Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

A week of recalibration. As the lovely Steve on ‘Repair Shop’ would observe, my cogs had got all out of sync the previous week. I hadn’t quite been dropped down the stairs, like one of his unfortunate clocks, but it felt like it. So this week I have been sleeping, eating (more Victoria sponge, I’m afraid – plus now an extra cholesterol time bomb, an apple crumble, recipe courtesy of Shirin) and restoring order. Like the Russian bear that I partly am, I am driven by instinct to put on fat and perfect my den before winter sets in. (I lost some seven lbs during shutdown, so am further incentivised to keep on with the cake….)


J2’s mother, idiosyncratic mind and all, came to stay with me (I have the room and patience) for a week, while I chauffeured and advised on houses. Just when it seemed all hope was lost, we got one. Phew! Not perfect, but within the limited budget available. Whereupon she went home. Now there’s all the other stuff to do on her behalf (by J2, in theory), while indulging her belief that she is doing it herself. I’m keeping my head below the parapet except when advice/help (I am a serial house-mover) is requested; it’s too easy to get over-involved in others’ complications, and possible reap ill rewards. I’ve already averted one near-catastrophe, which would have landed on my head, unfairly. And while sorting that out on my phone, walking home from a horrid visit to town, I looked the wrong way while crossing a one-way street, and infuriated the bus driver who nearly squashed me. Apologies through a facemask don’t quite cut it, and I didn’t have enough free hands to throw him a humble namaste.


The horrid visit to town was to get in an emergency supply of saline solution to try and flush out some fibreglass stuck in my eye (careless flipping of existing rockwool in loft, left anyoldhow by plumber). It hurt like you-know-what, but I was deeply loath to go to A&E, GP or optician – all that close-up peering - so tried diy first.
Finally admitting defeat, I was thoroughly inspected this morning by optician, who – second phew! – declared me injury-free.


Despite every reason to expect otherwise, actually J2’s mum (henceforth Nanny, or N, to my Granny) and I get on really well. Although it is the first time she has seen HN, living so far away, we make a good team as novice grandmothers, trying to remember our own experiences and somehow muddling through. ‘To me to me, to you to you’ wouldn’t be far off the mark. But I have on the quiet been made senior Gran, so my word is discreetly final. I know about our teamwork because HN came to stay three nights and days that week, two of which while N was here. He is a month old and going through a vocal stage.

End result:
everything which needed to be achieved was, but I was pretty shredded by the end of it. Consequently, very happy to interact as little as possible this week.


That said, I did go to the little cinema within the town’s art gallery to see ‘Hope Gap’, a film with Bill Nighy, Annette Bening and the superb Josh O’Connor. Although very well made it didn’t seem to go anywhere, but as it was shot locally it was interesting. The auditorium seats 80, but we were just 15, and I sat next to an air conditioning vent (good thing? bad thing?) so I felt ok. It was marvellous to do something ‘normal’ for pleasure after all this time.

The previous week I had taken N to see the exhibitions upstairs but despite it being very spacious, and the numbers admitted controlled, she was nervous, so we didn’t linger, and I made a mental note to return alone to enjoy the art at my leisure.


I have for the first time in my life found myself binge-watching, which I previously thought sounded terribly boring, but I was unexpectedly riveted by the tv series ‘Life’. A star cast and almost (but not quite) as perfect as a mediaeval book of hours illustration. I have also been catching up with my magazine backlog, regretting that I have had to pause my reading of the 824-page book in which I had been engrossed.


I was greatly moved by Shirley-Anne’s heart-opening a while back, and relieved to find that her delightful children (even the brilliant, bored, F) had been the result of furious paddling beneath the waves on her part. Because the cracks in my own life were rent wide open by events of the last six months I especially appreciate, and am grateful for, those entries which have over time bared the writers’ souls. Thank you.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Fairly quiet week. We had a visit from a friend who we last saw just over a year ago at her husband's funeral; He was only 63 and had been battling cancer for about 4 years. I so admired their positive attitude when he was first diagnosed. They set off on travels all over the world. I suppose they were lucky to be able to afford to do it. Our friend is a very positive person and is keeping herself busy with her allotment and seeing friends but she said she hadn't realised what it would be like to be in the house on her own all the time. 


