Hello from Eastbourne
The vain pussycat, by Franklin Lewis Macrae
Last week my granny aye came to visit for the first time in nine months. It was really enjoyable as my sister and I have missed her so much over quarantine.
Granny Aye is eccentric and she never tells us off. She told us she was sometimes naughty at school and her head teacher called her a 'vain pussycat'. She said all her friends laughed and called her 'the vain pussycat' afterwards. When she arrived, she gave us a ton of sweets each and my mum didn't confiscate them. For most nights, even though they were school nights, we had midnight feasts. Despite having her own room, she slept in our bedrooms, in Marli's one night and in mine the next. Dad made her a cosy bed to sleep on. She snores though. On the final night we watched a film as mum and dad had gone out to dinner. When they came back, they went to bed and we sat up late in Marli's room and told ghost stories to each other. The next morning, Marli went to ballet and dad and I took granny to the train station. She is coming for Christmas this year and I am really excited.
The vain pussycat by Marli Rose Macrae
Last week my granny aye came to stay. I was very excited because I have not seen granny since Christmas and she is my favourite person. I have also been desperate to see her because I needed some knitting help. I didn't know how to increase. Anyway, it's actually simple and we knitted flowers together from a book she bought me as she taught me how to read a pattern. I've been knitting flowers since. The first one was blue with silver beads around the edge and a silver flower in the middle. These flowers are called corsages but you can pin them in your ponytail. She has an Instagram account that she puts her knitting on and when I am an adult I might get one. She says I should have the user name @knitnurse. Mummy and daddy laughed. It's a play on words as a nit nurse used to check children's hair at school for nits!
Granny picked me up from school everyday. We walked through town on the way home and stopped at C&H fabrics which is a haberdashery shop. Granny bought me lots of wool, always cotton. We only knit in cotton or wool. I'm making corsages as Christmas presents and I'm going to make some beautiful knitted poppies for Remembrance Day.
We watched the film 'Elf' even though it isn't Christmas as it's hilarious. Granny aye bought us lots of sweets and we were allowed to eat them, mummy and daddy didn't moan.
On Friday, mummy and daddy went out to dinner and we watched another film (Franklin chose it and it was awful) and had more sweets. When we went to bed we told ghost stories and granny told a silly one called 'Where's my cake?'. Granny is such good fun and never cross but she does snore like a hippopotamus. She is so stylish and she told us her teacher called her a 'vain pussycat'. Mummy bought her a new dress for her birthday. She is coming to stay with us at Christmas time and I can't wait.
Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden
The Corona cases are on the rise again, and mostly so here in Uppsala. Monday this week was not so good. First a root filling, then a research meeting, then in the afternoon I tried to give a 2 hour lecture on stroke for pharmacist via zoom and it took over 20 minutes until the technique worked. At 4 pm my work shift started: at the emergency room which was overcrowded with 60 patients and almost no hospital beds for patients who needed to be admitted.
One patient who really needed to be admitted refused. She was 81 years old and came because of dizziness and a fall and lab tests showed a very low level of sodium (121). But she felt better and remembered that there was a wedding that she needed to go to on Tuesday at 2pm. I tried to persuade her to stay and told her of what might happen if she was not treated, a seizure for example. I asked a psychiatrist about the possibility of involuntary commitment, but it did not seem possible. I asked her if she could stay for a few hours at least. But she was going home right away to spend hours in the bath tub, fix her hair and prepare for the wedding. She had looked forward to this for a long time and if something bad happened it did not matter since she was old, she said.
Today I had to write a death certificate of a patient who died on 25 of September, a patient that I never met but I had heard of her case. Previously healthy she had had some gastrointestinal problems for 2 days and then suffered a cardiac arrest, was put on ECMO and a CT scan showed a severe aortic dissection involving coronary vessels causing heart failure and she died. My collegue had written a death certificate, but he had not signed it, and was no longer at the hospital. We can sign all sorts of papers for collegues, but not death certificates which is a legal document. I could see in her chart that an autopsy had been performed so I there was of course no doubt that she really was dead. We are going to investigate if she has a connective tissue disorder so her family members can get tested and possibly prevent this terrible disease.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
Last Friday the board treated itself to an evening dinner, at our favourite local hotel and conference centre. It was the first time this year that we have sat down together to eat and chat, something we would normally do maybe 4 or 5 times a year. The arrangements were a little odd, with last orders at 9:30 and a strictly enforced 10pm bedtime, but it was great to be able to rebuild the bonds of friendship and trust in an environment where the day to day pressures of work could temporarily be forgotten. And despite not being able to sit in the bar talking and drinking until late, we still managed a very enjoyable evening.
