Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

A journal entry has gone viral! The day I bought the hymn board ‘Country Life’ wrote of the demise of hymn singing. I submitted my journal entry as a letter and lo, this week it has been published... but in shortened form!


A week of wind and Saharan temperatures. We have postponed our visit to Houghton and devoted our energies once more to the garden. We have started to harvest the lavender which is one if my favourite seasonal rituals.  


Yesterday, we encountered something strange hanging from a tree and on inspection discovered a bee fest... bees either mobbing a predator or else emulating people on the beach. Shortly after taking this photograph the bees dispersed and flew away. There was no sign of skeletal remains.


In the middle of the week Mum and I went to Holt for our first shopping expedition in months. Good news! Richard Scott Antiques has reopened. I bought a wonderful battered pewter plate and was very tempted by some lovely old rugs. None of the rugs had been priced so I escaped without one!


Against the instructions of the Fat Controller we DID buy a portion of chips from the chippy opposite Osokozi.  Mum and I sat in the secret garden and munched them. They were fab. Well, Mum and I are both Liverpudlian and you know what they say: You can take the girl out of Liverpool but not Liverpool out of the girl! We followed the chips with an ice cream and went home...


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

The new war led by B. Johnson?


The word "war", as inappropriate as it seems, was used in the headline of The Times of July 27, about obesity. PM Johnson always needs an enemy to keep his popularity, this time it's not abroad it's at home. Don't think it's specific to the UK, until recently it's been the same in France, the same situation, the tendency to point at fat people causing problems. Maybe not so openly in France, because obesity is more common in ethnic minorities or in the lowest income part of the population.

Is it prohibited to speak in favor of the new designated enemy, that big person who lives round the corner, just as it is prohibited to be pro-EU after the democratic result of the referendum? Being against the EU is very much last year, not many comments now about it these days, an obsolete subject, until next year. The big person is supposed to be weak and not very clever (despite the fact that the brain is essentially fat tissue with nervous cells inside).


From an economic point of view, Johnson is choosing the wrong cause, the effects of tobacco cost more than obesity, but he does not talk of forbidding the sale of cigarettes in the UK. 

I would like to think that the PM knows a lot about subjects linked to obesity: genetics and epigenetics, poverty, consequences and results of diet and bypass surgery, leptin, night work, social and personal stress, unhappy family life and interpersonal violence in childhood, intestinal microbiota... A lot of subjects to be studied, and no doubt a lot of money will be spent on thorough and objective academic research by the present government. 

From the moral and intellectual point of view, let's look at famous "big" examples: Henry VIII, the first big separatist from the continent, Queen Victoria, and Churchill, celebrated for taking difficult decisions in difficult times, none of them lacking determination or courage. The composer Rossini, and the conductor James Levine, no lack of musical genius there. And while we are talking of Johnsons, what about Ben Jonson ("my mountain belly"), not to mention Dr Samuel Johnson? 

In February 2020, Instagram censored the front-page photo of the fashionably bien-pensant French magazine Telerama, showing a fat lady topless, very chaste, no nipple to be seen. It's almost beginning to be fashionable to be Size+ now in France, and "Grossophobie" is starting to be frowned on.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



Try to be

up and doing


rather than

down and out.


Try not

to stare at the ceiling


with apprehension

and doubt.


Let today 

take care of tomorrow,



what needs to be done


for time

is on hand to borrow


and the race

is still there to be run.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

I felt too sad to write last week. I feel guilty with Australia’s (well actually Victoria’s) numbers really being so very low compared to almost everywhere on the earth. I know how much suffering has, and is occurring in the countries of fellow journal writers. Everyone here I know is shattered by what is happening, and before Stage three restrictions were placed on regional Victoria, almost everyone in my community had placed themselves there voluntarily. Most people were wearing masks and now they are mandatory, everyone has them. I laughed when my Liberty mask with elephants and bicycles was envied by customers and staff at the green grocers. I almost cried at the beautiful small masks I made to send to my four year old niece Annabel. They were as sweet as tiny shoes, but I felt so sad that she might need to wear them. 