Just heard we are in alert level medium and trying to work out if that means we are in Tier 1 or Tier 2! Parts of Chesterfield and the surrounding areas are in Tier 2. We are surrounded by Tier 3 lockdowns in Greater Manchester and Sheffield. Ok, just worked out that alert level medium is Tier 1. So what is alert level low? It's all very confusing. Anyway at the moment Derbyshire Dales is in Tier 1. I feel it's closing in on me.


Obviously our trip to Anglesey won't be going ahead. I was expecting Wales to shut down so wasn't surprised. We have plans to self isolate for two weeks from next weekend so number 3 son, who lives near Southampton, can then come and visit. They have been isolating since March and wouldn't risk a visit if we didn't do the same. But who knows what state we will be in by mid- November when they plan to visit.


Have a good week everyone.


View from the Top of the Hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

Quite a rush today to make the deadline, so I will have to be brief. It's been a hard week on a personal level as my friend's husband passed away from cancer and we weren't able to visit. Also there have been other sad family events and it all seems a bit too much, especially with the depressing news here and around the world of escalating casualties. We can only watch and wait, wear our masks and look after one another. I feel so sorry for the people who have spent huge amounts on making their business premises safe for their customers, only to be told they have to close once more.


The political landscape is also hurtling towards various world-changing events, what with Brexit and the US election. Boris has got into spats with northern local leaders over funding the Tier 3 lockdowns. Scotland, Wales and Ireland are coming down harder on the virus it seems, forging their own path, and the Deputy Leader of Labour has called a Conservative MP 'scum' in the House. Things are getting stranger by the day.


Meanwhile my online book sale has been hugely busy, so I will get back to 24/7 packaging and leave you all for now. Hope to write more next week.


By the way, it seems that writing about the Plague of Spiders last week exorcised them from the house and I haven't seen a single one since. How about that for a headline, Plague Journal Defeats Plague!


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Monday, 19th October 

Lord, but the air is full of claim and counterclaim concerning Minister Jenryk and Mayor Burnham of Manchester the former offering terms upon which he feels the City should find succour in these Plague times, the latter declining, hoping for considerably more. It being impossible to reach agreement the Minister plays his trump card, and, hoping to put the willies up the Mayor, declares there will be no alternative than to place the matter in the hands of Prime Minister Johnson himself if terms etc not agreed by noon Tuesday.


Tuesday 20th 

Up betimes and between diverse jobs about the garden including harvesting from my hot-house the last of my Italian Tomatoes (a rather pointless excercise since they are considered unfit for eating if not poisonous) I continue to rec. news from Westminster and when noon passes without agreement expect much sport when placed in the hands of Mr Johnson.

By evening, Mistress Vicky Young has news that indeed an increased offer will be made, and there is much rejoicing in Manchester - the Mayor, having been somewhat surly, now more inclined to reconciliation, particularly when Minister Hancock rises at The House and declares £60,000,000 is to be voted North forthwith in addition to the £22,000,000 already granted (and scorned).


Wednesday 21st

Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury Johnson appears and proclaims that indeed the 60mil will go, not to the Mayor, but directly to the local councils making the Manchester whole. There is much back-slapping at Westminster but Mayor Burnham declares war on London, saying 

“North and South are going to fight. North will win, especially if it’s winter - we’re tougher. You can even fetch yer dads, we aren’t arsed.

We’ll strike at night by stealth. We’ll smell your cauldrons of couscous and Jo Malone candles while we’re fuelled on acorns and roadkill. We’ll sneak down in our fake Uggs and breathe through your letterboxes. And we’ll bring our whippets to shag your Lhaso Apso’s.“

A precautionary chain is placed across the main road North from London, with two guards.

Thursday 22nd

All quiet so far, and in sum, as the weekend approaches huge swathes of the Kingdom are placed in various forms of restraint, and equally huge sums of borrowed money are flowing to businesses and their servants caught in the Covid Trap. Tier3 and its compensation is emerging as the lockdown state of choice by public houses and eating houses, representing as it does a sort of relief on generous pay from the hellish half-life of lesser lockdowns. Particularly aggrieved and loud in protest is one Yotam Ottolenghi, who has many eating houses in London who feels he should be paid more to provide comfort from Tier2 where he resides.

Then Chancellor Rishi Sunak, perchance caught off balance but highly attracted to the high life, and in Particular Mr Ottolenghi’s fare is seen to be righting the wrong by placing even more Gov’t money into that now budgeted, this time to help Tier2 businesses stay afloat. 

