Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

A week or so of social screw-tightening in the light of increasing Covid Cases which, we are sternly told, will remain in force for six months or as long as we are in danger. Whitty and Valance said so, so it must be true - though they get a bit of flak for labouring a very worst case scenario as ‘likely’ and then have to row back slightly in a later appearance, flanking the PM, after an MP calls for their sacking for scaremongering, or as he put it “like the fat boy in Pickwick Papers: they wants to make your flesh creep”. 

Within 24 hours, an equally impressive Scientific lot say the true overall R number is 1.1 - which, allowing for the extremes up North must mean elsewhere is relatively safe. 

Boris gets in a muddle and ‘mis-speaks’, giving imprecise info on the latest regs and where they impact. Minister Gillian Keegan goes one better and on R4 admits she hasn’t a clue. Jeremy Corbin attends a dinner for 8 when we all know the max is 6. All this is trumped on the political stage in a spectacular, possibly illegal way by SNP rep Margaret Ferrier who, feeling distinctly unwell, unwell enough to have requested and taken a test, nevertheless travels south by train to Westminster on Monday, hobnobs with that crowd plus the general public for the day, gets her result - positive - that evening, then travels back up to Scotland by train again on Tuesday. The Mighty Sturgeon is not amused and has withdrawn the whip.


As none of the changes seem to impact much directly on me, I’m beginning to get a touch casual, my biggest concern being a possible return to difficult shopping. There’s already been a run on pasta and Xmas Pudding. Sorry if that comes across as irresponsible, a smidge flippant, but it does appear that if you don’t put yourself in harm’s way, have a mask and you have confidence that those you care for most are similarly aware, if you and they are solvent, if you are presently healthy, if you’re not forced to do things you’d rather not - then you may stand a good chance of not being tested. Unfortunate choice of words there. Getting ‘tested’ is still elusive, but of course what I meant was copping a dose. I’ve largely stopped worrying about copping a dose. I’m more concerned I can’t get a flu jab.

In the hospitality game there’s much discontent from pubs and restaurants who now have to close at 10pm.

Since it’s long been the fashion amongst young drinkers to ‘frontload’ - ie get pissed cheaply at home - before they go to the pub to pay the horrific prices they encounter there, the curfew has little real impact on them. They can frontload, go out to be sociable just for an hour or so then return home to ‘backload’ and become unconscious, thus saving the police the trouble of removing them from the gutter and trying to find out where they should be taxi’d to. In densely populated areas blessed with handy off-licences, an alternative effect is to find the streets/buses/tube/trams heaving at 10pm with impromptu parties - surely not the intended consequence. In Manchester and Glasgow, students have been told not to leave ‘home’ ie Halls of Residence, so they’re left to fully concentrate on front, present and backloading without the worry and inconvenience of travel provided they can get supplies. 

Restaurants used to the revenue from two ‘sittings’ are finding it hard to persuade 1st session diners it’s jolly to start at 6pm in order to get 2nd session ones fed and out by 10. Another business plan bust. 

So, in summary, 10pm closing is unlikely to kill the virus, just pubs and restaurants.


And a touch of deja vu to finish: Cumbria County Council emails all Care Homes in its influence and offers them £1500 per week to take corona virus infected elderly patients from hospitals. There, that’s reassuring, isn’t it?


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

I spent the last week sewing what could be termed a “vanity” project. My friend, Dianne, and I pledged not to buy any new clothes this year. This has proved easier than expected as I have not been in shops since February. But hankering for something new to wear I decided to try sewing something. I had seen a photograph on-line of a model in an intriguing Summer top made of patchwork. In the seventies everyone made patchwork - quilts, cushions, skirts. Easy - you just lined up squares and sewed them together. The top I decided to make, however, was shaped and it proved a real challenge. 


