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Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex, UK

An unexpectedly pleasant time was had by all yesterday. You can never predict these things in this house.


As I was wrapping up my Plague20 entry a head popped round the door and invited me to join the Juniors on an outing to the local pitch and putt (Friday is now, since J2 landed a different, better, job, their only day off together, and so they like to try and Do Something). Normally sooo not my thing, but I know I have to make the effort to get on with life, so happily accepted. I went armed with the usual ppe, and they went armed with the usual nothing, but the venue and equipment were well organised and sanitised, so I was able to relax and enjoy. They, too, are getting better at hiding/getting over their irritation at my concern and precautions. I always prefer it, in games, if I come last or near to last, as that leaves the coast clear for the more competitive contestants (which they both are) while I quietly enjoy myself; interestingly, the more competitive of the Js knew that, in this case, the other J would win (already, it transpires, something of a golfer) and accepted inevitable defeat with surprising grace. As it happened, that J and I tied for second place, so honour was retained all round. Phew! No fireworks this time!


Somewhere on the course I lost one of my only pair of hair slides big enough to keep my increasingly unruly locks somewhat under control. J1 seized her opportunity to again offer a haircut; this time, I accepted, albeit in a lamb-to-slaughterish sort of way. So back home the haircutting throne (kitchen steps) was again brought out into the garden and scissors (combination of sewing and nail-cutting ones - nothing posh here) and comb produced. We agreed that she would attempt the same (pixie-ish) cut which I gave her not so ago. After the first cut I sank into a pleasant ‘oh well’ mode and focused on the roses ahead of me and the birdsong above. I chose to not look into a mirror until it was finally pronounced ‘done’.

Well, you know what? The haircut is brilliant. Very short but that’s ok - and it’s lovely to feel the breeze around my neck again. Plus it turned out to provide a burst of Grade I bonding


All this excitement was followed by tea and cake for three under the gazebo, after which we all needed a quick individual rest (J1 is getting very big, I was poleaxed by a cake-slice-ful of sugar), and then the Js trotted off on their weekly Tesco jolly. An interesting linguistic note: English must be one of the hardest languages to learn, so full as it is of exceptions to rules and based so much on prepositions; another quirk is that one word can have many meanings. I had put on my shopping list ‘iron’; I was perplexed to find, upon delving into my bag of goodies on their return, a small red box - too small for an iron - but just right for some supplementary iron! (Which I already have, from my posh supplier.) It hadn’t occurred to me to remind J1 (who does my list while J2, with input from her in the sweeties and snacks aisles, does theirs) that my old iron had a couple of days earlier given up, and I had had to borrow hers. Ah well, I was never much one for ironing, anyway. Which is why the old one had lived as long as it did. Perhaps inactivity will be the key to my own longevity, after all.



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Virginia, USA



brilliant failure, i was drowning.

it was evident: poems,

thin gold chain, roses,

i love you panted a lot

as i went under.


suffocating, right?

i get that now.

how else could I have been?

you were a quick pre-raphaelite

stunner with flaming ginger hair,

and green eyes that fixed me

like a specimen to a board.


what could i offer in return?

the arrogance of inexperience

and unfocussed ambitions.

you never took me home.

that was a clue, something

useless to a clueless young man.


i was your secret long-haired fling,

a ring-fenced goy shared with an

oily handed narrow boated conformist.


i survived. just. ditched

i was free in the world.

cheers for that.

all a long time ago.

few regrets. i get it. 

writing is not bread.

but it is life.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

Yesterday was shopping day. We noticed so many more white lines in the sky. Who’s flying where? Road traffic was busier too. We are greeted like old friends now in the butchers and greengrocers, so much nicer than shopping at Lidl! Or Lidelles as my theatrical friend calls it!

“Easing out of lockdown” is underway. They are desperate to “get the economy going”. It all feels too soon. I find people are either really relaxed or completely paranoid when out and about. Will we be disinfecting, sanitising and distancing for months?