Melbourne is my city and has been almost all my life. My parents would take the long journey from where I grew up to take us to the theatre, concerts, the museum and the art gallery. It saved me from withering from lack of stimulation all the years I farmed. Now it is a stones throw away, I have loved being able to go in whenever I wanted to. I loved being with eighty thousand people screaming at the MCG or a thousand silent people (well there were fidgeters) at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. I find it heartbreaking that onerous restrictions are now necessary. The numbers are not coming down fast enough using Stage 3 restrictions (without them though Melbourne would have had 20,000 cases last month and hundreds more dead). There is no point raking over the collateral damage, it simply must be done.


All kinds of fringe dwellers have used it as a pretext for attention seeking and for peddling all kinds of crazy ideas. People trying to cross the border into NSW have parroted extreme language straight from America to justify not supplying names, addresses and permits, and police have been forced to smash their windows to detain them to allow the queues of tired border dwellers to pass by, and get on with their work of the day. I peeped at the Premier’s Instagram account to look at the response to announcements, and horrified myself with the amount of invective and spleen on display. I traced some of the accounts back to their source and many were American, many from Queensland. Nut jobs and conspiracy theorists. Note to self; most people are good eggs.


Thank you for last week’s beautiful journal entries. Marie Christine’s angelic granddaughter was a highlight. James has made me long for two Chinese Cloisonné balls. They would have been useful these past few weeks. My love especially to you Barbara. Your loss is palpable and I would love to wrap my arms around you to tell you I care. Perhaps one day you will show me some of your English birds.


Please take care and don’t wait for authorities to tell you what is safe to do. Follow your judgement, it might save your life or someone else’s.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Oxford by Franklin Lewis Macrae


This week we went to Oxford to visit auntie Hazel. We took a train to Victoria Station and then we took a coach named the Oxford Tube to Oxford. Marli and I love the coach. My mum had to wear a mask all the way from Eastbourne, even though the train and coach were empty. Marli and I didn't have to. 


We ordered a takeaway when we arrived and my sister and I watched 'The Mask'.


The next day we visited the Botanical Gardens. Everything else was closed, no Pitt Rivers or Natural History Museum for us. The Botanical Gardens are beautiful and extremely interesting, we saw some miraculous plants that are being used in trials for cancer and HIV. Afterwards, we went to mum's favourite cafe for lunch, it's called The Vaults and it's in an ancient church with an enormous tower that we sometimes climb. We go there for lunch every time we are in Oxford. Afterwards we looked around some shops and mum bought us books. It was great. 

Plague Journals Marli Rose Macrae


On Monday, mummy spoke to granny Aye on the phone and afterwards she came into Franklin's room and announced "we are going to Oxford. Auntie Hazel is lonely and granny would like us to go up there today to see her.  Start packing your bags!"


"Yippee!", I thought. I love Oxford although I knew this visit would be different as all the museums would still be closed and Hardy's has shut down. Hardy's was the best sweet shop in the world!  It sold the most delicious and entertaining sweets. For example, toilets; toilets are small, neon, plastic toilets that are filled with sherbet. To get to the sherbet, you need a lollipop but the lollipop looks like a toilet brush. You have to dunk the lollipop/toilet brush down the toilet to suck the sherbet. They also sell sweetie lipsticks.  


We took a train to Victoria and then a coach to Oxford. The coach had a skylight above my seat, it was wonderful.


Once we arrived at the house Franklin and I ran to the front door and a tearful auntie Hazel opened it. She gave us a big cuddle which even Franklin accepted. Auntie Hazel had not had a cuddle from anyone since lockdown and she was so sad.


The next morning we went to the Botanical Gardens. We saw some magnificent plants. There were exotic and tropical plants, some that looked like trumpets, some that were carnivorous and amazing lillypads. I felt like I could sit on one and just bob around. In the medicine garden we saw plants that are used to treat cancer and all sorts of illnesses. We had lunch in my favourite cafe in the world. I had Welsh rarebit and a scone, I always have this.


