Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

My week 3 started with a gentle adventure: I had an evening’s kayaking on the Bure at Horning. Getting in the thing was no trouble, paddling it was no trouble, getting out of the thing was big trouble, akin to getting out of the bath. In the end it was easier to step over the side into knee-deep water and rise, semi elegantly. I had worn sacrificial Crocs as I thought standing in water would feature at some point, but memo to self: if I ever do this again, be sure to pick an arrival point where the water is known to be knee deep... it needs to be more akin to getting out of bed.


Midweek headline on BBC newsfeed: ‘UK businesses cut 12,000 jobs in two days’. This includes a staggering 5000 from sandwich purveyor Upper Crust whose kiosks just aren’t getting the travelling customers they rely on at one end, Harrods at the other and, arguably in the middle, John Lewis - but airlines, aircraft makers, cafe chains and banks are in the mix too. Amidst this misery, Chancellor Sunak is being petitioned to introduce a four-day week, to share work around.

The brakes are off in two areas previously locked down: in what appears to be ill-thought through frustration, the Government announces all kids - that’s 8.8 million of them - will return to school in September, come what may and it’s up to Headteachers to make it happen. Chaos is predicted, and with just two weeks before the Holidays, there are, for those working to rule (and why not) just two weeks to prepare. Also, shrouded in last minute confusion, a list of those countries offering reciprocal quarantine-free travel arrangements for holidaying is published - pretty well everywhere except Portugal. It’s widely thought best customers for six weeks in any participating destination will be Headteachers avoiding contact.


Went to Sainsbury’s for the first time in 12 weeks or so but found it curiously unnerving and not an experience I wish to repeat anytime soon. There was something so foreboding in the artificiality of it all - the regulated entrance, masks, gloves and distancing that brought home just how dangerous this sort of interaction was and still may be... which brings me to a local news story:

as the weekend approaches, fears emerge that Leicester (or a big chunk of it), unable to join in the release revels locally due to its new lockdown status may stage a breakout and head for Hunstanton and North Norfolk generally.

Unlikely though this sounds, apparently Hunstanton is known as ‘Leicester on Sea’ due to its traditional popularity. There is talk of police roadblocks at both ends of that particular journey, so I guess we have to give it some credence - though the poor weather forecast for the weekend may nip it in the bud.

We spent much of the week resurrecting ‘yurt corner’ from its furlough and will still be doing that beyond this Journal deadline and, no doubt, right up to the planned arrival of our first guests, Saturday 6pm. As you read this on Sunday, this is what it’s all about, and what our Honeymooners are waking up to!


From St Just

Jane G, St Just, Cornwall

This is the eve of Independence Day, or the great lockdown easing, except in Leicester - and I'm feeling distinctly jittered at the prospect of returning to Oxfordshire. I'm not sure why this is: it may simply be that I'd got used to the idea that travel simply wasn't allowed, and that it's oddly difficult to start taking responsibility for my own movements again. It's also partly that Oxfordshire feels a very long way away, in time as well as in space.


Presumably, though, Cornwall too is about to change quite dramatically: I'm envisaging Battle-of-Maldon-like hordes lined up on the far side of the Tamar and preparing to charge at midnight. So far, apart from a few camper vans at Cape Cornwall (one with Belgian plates and mountain bikes strapped to the back, which I thought rather blatant) there's been very little sign of invasion. I went to St Ives last Saturday and it could almost have been February, apart from the sun. And although Penzance this morning felt surprisingly normal, with most shops open and a fair number of people negotiating paint marks on pavements and tables against counters, they weren't tourists. By Sunday I imagine it will look different.


So this does feel like a moment of transition, but I'm not quite sure from what to what.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany

After a heat spell there is now quite a bit of rain therefore we cycle around Luneburg heath close to our home or stay at home, work in the garden and read quite a bit. It is really interesting how many nice places one can discover within cycling distance, place where we had never been before. We passed a lovely watermill which has been converted into a cafe at weekends, admired the old town of Buxtehude and went along side rivers of the river Elbe. We also get around to reading some of all the books which have not been touched before and rested in our book shelves.


On Saturday we are invited to a fiftieth birthday being celebrated in the garden of the hosts, hopefully the weather will be okay. We are going to keep distances of course, but really look forward to meeting our friends.