I had some really sad news this week, which I can’t stop thinking about. My friend’s mum is in a care home. She recently suffered a stroke which has left her paralysed down one side. Already a cancer survivor she is really poorly. The care home is in a different county from the one my friend lives in, so she only gets to visit once a week. The nursing staff bring her mum to the window for half an hour while my friend has to stand outside. Thankfully her mum can still speak, but what a heart breaking situation, all the more heart breaking and frustrating because my friend can’t actually do anything. I hope her mum is not too lonely. It makes me think of my own mum, who died several years ago now, at home. My sister and I cared for her with support, the days were slow and the world became small, but there was poetry and music, reminiscing and laughter, we could hold her hand and kiss her cheek, and just BE THERE to provide company and comfort.


Meanwhile I’m still sorting out cupboards. Charity shops and recycling centres are still closed so we’ve now got several bin bags shoved behind the sofa! A big box of old photographs has been rediscovered which Grace is busy looking through, and piecing together her family tree. When I was a child (I’m one of three), we visited our grandparents every couple of weeks. After dinner (that’s lunch to non northerners) our nana would say “Side the cruet and I will get the box out”. I love that word - cruet - so Alan Bennett! Do people still have cruet sets? Anyway, out would come this old cardboard box full of photos, none of them were in albums, and we would take out handfuls and bombard our nana with questions. So many questions about the sepia coloured ladies in long skirts with corseted waists, the young men in uniforms, the numerous children in their Sunday best. We were enthralled with her stories and gossip about who fell in love with who, who had been made to have a shotgun wedding, who never returned from the war. Every so often my mum would interject “Don’t tell them that, mum”. Obviously some super juicy gossip, unsuitable for young ears! All the time our grandad would be napping in his chair. We would wait for his mouth to fall open and his top set of false teeth to drop down, making him look really funny, like a chipmunk. I wish I could remember half my nana’s stories because all those photographs are now in my box!

Keep well everyone xxxxx


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

The bookshop zoom meeting was useful but it was agreed that the shop will not reopen until the middle of July. I am pleased about this. 


A colleague who lives in Brancaster reported that the animosity between locals and visitors including second home owners is increasingly antagonistic. Apparently most shops in Burnham Market are proposing having half a dozen supermarket baskets outside each shop. If there is a basket to pick up then the customer can enter. This means that when the customer leaves the basket has to be disinfected before it can be returned to the pile outside. Oh the palava of it all!


Last night I started to reread Lorrie Moore’s short stories. One lovely moment for all you cat lovers is when a space-constrained cat owner shuts her kitten in the bathroom during a supper party and gives it a marble to play with in the empty enamel bath! In the same story, she describes the kitten washing itself stretching its legs like a ballerina in a furry body stocking!!! I am increasingly attracted to essays and short stories. 


Is this a subconscious response to a lack of concentration or age... MY age or THE Age... time running out or too little time to settle to any one thing? They compress time and wake me up with a start. They demand instant readjustment. On finishing one I have noticed I always tend to slap the book closed, stand up, usually exclaim something incoherent, and pace about... plump a cushion, straighten something, fold something, put something away... tidy!  I think with this last word I may just have had another Lockdown eureka moment! They compel me to tidy and organise my own thoughts.


The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin

A love letter to theatre


I am writing this diary because of Margaret Steward. You met her last year when she joined us for an al fresco lunch at my father’s home in the small Norfolk village where I grew up. Margaret was my drama teacher at Secondary school and, it is fair to say, she has been one of the most influential and important figures in my life. 


Am dram theatre had been a constant in my childhood, an essential outlet for the more dramatic souls in the village, and a welcoming environment for this curious dreamer. The Drama department at my secondary school became a similar haven to the extent that other subjects were neglected. Margaret’s encouragement and her teaching, that took in politics, creative writing, history and psychology as she brought to life the plays, theories and practices of the theatrical legends that we studied, left a profound impression and spurred me on to pursue a career in the arts. I took a brief detour as an actor in Margaret’s garden one summer, but settled on directing, far happier to hide behind the shrubbery than try to outshine the Dahlias.