I made so many mistakes but the worst and most fundamental was using a pattern with which I was unfamiliar. Having laid out my pieces and sewn them together I found the top was shapeless - too big and too long. It looked like the not very flattering aprons my grandmother used to wear. But the fabric was interesting and I did not want to waste the initial effort so I set about making it smaller and giving it shape. I trundled back and forth between the cutting board, the sewing machine and the ironing board - pins in mouth, swearing under my breath. Of course Summer is now over and I shall not wear it until next year but I like the final garment I have created. 


And my project has kept me from thinking about the dreaded possibility of another four years of chaos and damage should the November election not go to the Democrats .


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I am looking forward to reading fellow journalists’ responses to the latest news on Trump. I can’t summon up any sympathy for him.


Another week of mixed weather. Tuesday was glorious and enabled me to spend five hours gardening with an enthusiastic gardening friend. Glenys very generously agreed to help me “bottom” (her word) some areas of our large garden which hadn’t been “bottomed” for a long time. I am not a keen gardener but working with someone who knows what they are doing and putting the world to rights at the same time was very enjoyable. She came bearing about thirty plants from her own garden to fill in the spaces we created. Glenys has a permanent plant stall outside her house which raises money to help people in Palestine. 


The vegetables have had mixed success this year but the raspberries are still doing well and we are still able to have them in the mornings on our porridge. The tomatoes have also produced well and have been delicious. I’m jealous of Margaret’s apples and quinces. We haven’t had much success with fruit trees. Luckily we know a few people with apple trees so don’t do too badly. I find it hard to buy apples having spent my childhood with a huge orchard full of free fruit.


While in the garden a neighbour called over the wall to say he had read my letter in the Sunday Telegraph. I had written about our experience with taking our son to catch a train in Chesterfield. I wrote about it in the journal last week. I hadn’t expected it to be published and I only buy the Saturday Telegraph so hadn’t seen it. I quite often feel annoyed by situations and think about writing to express my opinion but never get round to it so maybe I should be more proactive. 


Drama workshops are back on again. The Zoom ones worked surprisingly well but it was so good to be physically back together and felt almost normal. Our granddaughter has been given the role of Cinderella in a children’s pantomime so I have been given the task of producing four costumes for her which I will enjoy. She is keen on “make do and mend” at the moment as she is studying WW11 at school so we will see what we can do with the dresses she already has. 


We had a lovely sunny walk with friends along Lathkill dale yesterday. The trees are showing their Autumn colours and I am soaking up as much vitamin D as I can.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Just a quick hello from me this week!


Life here continues in its new masked, sanitised form. Today has been a visit from the plumber. The annual boiler service. He really is the best plumber we have ever used. We have to keep him sweet. Good plumbers are hard to find. We feed him and water him (well coffee and cake). 


Hope you’re all keeping safe and healthy.

Best wishes xx


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Work is busy at the moment, which is very encouraging, and though the daily lives of myself and my colleagues are adversely impacted by Covid restrictions, our company's performance continues to be robustly profitable. But we are the lucky ones. For example, how do you run a profitable restaurant if you have to turf out all your customers at 10pm? The government had been supporting the hospitality industry with the "eat out to help out" scheme, but the 10pm curfew rule has, at the stroke of a pen, knocked the industry for six. Apparently this idea didn't come from the SAGE committee but is just another example of a decision making on a whim, following the "something must be done" approach. This is the worst form of decision making, whether in government or business and it follows the logic of: "something must be done"; "this is something"; let's do it".  


Meanwhile I read more and more reports, and engage in more private conversations, suggesting that there is a growing realisation that the approach of repeated and varied local and national lockdowns is not a sustainable way of tackling the virus. In the long run we are going to have to learn to live with it. So why not just relax or abolish the more egregious examples of arbitrary rules and restrictions, and just keep reminding us of the risks, and keep reminding us to act responsibly? 


We were contacted by our travel agent during the week informing us that our late October holiday in Rome was being cancelled. It was an escorted tour: "Caravaggio and Rome, with Andrew Graham Dixon", which we had booked last November, and had been looking forward to throughout the months of shutdown. But I guess the decision is right, especially as it looks as though Italy might be added to the quarantine list in the next week or two. And given the continuing deterioration in my mother-in-law's health, perhaps we are better off not going abroad for the time being.