More and more easing of corona restrictions takes place and Bavaria offers all citizens free tests for everyone in order to see whether the new freedom will lead to a rise in infections although a leading virologist said it would be expensive and not very purposeful.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

A quick journal entry from me this week but not a lot of news or changes to report. All is well here in rural Suffolk. Gardening continues in earnest of course. Tackling weeds and dead-heading. Replanted the border where the viburnum had been. Buxus to the edge and among other things, a “smoke bush” that I hope will do well.  But indoors - no decorating or tidying completed! Oh I have baked some new things - Spelt and ginger cookies (absolutely delicious) and a walnut and apricot loaf (not bad, I’ll certainly have another slice!). Oh and I used our rhubarb to make a really good crumble yesterday. I can feel the weight going on as I type!


I watch the TV news or listen to the wireless and just think ‘what a mess’. Conflicting advice, unclear policies, confused responses from world leaders. People angry and suspicious. No trust in anyone. Everything is in turmoil and chaos reigns. It’s hard to see where we are going - but all the predictions are worrying. The re-opening of restaurants and pubs etc does not look to be as joyful and hopeful as first promised. A sense of foreboding. Fingers are already being wagged. Another set of rules for people to learn and get anxious over. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Wear a mask, wear gloves, use disposable utensils. Follow the arrows. Sometimes it seems we are all going one way on a dead end street. 


Is Boris right? Build, build, build? Time will tell but we must ask - who is going to pay for our new Legoland? 


Cheerful of Suffolk will sign off now! Take care and I will enjoy reading your words on Sunday evening x


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

I have avoided saying much about coronavirus recently but like many I have turned into a bit of an armchair epidemiologist so I can't help opining on how we got to where we are. This weekend the pubs reopen so who knows what that will do to the spread of the virus in England. Time will tell if that was a sensible and wise decision. I need to rephrase that sentence - of course it's neither sensible or wise but the government cannot resist what they see as a boost to the economy and to save jobs.


The discussions about whether we have come off worse than other European countries have changed in the last week. It has now become abundantly clear that we have fared much worse than others and in the Northern hemisphere we share that position with the USA where the numbers are truly getting out of control. We now have more deaths per day than the whole of the rest of the EU together!


The real question is why this should be so. It can't all be due to the timing of the lockdown or the failure to protect care homes and there must be other factors which make our society more susceptible to poor outcomes. We know that the elderly are at hugely increased risk but the UK doesn't have more elderly than most EU countries, in fact Italy and Germany have more. 

The other important finding is the clear link between measures of deprivation, the number of cases and poor outcomes. Once again those in the most deprived communities come off worse and we know that the spread of health and economic inequality has deteriorated since 2010. 


Interestingly the steady rise in life expectancy over the last hundred years changed abruptly in 2010-11. Throughout the ten years of "austerity" any change in life expectancy for both women and men has been almost flat and in some areas has actually fallen! To make things worse the expectation that austerity would allow the nation to grow its way out of recession failed when one observes that incomes fell over this period, in contrast to almost every other EU country (except Greece). That says a lot about the health and resilience of our society.


It seems that Jeremy Corbin was right on one count- that austerity was a political choice, not an absolute necessity! David Cameron needs to atone for more than just Brexit!


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

This week has been a blur of activity, the bones of which have been un-Covid-related but the endless complications of which have been very much so.


On Monday I had to move what felt like everything not screwed down out of the kitchen and dining area to make way for the follow-on stage to the boiler replacement. I spent the entire working day shifting and sifting, trying to create some sort of storing/eating/tv-watching in the sitting room, piling things ever higher and wobblier. The end result was something out of Steptoe and Son. I could just weave a serpentine route to a little corner of the sofa, within reach of a few essentials squashed into a corner of the coffee table. When the Js came home they helped move the white goods, with the help of my battered and bent but trusty old porter’s trolley, and I helped move Tortoise Towers, which weighs a small tonne. At the very end of a very long day I toppled over, trying to manoeuvre myself through a particularly tricky slalom to get to the telly, and sat heavily on my prized plants. Worst off was an orchid which, after years of relative barrenness (and regularly picking wretched scale insects off, one by one), had produced the most splendiferous spray of purple blooms: it snapped off. The aloe vera is now rather more horizontal than I would like, too.


The complications were caused by having to endlessly remember mask indoors and disinfect things because of the stream of chaps coming and going in general and having apparently weak bladders in particular, beating a path to the upstairs loo. Oh for the outdoor khasis of some… And moving the tortoises when noise and glue fumes got too much, settling them upstairs in my laundry baskets atop heat pad and hot water bottle, and them pooping from the stress of it all and it going everywhere and my having to clean that up as well. (I’m so glad some of my fellow journalers are meeting more friends now: I’m up to my eyes with kids and tradesmen: I look forward with relish to the day I can have tea in the garden with dear friends. Not long now.)