Orbiting Cambridge

Robjn Cantus, Cambridge

It would be fair to suggest that the antiques trade has never been more alive and buoyant. With the television full of shows like Antiques Roadshow, Antiques Roadtrip, Flog it and various shows about upcycling antiques and furniture it might be hard to ignore. But at the back of my mind is the dark future for the trade – it comes from housing and education.


The housing problem today for antiques is, large furniture doesn’t sell, because people are living in smaller houses than they were. When it comes to the young people who would be the target demographic for buying antiques, most of them have small flats and houses they rent in the major cities. Cambridge, where I am from has this issue. One of the biggest dooms for renters is that many landlords now charge tenants for the damage to the walls of putting up pictures, so it isn’t uncommon to walk into someone’s flat and see there are no pictures on the walls at all.


I also find that books are the possessions of people I feel more affiliated with. In the days when I would date, a good test would be to see if they looked upon my book collection with horror or joy. To some people owning books is a waste of space; or they flaunt an education or social aspiration. Maybe it looked obsessive. A lot of the novels I had bought for the dust jackets because I liked the artists at that time.


When it comes to education I am less informed to make the argument, I can only go on my own education, artistically. That was when we were only taught about Pop Art and Impressionism. To me then, they were exciting movements but it doesn’t do much to teach people about craft. Our ceramics classes were about making hideous slab work boxes with wonky sides. We were never told about the ideals of pottery or the movement in studio pottery. I would have been more engaged if the ideals of Japanese craftsmanship were told to us, but I feel my education was a matter of ticking boxes in the curriculum with teachers who were not engaged. I am happy to report my latter education was much more interactive.


But if you also are worried about what will happen to the world of studio pottery, paintings? Will John Lewis and Ikea furniture rule the homes as much as they currently rule the landfill? I doubt it, as many of the items are of poor quality. At least the antiques trade and mid-century revival have started to make people more eager to recycle furniture as it is fashionable.


These questions are all selfish really. I am asking ‘who will care for the things I care for’. The only antidote in Cambridge is to visit the house of Kettles Yard and avoid the gallery area. It’s a beautiful home with function and full of art. My friend’s homes are similar, and the more cluttered it is the more I admire them if it is full of items they have collected or love. As film sets go I always admired the sets of The Servant. A mixture of hip modern items and Georgian charm.


It does make me wonder what an antique shop is for if everyone can go on ebay and to auctions and buy things? Well the shops I frequent tend to be run by people who have a similar taste to me and have the same interests. What they are doing is sheepherding items I love so I don't have to sort through rubbish to buy something beautiful.


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, North Yorkshire

It's been a quiet week with less government announcements since parliament went into its summer recess. Presumably someone is still running the country from their bedroom but I suspect that they have all gone on holiday to destinations in travel corridors. Grant Schapps is still in quarantine after being caught on the hop going to Spain and there has been no sign of the sinister Dominic Cummings recently. The advice we presume he gave Boris about the Barnard Castle affair, to ignore the slings and arrows and it would all be forgotten, has largely proved to be the case. Barnard Castle mumbles on in little jokes and reminiscences, part of the country's group experience of lockdown. Boris is more worried currently about how to get people to go back to work now that they have savoured the benefits of getting up late and working in their pyjamas. The City of London is apparently deserted.


I was pleased to receive a text reporting the negative result of my test. Mostly I was relieved that they didn't say the sample was inadequate, so my efforts were apparently not in vain. I should however still self-isolate if I have any symptoms, which happily is not the case. There are two new tests being trialled, one of which is in fact a saliva test, which will be a great improvement if you just have to spit into a bottle. I shall await news on this. More relief on the home front as no further attention has been required from the doctor, so she will not need to phone again. I am still wondering how this remote viewing of medical conditions is going to work out in the long run. Doctors will be asking us to say "aaah" into the camera on our smart phones, which puts the owners of old Nokias at a medical disadvantage. I don't know how we will get x-rays, through some sort of "app" perhaps?