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA



Sun high, humidity building,

grey curtain advances over the plain,

sky flowing to earth, drowning daylight.

A striped skin backs into the deluge,

black and white ears slanting, twitching,

hind leg cocked ever-so on its hoof.

Triggered thunder roars,

a pride of consumers huddles,

hunger burning, weapons sheathed.


Lightning ignites distant clouds.

stars fall to earth, tumbling over the horizon.

Hanging from damp manes

myriad raindrops womb the moon.

A clamp of lethal ivory

penetrates a gentle windpipe,

reflection of the silver river

terminates in shuttering eyes.

A premonition of fingers

draws Time on tiptoes

leaning over the valley rim

out into the wind.


From: Wide to the Ocean.



Clean, sort, tidy

Lily, Camberwell, London

Wednesday 30 September 


Today was my day off. The last few have been very functional. Doctor’s appointments, mid week laundry, paying bills, looking after mum’s admin. But never the less it was good to have a day to focus on that stuff and not have to juggle the myriad to do lists. 


Today I had tickets for the Hayward. Among the Trees. Today was a proper day off. Although I took care of some satisfying confirming of dates for online workshop delivery before I went out. I was going to go to the exhibition with my Friend (who we went to Hastings with). But she started her new job yesterday so it would not have been right to take a day off on her second day. She was an accessories designer for a well known shop. But there were inevitable changes and after furlough she was made redundant. Now she is an apprentice butcher. Something she has always wanted to do. 


It was sad not to do today with a friend but I am also very happy to be out on my own. I walked from Blackfriars along the Southbank with a good hour before my booked entrance time. 

The National Theatre looks sad. Or it made me sad. It’s locked up. Dark. Empty. I worked back stage (as a dresser) in the Olivier after university so I have some affection for the building. It was a very friendly place to work. There are several corridors that square around the theatres on different floors, with several swinging double doors off them to take you to the stages, to the canteen, to the wig department, to the laundries, dying and distressing studios, rooms with large printers in them for plans, the green room... and along the corridors are doors (that look too much alike, to dressing rooms of various sizes). And as you walk around these corridors you pass people (sometimes you will know who they are, sometimes you won’t) and they will all smile and say hello. 

But now it’s all empty. 


Not just the idea, but the stark reality of there being no performances (pretty much at all, barring a few people, groups and organisations who are just about managing to put on live work) feels like a gapping vacuum. Like when you speak but the one word you need, to say what you want to say, is not there. 


The Barbican sent me details of an exhibition about the choreographer Michael Clarke. I was showing the boys videos of his work on YourTube (Youngest loved it, “I’m a punk”. Eldest said it made him feel weird, “It’s like a night mare”) and I was left feeling the desire for that wonderful experience of seeing performance that you can disappear in to and has its own language that you can feel is your own too. 


The exhibition was pleasant. I always like the space at the Hayward. It’s ugly but seems to adapt and morph to each exhibition. I always picture, remember in my minds eye a particular piece in an exhibition, in a particular room or space at the gallery. 


The rain was on its way but I walked across Waterloo Bridge to find some lunch. Usually you can easily find somewhere to pick up something tasty within a few steps in any direction. But so much is shut, still and more so. Pret a Manger seem to be staying open everywhere in order to take up where others are gone. 


I wandered through Covent Garden, once again following my somewhat morbid curiosity to see what is still there and who is about and what are they doing. It is all quieter, but there were still people around for work or leisure. Everyone seems to still be out-numbered by builders, as buildings are repaired, refurbished, re purposed. 


The rain did arrive and I sheltered in the locked up entrance to the Royal Opera House in Bow Street. With an ice cream (!?!). A parking officer (is that the term?) also took shelter, or he might have been waiting to see if the 4 vans parked badly, were going to be driven away before he gave them parking fines.