Friday 23rd

Westminster, having had quite enough excitement becomes quiet, Ministers and their staff parting for their country Estates, but leaving behind the diagram shewn, tied to the Parliament gate which, being surely the picture worth a thousand words, may suffice to explain until Monday, when no doubt they can review, revise and recant. 

I, with my dear Wife will be planting trees and venturing into Town to buy some Fish, such is the simplicity of our lives these troubled days.


A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.



-Or, Everything Old is Cringe-worthy Again - 


Your Intrepid Reporter craves the Gentle Readers' indulgence for being yet again compelled to make reference to various aspects of the nether anatomy normally left unmentioned in a genteel journal. But, alas, it would seem - in what is becoming a quadrennial event on the scale of the Olympics or the World Cup – that the unique element of the male anatomy is again making a very public appearance in our national life.


Four years ago, you will recall, Hillary Clinton's campaign was sabotaged by the last minute revelation that a new cache of e-mails had been discovered on the laptop of Andrew Wiener, the wonderfully named purveyor of selfies of his, well, shall we say, Selfie, whose various and sundry misdeeds were the subject of an FBI investigation unrelated to HRC. It turns out that there wasn't much there there in any sense, but it was too late for Hillary. As Dear Leader ever so fondly recalls. (Giving credit where credit is due, we remind our Gentle Readers that none other than Dear Leader himself launched this brilliant new trend in national discourse when He replied to a Vile Opponent’s jibes about His tiny hands that there was “no problem down there.”)


This Crazy year has now brought us a delightful new variant on the theme. Earlier this week, the formerly-highly-respected legal affairs correspondent of CNN and The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin, committed what will no doubt be remembered as the archetypal faux pas of the Age of COVID - leaving his Zoom camera on while indulging himself in private acts of pleasure stimulated by his simultaneous participation in a second Zoom call. Already new terms have entered the language, promising full employment for years to come for the Keepers of the Mother Tongue at the OED. FOBO - Fear Of Being On - is already well on the way to becoming a pandemic in its own right, alongside FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Y.I.R. modestly proposes “stimultaneous” as an adjective to describe multi-tasking activities meant to stave off boredom during endless Zoom calls (even as he pens these lines, Y.I.R. is listening with all due attention to an hour-long discussion spanning three continents and Gloucestershire as to whether a given training should be held in Zanzibar – virtually -  on 22 or 23 November). The marvelously apt, "Toobin" (n.) and "to toobin" (v. – gerund form: “toobin’ “) are already on their way to lexicographical fame (for those Gentle Readers given to foreign travel, we note that toobin has already been embraced by Portuguese “toobinear,” Bulgarian “тубинвам/да тубинже” and KiSwahili “kutubeen.” All arguably less useful than French or Arabic, but we will update the list as new information comes in).


Whoever first labelled the glowing screens which dominate our lives the "boob tube" is certainly chortling in delight at her prophetic powers, while YouToobin is set to become a hot new tech stock, and plans are being laid for a follow-on app YouToobinToo. Meanwhile, throughout this great land, prospective parents are reviewing the bidding to ensure that their offspring's patronymic won't become synonymous with some act of infamy in future editions of the OED. William Johnson is reported to be trending as a safe bet, but we advise caution.

Of course, in the continuing struggle for the crown of King of Crazy, it would be wrong to count out the ever resourceful Rudy Giuliani. Yet another formerly-highly-respected lawyer, Rudy has been tireless in his efforts to expose the dark secrets hidden on various laptops of the He Who Shall Not Be Named clan, and his travels through Ukraine have been an endless source of delight to devotees of Crazy over the last year. His triumphal discovery last week of The Smoking Gun landed with all the impact of Dear Leader’s mask wafting from the Truman Balcony. Undeterred, Rudy has pressed his case in the hope that it would provide Dear Leader the opening to smite His Foe during the Last Greatest Debate Ever*. But throwing a well-timed monkey wrench (spanner) into the works, the estimable Sasha Baron Cohen released a trailer to his latest cinematic offering in which Rudy is seen being led into a hotel bedroom, drink in hand, by a young lady (who, needless to say, is not Mrs. Rudy), lying back on the bed and inserting his hands into the nether regions lurking beneath his garments. The seeming obsession with laptops as the key to Dear Leader’s political future has suddenly become easier to understand, although it must be admitted, much less effective than four years ago. 