This week has been notable for invitations to meet up. We are being perhaps a bit over cautious about this and have largely responded with "not yet" and "soon". An old friend dropped in with his mum for a cup of tea and we sat out in the garden. It was only slightly wet and windy and lovely to enjoy something so ordinary. However, we were slightly concerned to hear that he has been calling in at pubs while out for his country walks. Our Amnesty group is having its first meeting, tentatively in someone's garden, in two weeks, to discuss fund-raising in the "new normal". Human rights abuses have not been suspended during the virus, as we are well aware.


The survey I was asked to complete involved a phone call taking an hour and a half, followed by two weeks of keeping thorough records of every purchase we make, which is almost a full time job. It's been quite fun, weighing loose carrots on the post scales and remembering to ask for receipts. There were a lot of questions about changes in purchasing habits due to lockdown and forensic examination of our personal finances. Do we have any medical or life insurance? Can we afford a holiday? Can we afford to eat meat every other day? This is supposed to be entirely confidential. I wish I was 100% confident about that but the government are paying us £50 each for doing the survey, so what the heck. Shining this searchlight on our affairs brings it home to us that we are sailing close to the wind, as we have always chosen to do.


Our adopted homing pigeon is looking very sleek and healthy but still averse to being stroked. He probably fears being taken away and put in a cage. We value his freedom as we value our own, while carefully watching life from our high vantage point.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! After nineteen weeks in isolation we had a visitor. My son, Tom, was here with us from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday noon. And suddenly our life went from comfortable black and white to almost overwhelming technicolour. I say “was here with us” but Tom never entered the flat. He stayed at a local hotel and we sat, masked, on picnic chairs in the communal front garden of the house - just next to the bedroom of the basement flat. 

The garden figured largely the first day. On Sunday we talked in the garden, went for a long walk in Leigh Woods, came back to the garden for a glass of wine and then out to dinner at a local restaurant with tables on the pavement - our first real dining out. We returned to the garden for a final glass of wine but we so enjoyed the conversation we failed to realise we were keeping others from sleep and at 11.30 Kate from the basement flat suddenly appeared and asked us to be quiet and we vacated our picnic chairs like naughty teenagers. 

Not wishing to annoy the neighbours a second time we spent all of Monday out - almost a sensory overload for me. Tom and I went out for breakfast in what turned out to be a vegan café in Clifton Village - my first cappuccino since February and delightful despite the oat milk. We walked and talked for hours along the harbourside, then met Simon for lunch out on the pavement of a local café, and later, after a much needed rest, we had supper under a canopy at a restaurant called Little French. It was a perfect choice - they have borrowed the car park of the church next door for seating and were extolled in last Saturday’s Guardian by Grace Dent. The food was terrific.

Such variety after weeks of steady, quiet isolation. By Tuesday morning I was almost exhausted but found such joy in a further breakfast out with Tom on the patio of a café just up the street. Tom explained to the waiter that he was introducing his mother back into the real world. Such a change from the virtual world to which I have become accustomed. Such a delight.


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

After spending almost the whole of July in Pitlochry, Perthshire we are back in hot Norfolk with a temperature of 34C on a shady north wall! Composing for the journal is the only practical thing to do on a day like this.

It's interesting to note how the wildlife, large and small, takes advantage when we are away from home. While we were away we had a message from Wendy the gardener that the moorhen had returned to the pond with three chicks. We have never ever had three before! More worryingly I found signs of possible rabbit presence and yesterday I found a deceased middle sized rabbit, cause of death uncertain. I'm trusting that was the only invader. At the end of the garden in the wood I found that the wire fence was bowed inwards due to some large animal running into it with some force. I think this is usually due to dogs chasing rabbits or the like as I feel that deer have more sense. (There have been no reports of wild cats recently.)