On Wednesday afternoon we paid a visit down to Hampshire so that Sarah could visit her ailing mother. Sarah decided that the best description of her mother’s mood this week was “querulous”, with Nora feeling decidedly down and sorry for herself. The visit took place in Nora’s room, as she is now classified as being in end of life care. I sat in my car in the carpark and read the newspaper and answered emails.
Also on Wednesday I phoned the dental surgery, as I have been increasingly aware that something is wrong with upper right four. The dentist called me back for a triage conversation an hour later, and gave me an appointment this Friday, for a non-invasive investigation. And so this morning my dentist has x-rayed the offending tooth, identifying a hidden problem. Now I have another appointment next Friday, when she has promised me she will be in full protective gear, complete with respirator, in order to drill and fill, with the added possibility of some root canal work. So that is something to look forward to! And it is one area of the NHS that is obviously still functioning well. The letters page of the Daily Telegraph this week has alternated between patients writing in to complain about the very poor service they have received from their local GP practises, with them being almost impossible to contact during the pandemic, countered the following day with letters from GPs listing all the wonderful things they are doing in difficult circumstances. I am not an expert in this area, as I tend to visit my GP only about once a decade. Long may that continue.
Meanwhile, given the growing evidence that local lockdowns are not working, it sounds like the government is planning to introduce more of them. So this evening the three of us together with our son and his girlfriend are going for a meal out, before the wise men of Whitehall decree that such behaviour is foolhardy and must be banned.
And as a contribution to the nature notes that regularly appear in our journal, I can report that twice this week we have seen a sparrow hawk sitting in the middle of the back garden ripping a pigeon to shreds, consuming every last scrap of flesh, bone and skin. I do hope they were pigeons and not two of the collared doves that I reported on a few months ago, but there was no usable evidence left at the crime scene, only a pile of feathers.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
The week starts with the North wanting more autonomy regarding restrictions as existing ones are confusing and ineffective. There are 1000 cases confirmed Coronavirus cases at Manchester Uni alone and corresponding sharp rises in hospital admissions and confirmed cases throughout the population.
The figures are illustrated by a striking contrast:
Confirmed cases in the North - 4/500 per 100000 population.
Confirmed cases in London - 60 per 100000.
Confirmed cases in Norwich - 40 per 100000. Mind you, that’s up from 15 the previous week, so it wouldn’t do to get complacent.
Casting around for reasons for the disparity in numbers there’s talk of ‘deprivation’ Up North (another word for ‘lifestyle’?) and a higher percentage working from home in the South being a factor. Also featuring is the impact of 16,000 potentially positive contacts missing from within the track and trace enterprise due to a outdated and misused Excel programme shedding overload instead of keeping it safe. Since it was never designed for the job we can’t blame Microsoft so let’s blame... well who knows? No-one from within the murky depths of privatisation has been brought forward for sacrifice, but a whole load of The Infected were out there, blissfully unaware for a while, mostly Up North. I like Up North, it really is very bad luck.
Boris appears at the ‘virtual’ Party Conference, sporting one hairstyle on the walk in and another at the end, suggesting much editing or maybe head-scratching at the impossibility of it all - though he puts on a brave face and attempts to rally the troops.
Then on Wednesday his political thunder is stolen once more by Sturgeon the All Powerful (an aside - she and husband Peter Murrell, CEO of the SNP, are under attack over their manipulation of the Odious Salmond case behind the scene. It would be a shame if she falls on that, but called out by Ruth Davidson as a liar, it’s difficult to see it conveniently shutting down) who calmly announces that pubs and restaurants in a great swathe of central Scotland must close at the end of the week for 16 days to remove public socialising from temptation. There’s a £40m support package to soften the blow. That’s UK money of course, not Scotland’s.
This provokes, not unnaturally, much speculation that it’s just what’s needed in the North, and, starting that evening, the Media is briefed to drift out the news that over the coming weekend, Policy will be formulated to ‘govern’ the impending doom by a three-tier system of “easily-understood, increasingly direct (ie harsh) measures that any location can understand and comply with”.
By Thursday Andy Burnham, Mayor of Manchester, who’d previously been told he and other leaders would be kept informed and consulted - and hasn’t been - is in open defiance. Says he won’t implement restrictions without compensation packages - and there’s no mention of that yet... Scotland has their 40mil, it’ll be unavoidable.
Then in the evening we’re told Whitty says 30% of infectious contact starts in pubs etc. and we could be comprehensively up the Swanny in three weeks. Clearly we’re being exposed to Project Fear when Hancock predicts “the implosion of the NHS” this winter if we don’t get a grip.
Friday morning Public Health England (also part of ‘The Science’) publish this graphic showing that transmission in the home outweighs all other likely points of contact combined - simultaneously posing the questions a) how do you control household infection, b) is it a disruptive waste of money closing and compensating pubs?
I’m off to buy some fish from Norwich Market, while its legal. Seems like soon we may be in total lockdown - except to go to the pub.