I had prepared food for myself for several days; the Js had ignored the fact of no kitchen for the foreseeable and made no provision for themselves, resulting in fish and chips one evening and a plaintive plea for the camping stove to be unearthed on another. They never said whether it worked after all these years, or whether they made do with crisps, and I didn’t ask. Not a good time for questions: stress levels are rising daily as they are moving out on Monday and there are a million and one things to be organised, all by J1 (don’t ask), when she is not also at work. One treads carefully at the moment. She is also furious because the desks at work, reduced in the interests of distancing, are now insufficient for the number of physios (19). So, heavily pregnant, she has more than once ended up sitting on the floor in the corridor to work. This week she had the luxury of the stairs to sit on, but the janitor took pity on her and gave her his little cubby-hole as an office.


Annabel: erm, yes; more than one parent will be happy to get their home back to themselves, love their children to bits as they might. We get used to our own space.


Meanwhile, three days of work by the carpenter and cohort have produced a lovely ‘oak’ floor running through between kitchen and dining area, new ‘oak’ kitchen worktops, new sink and tap, hob and oven and - still to come - dishwasher. But I have had a hair-tearing time trying to get the right wall tiles - apparently supply chains are still very dodgy - and have over the last couple of days visited, fruitlessly, every outlet within a 20-mile radius. So much for not going out too much; I’m with Linzy, feeling I’ve been pushing my luck too much lately. And there are still idiots who shove up to one like nothing has changed since 2019. (Here is a joke: in my other country, citizens were reportedly delighted when the two-metre rule was relaxed, meaning that they could go back to their habitual five metres. We like our personal space.) Anyway, this morning there was nothing for it but to drive around 70 miles to scoop up the last seven boxes almost in the world of the ones I particularly wanted. I have now mastered ‘click and collect’ - another notch in my modern belt.


Oddly, amidst all this activity, I have been pondering the subject of sadness. Specifically, an old chestnut of mine: loneliness - not the no-one-around kind, but the being-with-the-wrong-people kind. The being-at-the-wrong-end-of-the-football-pitch kind, keeping every quiet about having different allegiances. The fact that everyone, deny if they will, needs to love and be loved, to speak the same emotional language. It seems impossible to exist, at least as a human, without one or, preferably, both. Else why do so many folk have dogs? And by love I don’t mean the romantic kind, but that connection which needs no explanation, that respect, admiration, loyalty, comfortableness which form a port in the storm of life in which to shelter and from which to sally forth. A look, a sigh, a hug, which speak volumes, unspoken.


Still, love takes all forms, and is out there for the finding, when the time is right for sallying forth.


Children at the next-door school have been sallying forth for several weeks now: at first a trickle, now quite a number flowing down the hill each morning and back up in the afternoon. It is a large school so I can’t gauge what percentage is attending, but what I have noticed is that at no point has there been any distancing amongst the children, at least out in their field.  t’s a free school: I wonder whether that makes a difference? We are now told that parents who don’t send their children back to school in September will be fined. But that’s only today’s decision. Plenty of time for more U-turns.


Covid clusters in meat plants: was there ever a clearer message saying ‘Don’t kill animals and eat them’? I heard the other day that there had been no Covid deaths hereabouts for five days, but that was then. The downward slope on all the various graphs is levelling out, but before the bottom, no matter what The Bosses say about deaths being back to normal.


I was thrilled, early on, by the prospect of lots of really good cultural stuff being made available online. And yet, I can’t explain why, I haven’t taken nearly as much advantage of it as I imagined I would. That said, I have watched the NT’s Wuthering Heights thingy, and The Madness of King George. The first took some getting into but was ultimately very moving: the second was terrific from the outset. And from it I learned some history, too: I never did quite get the hang of all these kings and queens. PS would have known how to make it interesting, and stick, but he was in a different field. I started watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream but am not good with modernised, jazzed-up versions of old favourites, especially the bucolic ones which cry out for a little dreaminess. The benefit of watching online is that one can leave at the interval and not mind the ticket money unused. I didn’t need to leave during The Magic Flute, though; I’ve got through a good chunk of my life without ever seeing it, and I loved it, even if the staging seemed a little sparse. Who could not want to warble along with a bit of Mozart, in the privacy of their own home?