The reason for this meandering remembering is that over the last nine weeks the theatre industry in this country has ground to a halt and over the last few weeks I have been party to conversations about how to revive it. The prognosis is bleak and has left many wondering what the future holds for their careers. Luckily for me and thanks to Margaret’s exceptional teaching, I have no other skills or knowledge in any other field, so I am committed to being part of its future whatever that may be. 


This week I’ve been working – writing pitches for theatres and producers for outdoor theatre, audio journeys and storytelling treasure hunts that can bring joy and inspire confidence in heading back out into the world. I don’t imagine these will get created any time soon but I’ve been brimming with ideas and my experience in making outdoor and promenade work, street theatre and pop-up experiences could be useful. 


My personal feeling is that as creatives we have to be able to adapt. We are used to responding to restrictions whether that’s budgetary, time or scale. As a freelancer I have always had to be responsive, adaptive and collaborative; some of my best work has come about due to unexpected collaborations. I don't think this is the time for arts organisations and companies to pull up the drawbridge, go into a sort of hibernation to protect their existence or to retreat to an online presence. We need these organisations to make available their resources to encourage creative responses by artists. A shared moment, however small, a fleeting connection, however short, a story told from a stranger’s voice, can make us feel alive. 


My heart sinks when I think that you won't be able to venture with me to a buzzing auditorium any time soon and feel the magic of the house lights going down and the hush as the lights come up on a stage to reveal who knows what. But I do believe we will return to our theatres, live music venues and arts centres eventually, I just hope that there are artists from a myriad of backgrounds with voices as diverse as the world we live in still able to share their stories. 


And I hope, more than anything, that those artists, like Margaret, have the opportunity to inspire the next generation of makers, creators, audiences and you.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

A lovely sunny summery day again today. I am enjoying not going to the shop every Friday and Saturday though it is nice seeing our customers most of whom are friends or have become friends apart from the badly behaved ones I mentioned the other day.


The ROW continues, more than a week now. Public fury. One rule for them and one for us. Move on says Boris and others. I'm bored but I think they've made a big error in trust of The People. The other cabinet ministers must be furious with Boris and DC though as I don't expect they like towing the party line over something like this. A new Row is starting which is five of the Official Sage group have come out publicly and said it is too soon to unlock the GBP as Track Trace Test and Isolate is not ready. It is implied that it is a political decision rather than based on scientific advice. There are still 800 new cases a day of those tested.


Cat near delete button alert!


Yesterday afternoon my friend Caroline came over to buy some oil cloth for her garden so we had a cup of tea under the the old pub brolly as it was so hot. She was allowed a couple of the chocolates which are going down at an alarming rate. She is also another shop keeper and she knew of an old rusty French table for my patio area in the cutting garden. Done! £100 in £100 out. It's quite odd not hugging friends when they are of the huggy type and they normally give you big bear hugs.


Walked Earnie yesterday down my normal track and saw a pair of Oyster catchers paddling around in the wet potato furrows. There was a lot of loud tweeting as Mr Oyster Catcher was talking to Mrs Oyster Catcher a little way away. I saw a couple of babies but there may have been more. Lovely.

Cut the grass, massive watering.

I keep seeing pictures of Cream Teas so I made some paleo scones this morning, some "strawberry jam" and some coconut cream. Not quite the real thing of oozing clotted cream but they nearly hit the spot. All grain, dairy sugar free. Dr Michael Mosley was talking about diet and Covid 19 on the radio this morning with reference to Boris's excess stomach fat which is always a danger sign and makes you more vulnerable. He was talking about how an extreme diet would help certain groups of people especially those with diabetes.


I am counting down the days for Roger to return. My list of jobs for him to do is extensive. Alan the window cleaner is coming on Monday but only to do the outside but he also always pulls the Virginia creeper out of the gutters as well which is very nice of him.


Got to go and eat fake cream tea now.

Love Annabel xxx

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