A Poole-side View
Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole
The ragged figure stands stock still
Arms outstretched, fingerless and gloved.
His coal-black eyes see nothing, feels nothing
When Johnny Crow alights on him to scan
The softly waving corn, cocking his head to hear
The scuttling passage of hungry vole.
A sudden croaking craw and he resumes his flight
Over the light-catching swaying golden field,
To escape the blear and scary stare
Of the turnip-headed guardian of our countryside
Whose straw-stuffed figure doesn't shift.
Normality returns. He's done his work.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
There is a quirky website called Death Goes Digital. The website gives advice on how to set up an online funeral or memorial. I happened upon this site just before I took part in a Zoom memorial (my first) for my friend last Saturday. The family did their best to co-ordinate over seventy of Bill’s friends and relatives from all over the world. The website takes it as given that everyone has a complete understanding of technology and reliable internet. A number of glitches interspersed the proceedings. Nonetheless we were all able to come together to remember the man we had all come to love and will miss. Death may have gone digital but it all felt detached. Online doesn’t come with consoling hugs. No chatting to everyone afterwards. Indeed, no communication with anyone as we all had to mute ourselves unless we were giving a tribute. As ever, my mind wandered. Looking at some photographs of a younger Bill and listening to one of his friends, I found that he was six feet six inches tall. I’ve only ever known Bill as a wheelchair user. He was so tall and I’d never even realised.
The actor Samuel West, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, and some of his fellow thespians, set up a poetry reading initiative at the beginning of lockdown. To date they have read over 600 poems, known as the pandemic poems. These are online and a joy to be able to dip into. What a generous and talented contribution. Well worth a donation to the NCA I think.
Covid-19 features prominently this week. On Saturday I awoke to the obscene spectacle of President Trump participating in a drive-by outside the hospital where he was being treated for Covid-19. A day or so later he claimed that he had beaten coronavirus and, therefore, everyone could do it. No pressure there then. Coronavirus was less lethal than the flu. What on earth does that say to people who have had friends or relatives die from it? This privileged man had been treated in hospital by all the best that medicine can provide; whilst at the same time his administration is working on plans to take away the remaining parts of the healthcare service set up by President Obama.
Just about to pop out to a large DIY store and my friend rings to tell me that the store has been shut and is being given a deep-clean as a member of staff has tested positive. Right on cue, my grandson messages to let me know that a pupil in his class has tested positive. The whole of the class has been sent home to isolate for a week. The rest of his family doesn’t have to isolate but it does mean we won’t be able to meet up this weekend. They are my support bubble and the one time when I can touch another person.
I went for my annual flu-vaccination on Monday. The pharmacist giving me my vaccination told me I was lucky as they had almost run out. We are only at the beginning of the flu season and the NHS is already experiencing a shortage of supply of something that is rolled out to almost 10 million people annually. How will this pan out when/if there is a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programme to be set up? I’m not hopeful.
I made a real faux-pas on Monday and entered a local store not wearing a face mask. On asking a shop assistant for help to find something, it dawned on me that I was minus mask. I insisted on leaving the store immediately to retrieve a mask from my car. The assistant couldn’t understand my concern. “There’s no need I haven’t got one on either”. Indeed. Obviously there is no COVID-19 in this part of Norfolk!
I’ve finally started to read for pleasure again. It used to be an everyday thing but, for a while, there never seemed to be time to read anything other than documents, papers, journals that had a ‘purpose’. Or maybe that was just what I told myself. R was a real bibliophile and there are over 5000 books in the house. R read every day of his life, sometimes all day. First up has been James Rebanks’ English Pastoral. A story of rural life, Rebanks describes how he has rescued a family farm in Cumbria and is working hard to leave a legacy for the future. For a day I am diverted to a world of three generations of farming life and hope for the future. An optimistic way to end any week.
Bumpy landing on the south coast
Feeling under the weather at the moment, physically, mentally and meteorologically. Ate something iffy; J1 has checkmated me; and the weather is capricious. Still, a rare dry day was forecast so I made an effort and cleared and fixed the Niagara-debouching back gutter. Naturally, it is a long way up, plus I had to use a stand-off to reach up and over the half-metre eaves overhang. Pondering whether I disliked this job even more than blind-installing, I concluded that there was nothing in it, except that the former is more dangerous.
This area has been stricken with Ash dieback. According to the Woodland Trust, the disease ‘will kill around 80% of ash trees across the UK. At a cost of billions, the effects will be staggering. It will change the landscape forever and threaten many species which rely on ash.’ There are stumps everywhere. I walked past a fresh one, where a magnificent giant had stood at one entrance to the park. I knew it was for the chop, because all afflicted ones are first debarked and scored for a metre or two above ground to kill them. All the same, it was viscerally shocking to see both stump and – lack: the open space which once its majestic canopy had filled was palpable. At least the felling is for a reason. Luckily this is quite a verdant town, at least at the end where I live. And I continue to plant conkers and acorns, and nurture my little trees, some now seven years old (nb chestnuts are more willing than oaks).