The weather changed again for my way back towards Blackfriars, via Fleet Street and I could take my hood off my head. More locked up and dark shops. A surprising group of men in dark suits meandering down a side road, maybe solicitors. Surprising for their number and wearing of suits. And more homeless people than I have seen for a long time. I think the housing and shelter offered during lockdown in the last months may be lost and they are having to return to the streets. 


Once home I thought I would have time to write this and send it off but another call with a client bookended my day off with work. So I complete it now, on a Friday, when it’s already hard to recall the detail of the day.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

6968 positive cases today 

66 deaths

R number up


2nd October 2020

Well! The big news today is Trump and Melania have Covid 19.

I expect lots of people will send him bouquets of ribbon clad bottles of bleach. I hope he’s not seriously ill and wish them a good recovery but it did make me laugh at 10 to 7 this morning as I listened to the news. The election is in just over a month.


I was woken up by a courier to tell me they were delivering a chair to the barn between 10 and 12 this morning. No I said, you weren’t meant to be coming today. You were going to rearrange it as I can’t do Fridays. 

It was decided they would leave it with a neighbour. At midday they rang and said that no neighbours were in so they had left it by the front door. A little while later, Michelle who is the housekeeper at the barn went there to meet the plumber. No chair! No chair at any of the neighbours front doors. I rang the drivers and it was beginning to dawn on me that they had gone to the wrong house. Anyway to cut a long story short they had left it outside someone else’s door about 5 miles away in another village entirely and had gone back to Peterborough! They had to come all the way back and retrieve the chair and bring it to the barn. Blimey. They sent a nice text once it was sorted out. Sorry about the address mix up. Stay safe.


On the news some health care workers in America think it is fake news re Trump’s positive test so he doesn’t have to have any more head to heads with Biden. The first one was a car crash of rudeness, insults and shouting. I couldn’t watch it, it was awful.

Ridiculous ideas coming out of Downing Street. Pretty Pattel considerin sending asylum seekers to the Ascension Islands.

On the news this week it has been general discontent. More lockdowns in Northern cities, Liverpool was yesterday. 

Locked up students, thousands of them requiring food parcels. Hopeless disorganisation. Effectively living in a police state.

Politicians breaking their own Covid rules. SNP MP Margaret Ferrier took a train from Scotland, went to the Commons, received her positive test and travelled the 400 odd miles back. She hasn’t resigned.


The storm last weekend was bad around here with lots of trees down and the sound of chainsaws all week. My purple beech tree got damaged so Naughty Tim is coming tomorrow with his chainsaw. One of the Ratty’s has gone to Ratty heaven. Garden took a terrible battering with the horrible winds. It was about to have an autumn resurgence but then got flattened. Roger came to help sort out the mess of the collapsed Virginia creeper. The sparrows have had to move house into the hedges.


Have been quite busy with my client Louisa getting all our decisions ready in her project. It is coming together and the space is beginning to look nice. 


An old friend from college is doing an Instagram thing of showing 10 old pieces of work and has asked me to take over from him. This has involved getting the whole “archive” (I use the word loosely) out of the drawers and folders and looking at it. There are masses of working drawings behind projects, stage after stage. There is just so much work and now chaos on my print table. Quite interesting looking back though at the progression. Things I had completely forgotten about and things I should look at again. Another friend who I went to college with came over for a catch up and saw the piles and piles of paper. What will happen to all this stuff? Probably get binned I expect. I mean, who cares about these micro thought processes unless you’re David Hockney? Its like old ladies prized collections of china golden retrievers that end up in the tattered box under the table in an auction house.

Breaking news, Trump is being moved to hospital so they can keep an eye on him. He has been given an anti body cocktail to help protect him. He is in a high risk group being 74 and technically obese with slight heart and prostrate problems.


What a bonkers world we are living in.


Must go to bed. Take care. Stay safe as they say.

Love Annabel xxx

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