional office worker having a cigarette break or in search of a sandwich, a few people like me reaching out and into the familiar unfamiliar routes and people who I would normally presume were tourists: taking photos, noticing landmarks, with bum bags, sensible shoes, sun hats and face masks. 


I crossed London Bridge, under the very blue sky, sun glistening on the green Thames as the tide went out. I went down to the path along the river past beautiful Old Billingsgate Market, which looks sadly unloved. I stopped by the river railings and also walked out on to a jetty. Once again I was delighted by the quietness. There was the lapping of water, footsteps walking, jogging and scampering, bird song, the occasional screatch and clang of trains coming into the surrounding stations to the left and right of me and the gentle hum of traffic coming over from Tower Bridge (still not clagged with its usual traffic jams). But I think there is usually aircraft, more voices and feet, more traffic roar, more sounds of buildings living. Which all add up to a throng I now notice by its absence.


The Tower of London was without its queues and milling about. But there was a Beefeater giving a tour to half a dozen soldiers. All standing at rest or is it at ease?

I followed streets that looked most interesting to walk down, while heading in the eventual direction of St Pauls. Tiny small alleys I have overlooked before. It reminded me of aimless walks getting lost in Venice or the old part of Genoa, which can also be empty and suggest a film set.  


Along the way the neccessity of a finding a toilet arose. I wasn't sure that the security gaurds at the Walkie Talkie building would be kind so carried on. An open work space, rent a desk, had their doors wide open and they were more than happy to let me in. Their rooms and desks were all empty. But ready and waiting. 

I overheard a conversation between a shop manager a policeman, it sounded like the policeman was surprised to find out from the shop manager that they would be opening in the next couple of weeks. 


Paternoster Square had a person to each stone bench and a collection of builders around the central stepped plinth. And a pair of children on scooters were loving the smooth paving stones. I did then think that my two would have enjoyed this walk too. But equally felt I deserved this walk alone. Pret a Manger was open so an iced coffee and a phone call to my business partner while enjoying the sun (and quietness) of the square meant I also did a little work.


Across the river on the Millenium Bridge, past Tate Modern, where I am supposed to have done lots of work this spring and will eventually but we will need to re think everything we were going to do, eventually.

I took the steps down to the river, the banks wide with the tide out. There was a couple of sun bathers and families enjoying the little patches and lozenges of sand. There was also mud. I took some pleasure in having muddy shoes. A little water seeping into my socks. 

Blackfriars Station was also almost empty. But my carriage home had 4 other passengers. 


I came home to an empty house, the boys had gone to the park and the cat was locked out. I ignored the as yet un emptied clean dishwasher, the basket of laundry and the left out lunch plates. I did a little work. And I wrote this.



John Underwood, Norfolk

Applying pressure in the right place


Very busy this last week, working on our five volume binding project. Several full days have been taken up with preparing the leather for the spines and corners, dyeing it, putting it on the book, blind tooling the finished result, pasting on the marbled paper and endpapers and arranging with a Suffolk bindery to make some appropriate labels for the books. “Cheating!” I hear you cry - but there were always binders and finishers - two separate trades, and so I don’t feel too guilty. Actually, I can make the labels myself, but it takes me half a day to get a result that I can live with, and to get five matching labels would take an inordinate amount of time. Double that time, because there are labels for numbering the five volumes as well. Touch wood, the endpapers that I fixed today (the paper that glues to the inside cover of the book, leaving a “free endpaper” as the first leaf) are drying without a problem. Whenever you apply glue to the card boards, and fix endpapers or marbled paper to the outside, the boards have a habit of warping as they dry. They can usually be bent back into shape, but it is a tricky job to apply the right amount of pressure in the right place. 


Forty, or is it fifty members of Parliament are attempting to apply the right amount of pressure in the right place at the moment it seems, but without the desired result. Over a million members of the public have signed a petition demanding the resignation of the prime minister’s chief advisor. I’m not happy living in a “post truth” society, or one where unelected advisors can hold so much power. If only applying pressure to these warped people was as easy as applying pressure to a piece of bent cardboard.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Fashion Week


The dress shimmering silk, worn off shoulder,

Indigo shot through with sapphire edging

Into Persian; hems aglow, pearlescent

Eyes of powder blue circled with ochre

Trimmed with the faintest lines of darker hue. 

She draws the eye with a mere fluttering

Elusive in the tonal shades of green

Before slipping unseen into waiting

Blossoming. Petals embrace her slender 

Glowing, hibiscus, bougainvillea,

Frangipani, ixora, dillenia

A veritable catwalk, designer

Chic, all effortless to her; natural, shy

Nature’s fashion week, Madame Butterfly.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

The first day of official self isolation in the UK for those over seventy and vulnerable was Friday, 20th March. On that day I decided to mark each day to follow with a paper chain – one link for each day. On each ring is a brief  description of our daily walk. We have now reached seventy rings – ten weeks- with each Friday marked with a red ring.

Last Friday’s ring reads “Down to the Harbourside and along the gorge, then up through Leigh Woods and back along the Suspension Bridge”. That was a particularly long walk and the climb back up through the woods somewhat arduous. But our daily afternoon walks have been so interesting. Bristol provides such variety in architecture and greenery. And the walks have given structure to our days of confinement which in any event, have been comfortable. We have found ways to get supplies.  We have learned to bake bread. We have never been bored. We get along with each other. We have Whats App chats and I have Zoom classes in Yoga and Pilates. We have watched many old movies. I think this way of life has become, as they say, the “new normal”. So much so that it was a shock this week to have a sudden realisation that I might be hesitant to leave confinement.

Partly there is some fear of contagion. But it was something deeper than that -a fear of change. Where would I find the energy to be with people? I wonder - Is this what prisoners feel when they walk out of prison?



Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

In 1814, at the tender age of 19, Henry Graham, third son of the rector of St Saviour’s, York, began work on the restoration of the parish church at Skelton, not far from the city. How he had acquired the necessary skills to obtain such a commission is uncertain, but over the next four years he undertook what has been described as a remarkably sympathetic restoration of this fine 13th-century parish church. Soon after completing the work he travelled to Italy, and in May 1819 died during a visit to Naples. His monument in Skelton church mentions how ‘the ardent pursuit of improvement in his profession as an Architect’ had exposed him to ‘the dissipating and corrupting air of foreign lands’. Two centuries later it will be interesting to see how attitudes to foreign travel will alter as a result of Covid-19. Perhaps the chief concern about travelling abroad will not be the ‘corrupting air’ of foreign lands, but the journey itself.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

After 3 days of migraine all seems well today - and what a beautiful day it has been so far!  I find myself lounging in pyjamas - much later than usual. This is because by accident I have put ALL my wearable clothes in the wash at once! Thank goodness they will be dry quite soon. What a stupid thing to do, but I have to ask myself whether it matters a jot. If I were a working clergyman or engineer then it would matter, but it doesn't really for an old codger who isn't planning to meet anyone, except perhaps via FaceTime or Skype. Must cook some lunch soon, but will I be able to dress first? Maybe, and then maybe not. You can guess perhaps that I have found little about which to write today.  Be happy everyone...

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