Chatting with the carpenter this afternoon we both commented that more people (me included, unusually) are bunged up and sneezing this year. I wondered whether pollen is flying around more freely in this cleaner air.

I loved being shown a new word: ‘prelapsarian’. Perhaps that has been my holy grail all along. The discovery fits in neatly with the fact that I finished reading William Morris’s ‘News from Nowhere’. I loved it. It is, additionally, such a parable for our times, and full of so many pertinent quotes that I shall leave you, gentle reader, to peruse and enjoy it yourself. I should now have started on ‘Stalin’ (the older years) but have been waylaid by an ancient Dr Spock I found on a soggy shelf outside a closed junk shop; I feel I need to gen up - two and a half months to go! I have promised to chauffeur the Js to the distant maternity unity should the need arise, so also need to check out the route and do a dry run. It will do no good asking the pair in the back, one prone, one panicking: ‘Left or right here? Which way now?’


The local church has opened its doors. I slipped in to have a look and a quiet moment, but was slightly unnerved by a muscly sleeveless t-shirted tattoed chap fiddling with the candles. I thought he might be nicking the money left by candle-lighters, so pretended not to have noticed him, gazing thoughtfully at the rear window. But then he came and sorted the hymn books, or somesuch, and I felt bad for having judged someone who was obviously part of the church.


I have discovered a fox track at the top of the road, in a wooded area. I shall go and sit quietly there one fine evening, watching.

This is a section of window in the church - my angel is one of Faith, Hope and Charity


Thin air

John Mole, St.Albans

A Civic Tongue


These are indeed

unprecendented times


requiring us to ease

in mitigation.


This was a civic tongue

the virus spoke in


from a podium

of brief authority.


Facing the camera

and flanked by expertise


a daily bulletin

attempted reassurance.


Now reckoning the odds

we must proceed 


with fresh bewilderment

and good old common sense.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

It's been quite stressful one way and another this week. Clients wanting things at the last second or are being indecisive one second and too opinionated the next. This led to me having to cancel a purchase at the very last second which understandably really really upset that person and I was on the receiving end of quite a sharp email (please read the understatement in my words). This client has been driving us mad for months and now wants it done by the end of this month! 

Very nice but very annoying and not nearly enough money in the budget which leads to a week of serious arithmetic, adding up this that and the other, swapping this for that, major juggling and probably future disappointment as you don't get the thing you want. She said the other night (10.00 pm ish) on whats app. You always argue with me. Oh you have cheered me up!!!


It is quite stressful being a pandemic shop assistant as your opening gambit has a presumption that your customers are carrying the Black Death. Some people have harrumphed off and others have been very nice. There's a general feeling in the air that it has all gone away but it hasn't. Quite stressful both sides of the counter. 

A lot more people around today, the 4th of July, as people can stay away from home now and the pubs open today as do hairdressers. The pub next door to my house opened last night though. It always was an anarchic village. There were lots of people sitting outside when I got back from the shop. A nice site to see. The man in the cafe across the road from the shop said the butcher had told him that camp sites are full, the road has been full of caravans and hotels and b and b's are all sold out. That is good for the local businesses. Hopefully it will be a good summer.


There is a massive crane outside Budgens taking down the end walls and the metal frame.


Did you hear Dr Fauci on the Today programme the other day. Wash your hands, wear a mask, keep away from crowds, coronavirus loves a crowd. He was talking about the spike in the states where their numbers have gone up a lot.


I think Boris has a new catch phrase, stay safe for summer or something like that. Haven't watched the news much but the odd bit of Sky news and CNN who hate Trump so much. Can't wait to see Peston and the poor lady Sky news presenter with freshly coiffed hair. Boris sounded less blah blah blah yesterday and actually strung a whole sentence together. When you catch the odd snippet on the radio it really does sound like waffle waffle blah blah waffle. Professor Whitty is still very worried. Leicester is on lock down.


The weirdest thing that happened this week was there was a lot of clucking coming from the chicken pen late the other night. I went out with the torch to see what was going on and one of my chickens who was sleeping outside and not in her bed, was being chased around the pen by a hedgehog going for her ankles. The chicken is several times the size of the hedgehog. So odd. I saw the hedgehog again later as he/she was eating the chicken food.


The other day I was driving along the road and a buzzard was flying along parallel to my car. A few minutes later a huge red kite flew just above me.


I might have a new interior job and immediately got a huge and unexpected bill for something else. In one hand and out with the other.