These jolly goings-on can't mask, as it were, growing concern among the DoomSayers – a portion of the Faithless allegedly aligned with He Who Shall Not Be Named -  that we are headed for a new spike in COVID cases, flying in the face of Dear Leader’s assurance that we’re rounding a corner. While Your Intrepid Reporter yields pride of place to no one in his devotion to the cause of Dear Leader, professional ethics compel him to confirm the dire warnings of the DoomSayers. Activity in Flat Rat Alley is spiking alongside the increase in COVID cases, and two new rodents of limited dimensions have appeared in just the previous 24 hours.


In other news, shares of National Bohemian rose 2-points in an otherwise quiet day of trading on Wall Street.

*Sadly, there was only minimal, garden-variety Crazy on offer during said debate, the only vaguely simian object to play a role being the above noted monkey wrench.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Last Saturday I listened to Verdi’s Sicilian Vespers recorded live at Covent Garden in 2013. When it finished I realised that what had made the event so electric was the ongoing rapturous response from the audience. All the times I have participated in such an evening I have never considered the applause as anything other than an enthusiastic and grateful shared response. On Saturday I heard it as part of the music - human beings swept away by the sublime in a rare acoustic. As I switched off the radio I became anxious at the thought that such live recordings may be a thing of the past and that such glorious audience responses may become as anachronistic as a huggermugger foyer!


Then, on Sunday, the geese returned - vast skeins spread across the late afternoon sky - calling us outside. We sit immediately beneath their flight path and are always entranced by the music and choreography of their formations.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Another week has flown by.

This week’s key points have been Trump and Biden’s head to head, the government having a major Barny with Andy Burnham and then a fairly underhand manoeuvre by them cutting him out, being mean to poor children and voting against Marcus Rashfords extension to free school meal money in the holidays and then a positive rejig of the financial support system from Rishi.


Anyway, enough of that. I have a cake to make and a floor to hoover as I’m receiving in an Elizabeth Bennet fashion tomorrow evening when I get back from the shop and then on Sunday some friends are coming for breakfast and some different ones are coming for tea. 

My tea guests will be subjected to a paleo chocolate cake and maybe the paleo scones which haven’t made an appearance since lockdown and a slightly weird carrot cake.


One slightly alarming thing to report though is the cafe where I get my cup of coffee from when I’m in the shop was shut this morning with a sign saying “Sorry closed due to unforeseen circumstances”. I asked Danny about it later and he said they are all in self isolation as one of the staff tested positive. Danny lives above the shop and he said his App went off as it is so close to the cafe. I feel sorry for them as Holt is heaving with people and they will lose a lot of money being closed now especially as it is half term.


So back to the cleaning and cake making. 

Stay safe everybody.


Love Annabel xxx


Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

Our very strict lockdown conditions in Melbourne were eased slightly in the last two weeks. We can now travel up to 25kms from our homes instead of 5kms, and up to 10 people can meet up outside (but have to be from only 2 families), wearing masks and socially distanced. You can be out for as long as you like. Hairdressers are open. We were expecting tomorrow (Sunday) would bring the announcement of further 'openings' - businesses, restaurants, cafes? - but there is now uncertainty about the extent of these changes due to an outbreak this week in a northern suburbs school. At tomorrow's press conference we'll hear how the results of hundreds of tests from yesterday and today - from the school community, staff, students, their families, and then all of their secondary contacts - have been analyzed and interpreted for community spread, and whether it is safe to open further. And yet - there were only 7 new cases in Melbourne in the last 24 hours and no deaths. 

Daily press conferences continue to mark the passage of days, and the steady decline in case numbers. This is of course very good news, and most of the people I know feel the 'sacrifices' have been worth it, but of course many people are struggling, in many different ways. Just yesterday there was a demonstration in the city against the lockdown. Will businesses survive? The issue of mental health comes up more and more. And yet some of my ex-workmates have loved working from home and have no desire to rush back into the workplace. 

What is disturbing is seeing politicians, and certain media, taking advantage of uncertainty and discontent and channeling it for their own ends. 

With less than 2 weeks until the U.S. election, I am trying to stay as calm as possible. Yoga and all that attention on breathing helps. Diversionary tactics - like getting a haircut at long last - might help! And inspired by Mary's beautiful top from last week, I bought some fabric to make something myself - just need to find a pattern!