Inside the house was also interesting. The daddy long legged spiders have been having a ball. They have set up home in almost every corner of the ceilings and behind every chair or dresser. There are often flies wrapped in silk hanging from their webs. There are lots of new offspring too and it always seems a shame to hoover them up.

Along the skirtings the ants have appeared, leaving small piles of sandy material excavated from their burrows and this week they have sprouted wings and taken off. Ants I do not have sympathy for.

While we haven't seen too many wasps outside they have invaded inside. I heard a scratching sound in the bedroom for a day or two and didn't pay much attention. The next day several wasps attacked us in bed! This was too much so after some investigation I found that there was a nest in the roof with a hole through the plaster. Fortunately it was dealt with from the top of a ladder without further ado.

At least the goldfish in the small pond are all well. I had shooed away the heron just before we went away and it looks as though he never came back.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

There doesn’t seem to be too much to report this week. The blackberries are ripe for the picking and that is happy making. Best beloved and I have spent some quality time together, mainly at the beach hut, which is officially now my main ‘happy place’.


There was a slightly jarring note regarding plague measures last weekend. For the first time I dared attend a gathering of old cars and owners at Godshill. The intention has always been that there would be a regime of social distancing, so I was somewhat dismayed that people were getting very close to one another - too close in fact. I was not impressed! Oh well - I shan’t attend again in the near future. Mustn’t be ‘holier than thou’ over this, but such things are worrying - to me at least.


No squirrels - the only wildlife encounters belong to best beloved, who has been rehoming wood mice well away from her kitchen, which they had successfully infiltrated...


Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

Melbourne is now under Stage 4 restrictions as numbers of positive cases across the community continued to rise. Last week there were a number of days with 700+ new cases. The new restrictions are an 8pm to 5am curfew; you are required to remain within a 5 km radius of your home when you leave it; you are allowed only one daily hour of exercise outside; only one person per family may go shopping once a day. You can't go inside any one else's home unless you are on caring duties. Masks are required whenever you leave the house. Permitted businesses (deemed essential) must have a COVID-safe plan and issue worker permits. Everyone else must work from home. One can only imagine how complicated the roll out of this is and its impact on individuals, businesses, and families in so many ways. The families I know with kids in high school are very worried about them, not just how they are coping or not with isolation but about their futures. In the midst of these restrictions I believe we are lucky to have a Premier, Daniel Andrews, who fronts up for a daily press conference, presents the data, explains the rationale behind the decisions, expresses empathy for everyone in the community and takes all questions from the media at the end. He doesn't downplay the difficulties but his message continues to be: "do the right thing and the smart thing - there is no other way to bring the numbers down." As of this morning there were 466 new cases which is an encouraging decline in numbers, but sadly 12 more deaths since yesterday. 

Being restricted means doubling down on exploring my neighbourhood which I thought I'd exhausted. But no! I stumbled on a park I'd never visited before, with the most wonderful view of the river. A magical late autumn day in Melbourne.

Reading material at the moment includes the hefty 700+ page "These Truths, a History of the United States" by Jill Lepore, which I'm hoping will give me a deeper understanding of my native country and a zany novel, "The Dud Avocado" by Elaine Dundy, which I think would speak to most, if not all of us Americans, who went to Europe in the 50s and 60s, were star struck by everything Europe had to offer, and went about reinventing ourselves, thinking we were leaving our American selves behind! Little did we know.

Am really really really missing my girls - who are, of course, overseas!


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Oh blimey, it’s been a bit of a week. Mainly stressful as the difficult job was coming to an end and the client was arriving on Friday night. Last night, it is Saturday evening now and I have been in the shop today. Who knew whether she would like it or not. By Friday I was resigned to my fate, there was nothing more to be done, I tried my best under the circumstances of shopping in a pandemic and budget constraints.

I had a bad feeling as yesterday afternoon I dropped and broke a pottery rainbow and then accidentally cut up an ambulance who started reversing down the left hand side of the road. I thought he was parked! Anyway I thought it was a bad sign.

I told her she had to tell me whether she loved or hated it as I was in danger of having a heart attack. She laughed and said they would be able to help with that.