Roger is back and likes me again and the lawn looks so much better when he cuts it and the needy cutting garden is still very needy and wants constant watering but is getting more flowery by the day. I sold a bunch of flowers and a few little bunches of sweet peas in the shop today. £22.00! I'm rich! I have an order for next week too.


My mum says the beach at the end of her road is heaving with people leaving all their rubbish and poo behind. In fact people are leaving their waste across the whole of England. Lovely! I think we all liked the peace and quiet of lock down. It's a bit like no one quite knows what they should be doing now.


See you next week

Love Annabel xxx


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

It has been a long time since I last contributed to this journal. While the world here in the Lower Hudson Valley was beginning to open, our private world came crashing down when we unexpectedly lost our sweet dog Jay to an inoperable tumor… it had only been three months since our other sweet dog Bo died. All too devastating… BUT...


We also had a miracle occur… one rooted in the virus lockdown. After we lost Bo in February, we began to look for another rescue. At the beginning of March, a local rescue group (from whom we had adopted Jay six years ago) posted a photo of a dog on their website which had just been rescued in South Carolina. I dont know what it was, but the photo of the dog took my breath away. I contacted the rescue group and they told me they had almost no details other than her name was Sassafras (UGH!!) but that she was scheduled to be transported up here at the end of March. Three weeks seemed such a long time to wait to meet Sassafras. Unfortunately, instead of Sassafras coming, the virus came and the transport was cancelled. Thankfully Sassafras was safe in foster care.


All through the rest of March and throughout April, several times a day, I would stare at Sassafras’s photo and feel powerfully connected to her. I was afraid I was operating in Fairy Tale Land longing for a happily-ever-after ending after having lost Bo… longing for something positive while around us raged the virus, fear and isolation. I tried looking at so many other beautiful rescue dogs waiting to find homes but none gave me the same feeling I got when I looked at Sassafras. We continued to wait. Weeks passed. I continued to stare at the one photo I had of Sassafras and I continued to long to meet her.


At the beginning of May Jay got sick with what we thought was a respiratory infection. Jay and I made many trips to the vet abiding by the virus distancing rules... while I nervously waited in the car, Jay would be brought inside to be examined and treated by the vet, medications were prescribed, improvements were made and then relapses occurred. 


More weeks passed. Still no Sassafras. Just staring at the one photo I had of her. 


At the end of May when Jay’s state of being worsened, the vet ordered a CT scan. It revealed an inoperable tumor. We made the heartbreaking decision to put Jay to sleep. Two days later we drove him to our lovely vet who kindly dismissed the virus distancing practice of making us wait in the car while Jay was brought in to be treated. Instead he allowed Michael and I to enter the building and to hold Jay while we let him go. It was peaceful and graceful. Afterwards, the vet hugged Michael and I, his staff came and gathered around us and offered us such kind words of support. It was the best death we could have given Jay and it was a true tribute to our vet’s generosity of spirit that he allowed such closeness at a time when the virus was creating such distance... both physically and mentally. Still, we were devastated. Our house now felt so empty and still without our Boys. 

The virus situation improved and word came that Sassafras was finally going to be arriving… on 13 June. The rescue group scheduled a date for us to meet her on 17 June. We were both in deep mourning and yet so hopefully happy. And we continued to wait… for Sassafras. 13 June came and in came a photo of Sassafras a few minutes after she had been unloaded from the transport van after driving hours and hours through the night. It was only the second photo I had seen of her. I was still intuitively sure she belonged with us. She was now 10 minutes away instead of thousands of miles away in another state. So close and yet I couldn’t quite reach her. 4 more days of waiting. I secretly drove by the rescue farm (4 times!!!) to see if I could catch a glimpse of her but I couldnt. More waiting.


Finally… 17 June arrived and we drove to the rescue farm. It was a sunny day. The paddocks were florescent green, the sky was deep blue and the air was so clear and light. My heart was pounding. The atmosphere felt exactly as it had felt the day we drove there to adopt Jay. We parked the car. We were greeted by Jamie, the woman who would help us to meet Sassafras. She left to get her. And then... Sassafras appeared… and I IMMEDIATELY knew that what I had been feeling about her and who I had been hoping she would be was true and right. She came to us, hesitated for a moment and then she kissed us both and then we played. And then we signed the adoption papers and then we three drove HOME. And ever since then it has felt as if we have always known each other. Our house is filled with her remarkable presence. Her name is no longer Sassafras. Her name is Wren. Life feels hopeful again.

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