Then and Now

Peter Scupham

How to turn babies into people


​Well, I trailed my coat about the soi-disant sad plight of students who can’t rush about being youthful but have to stay in their rooms, perhaps reading books. I have been told my view needs a little correction, but what is the use of a coat if you can’t trail it? I think I would like to take you back to those far-off times, the thirties and forties and invoke the ghost of the baleful dictator of that period. No, not Adolf Hitler, but Truby King, a name to conjure with who has few successors — a certain Claire Verity being one.

​I was a Truby King baby, and Truby King, born in the 1850s, dying in the 1930s was the minatory presence behind many children of my generation. A New Zealander, with many decent achievements and ideas in nutrition and education, he took the view of human lives that Kipling took of horses: “An unbroken colt is just plain hoss”, of no value. To create the good citizen, which meant an obedient, authority-respecting functionary of the State, which meant a Supremacist, white, racially coherent entity, Truby King’s watchwords were Routine, Discipline, Obedience. The Clock ruled baby’s life, and the mother was the servant of the Clock. There was the right hour for everything, and if the routine wasn’t followed, then Baby became Master. Food, potty-training... all was regulated. If the baby shrieked or demanded it was to be ignored. Most of the day, whatever the weather, the baby was to be put outside in its pram — preferably out of hearing of the house — and left to its own devices and desires. The mother, and I am not having you on, was allowed to pick the baby up for not more than an hour in a day, and King was gracious enough to allow 10 minutes cuddling a day. Emotional bonding with the mother was out. You will also be glad to learn that girls were not to become intellectually educated, but were to be steered into domestic competencies and the propagation of the race. His experience of dealing with — as the word was then, lunatics — led him to believe that young men who went off the rails frequently were bookish and uninterested in games. These faults could be corrected if you were caught early enough. I do not remember my mother kissing me as a small child; I do remember putting my arms round her and saying: “I love you, mummy”. She disengaged my arms and said: “Call me mother”.

​​I am very sorry for my inexperienced mother. She loved me very much, but, after all, in a phrase made notorious recently, she was, in following Truby King, “Following The Science”, and her aids were a trust in King’s baby manuals supplemented with Liquid Paraffin, Ex-Lax, Senna Pods and Syrup of Figs. This unrelenting view of the human infant as a kind of unregenerate, demanding imp of hell that needed chastening and subduing had Victorian roots — and King was a Colonial Victorian. What is our image of High Edwardian Society? Children brought up obediently by paid servants, while mother might appear for a “loving” half-an-hour before going out to dinner. My father turned down a post in the I.C.S., the “Heaven-born” of the Indian Civil Service. If he had taken it, I might have been brought up by an Ayah or an Elephant and sent home for a Spartan education at a Minor Public School. I would probably have escaped the terrifying experience of the young Rudyard Kipling in the “House of Desolation” in Southsea. If you want to read of the severity and lovelessness of that experience, read his account of it in “Baa Baa Black Sheep”. His parents were loving, but simply left him for years with foster-parents and no explanation, while they went to make their life in India. When his mother returned, Kipling was slowly going blind and put up his hand to ward off an expected blow...

​​It will not surprise you, either, that Truby King believed in Eugenics and that a whole assortment classified as “Defectives” should not bear children. It does not surprise me that, when I came to write about the war years in my book of poems “The Air Show”, I saw, in the awful image of an eleven year-old member of the Hitler Jugend, my own Boy Scout blood brother; we could, for a moment, have swapped uniforms. There is a grotesque similarity between some of the practices of the Third Reich and King’s beliefs, though I am not for a moment suggesting King was a bond-slave to Evil. Discipline was in the air of the times and I do not remember, in the many schools I went to, any great signs of affection between staff and pupils. A Truby King miasma hung over that world.

​For the good fifties boy, life was set of hurdles. Wash behind your ears, pull your socks up, shoulder to the wheel, stiff upper lip, raise your cap, say “Sir”, finish up what’s on your plate, pass the exams, left, right, left, right, left, left, left... marry the girl next door, make sure the job has a pension. Lie neatly in your grave and don’t go haunting anyone like an idiot.

​Then came DR SPOCK and the world changed. Oh, sex and drugs and rock and roll, where were you ?  ​​

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