So about 9 pm she texted to say they loved it all. A brilliant job. Oh phew, what a relief I said. I had bought a bottle of gin by this stage. (This is a major event as I am practically tea total.) Anyway a homeopathic quantity did the trick. I think I really just like the tonic and ice and lemon. I told my mum who is always saying, For Gods sake have a drink. She was delighted that they liked it and delighted I’d bought a bottle of gin.

They want me to go round next week and discuss doing a bit more! I don’t know if my nerves can stand it.


Naughty Tim and I had nipped in a bit earlier to put up a lampshade that arrived just before we got there, just before they got there. It didn’t have the right bit around the lamp holder. Can we use cardboard or what etc etc??

Anyway Naughty Tim managed to fashion a disc out of the plastic lid on his chewing gum pot! What a genius. When I drove home past the pub he was outside having a beer. I’ve bought a bottle of gin I shouted out of the window. Hooray they shouted. Made me smile.

A few years ago after the firework party in the village I drove past the pub to get Earnie who hates fireworks so has to go out for the evening and Tim and various other boys who I work with sometimes shouted very loudly I love you Annabel. So sweet.


A few days ago I took Earnie swimming and later he was hurling himself into the cut hay and the next minute he was all hunched and dragging his back leg again like a few weeks ago. I tried to calm him down and wait a while but he was going round in circles and I thought he’d really hurt his back and we were going to end up on an episode of The Supervet.

There was a house nearby so I asked them for help as I tried to ring Bridget to come and rescue us as my car was at least a mile away and my phone battery was flat so they duly tried to charge it up. I was slightly freaking out, couldn’t get hold of her so after half an hour or so we gingerly walked back to the car, nothing else we could do. A miracle, he was fine. I think he must have had a little thistle or a bur in his fur and he is such a drama queen. Ow ow ow. There wasn’t anything wrong at all!! You’re a fraud Earnie I kept telling him.


There was a funny conversation in the shop this afternoon with a man in a bright and pretty mask. That’s pretty I said, Oh they’re made by a company that makes mens underpants. He said he had another mask with cows on it and matching pants! That’s going in the diary I said.


Corona virus on the increase. Mini lockdowns in the North of England and Aberdeen.  Have heard a few racist comments but it is a lot to do with mainly white young people going out partying and getting drunk in pubs.

The GBP still seem to be behaving badly and shitting all over England and Scotland, probably Wales too. Wild camping all over the place and leaving their gifts. Quite disgusting. Norfolk is heaving with people as is Dorset where my mum is. Apparently a lot of the 2nd homers are thinking of staying in Norfolk as masses of people are enquiring about the local public school.


There was a devastating and massive explosion in Beirut destroying much of the city, injuring thousands with broken glass and debris and killing about 135. Caused by 2750 tons of unstable ammonium nitrate left in the port going up almost like a nuclear explosion.

Thousands and thousands of people made homeless as the blast destroyed whole areas around the port and miles around. The poor Lebanese people. They are literally cleaning the streets themselves as it is a corrupt and useless government. There was a lovely photograph of a nurse who rescued three tiny premature babies from a hospital. She clutched them to her chest like three sardines as she phoned for help.


A lot of migrants crossing the channel in unsafe boats. Around 4000 this year.


A shocking headline from yesterday: “Lockdown 'killed two people for every three that died of coronavirus': 16,000 people in the UK died in five weeks as hospitals shut down to deal with COVID, while 25,000 died from the virus.”


Other news, the swifts here have gone but I heard some in Holt. There were three buzzards right above the garden this morning. A low hum from the combine harvesters and tractors everywhere. Stubble fields and bales of straw and a slightly rancid smell in the air. Gaggles of skinny, leggy teenage pheasants all over the lanes.

The garden looks a mess and has been desperately dry requiring constant watering. The dahlias are beginning to kick off and there have been some lovely sunsets

and I have managed to get through the whole week without pissing anybody off at all. A miracle.

Love Annabel xxxxx

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