In my peregrinations, I have noticed some interesting blue plaques around town. Nearby ones include:-
‘William Gear, RA FRSA, lived and worked here [small manor house] 1958-64 while curator of [the town’s art gallery], housed in this building 1923-2007.’
‘Charles Dickens 1812-1870 made several visits to this ancient house in the 1830s.’ (Illustrated)
‘Sd/4 CSM Nelson Victor Carter VC 9 April 1887 KIA 30 June 1916.’
‘Eric Ravilious 1903-1942, artist, lived here.’ The house is unremarkable but stands in an unexpected and delightful row of arts and crafts (I think) houses.
‘Sir Ernest Shackleton 1874-1922, Antarctic explorer, lived here.’
There are more, but I have yet to stumble across them.
I have liked the tv series on the history of writing, and also enjoyed a Zoom talk on the history of paper. Nothing much in itself, but it was a way of getting ‘out and about’ once more and ‘meeting’ new people, and fired up my little grey cells a bit.
I, too, mourn the loss of words from our common parlance. ‘Trudge’ is a good word: I do a lot of it; meanwhile, it seems ‘nincompoop’ is to be altogether disavowed, at least by the young. But it’s a wonderful word! In terms of verbal abuse, it’s akin to my sticking out my tongue at errant drivers instead of throwing up two fingers. And ‘charabanc’: how otherwise to evoke the joyous thrill of a long-ago coach outing to some delightful, rarely-visited spot?
And now I can no longer put off commenting on the political circus. A certain orange man’s latest posturing and sheer self-convinced insanity (I suspect his makeup artist wasn’t allowed into his hospital suite and is now using up the surplus spray/panstik/whatever) has pinged into my mind a vivid parallel with Little Rocket Man. Oh my, oh my.
Closer to home, local Covid rates follow the national upward trend. The return of university students, however, hasn’t led to the carnage I anticipated. All the same, I am increasingly slightly stunned that I remain untouched. What are the chances of escaping infection? Estimates of the likelihood of acquiring it sound infinitesimal – but my view is that I either catch it or don’t. I prefer the latter. Also not dying from it, or enduring lasting effects. It’s Russian roulette. I am reminded of being shot at by the Syrians while I was working in the onion fields on a border kibbutz. Rather than stand around commenting that statistically we were unlikely to be hit, we hotfooted it to the underground shelter and stayed firmly there until the coast was clear. Personally, avoiding unwarranted risk is a no-brainer. Of course, if a colleague had been hit I would have been first back out to drag them to safety. For me, it’s all a case of balance. But the world around me seems, day by day, increasingly unbalanced.
Walking through the park early this morning I got talking to a chap who was off to the funeral this afternoon of a lifelong close friend. The park was exceptionally beautiful in the gentle sunshine, acers glowed and the dew formed a carpet of rainbowed diamonds. In the midst of death, life.
We agreed to live each moment, and parted.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
In a week of increasingly blurred vision vis a vis world news, my highlight was appointing a new window cleaner who has made every window in the house sparkle!
He used a pole. And just this morning I spoke to a man up a pole who was installing super fast broadband to the ill favoured object opposite. I asked when we were to benefit from this and was told to contact our service provider. After a phone call my husband announced that we will be fibered by the end of the month. So, on the whole, Covid excepted, things are becoming clearer.
James Oglethorpe, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA
In the blue, clearly defined without boundaries,
you are neither place nor form.
Plunging to earth you soar into space
I cannot touch you, yet you envelop me.
Unmoved by the wind we travel
through the transient fluidity of space
as substantial as forgotten thought
walking the woods beside a dry flowing river
lost on a known map
where nothing remains but
white words on an invisible page read by sightless eyes.
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
There’s a big effort here to resume business as usual in every area of life. We’re on minimum restrictions, the last of the government’s five levels of lockdown.
The numbers of Covid infections appear to be far fewer than originally projected by the government’s medical advisors. Still, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, there’s a lot of under-reporting from hospitals and clinics in many far-flung areas. We have no true picture of the impact of Covid.
Even so, we haven’t been devastated by this thing the way we anticipated. Back in April, we were told to expect a death toll of 40 thousand by November stemming from millions of infections.
So far, there have been about 17.5 thousand deaths from Covid. Of the nearly 4.5 million tests conducted about 680 thousand have been positive. There are some 1700 new Covid cases reported each day, down from a daily average of 4000 in July. The recovery rate is about 90%. There are about 59 million people living here and the average age is 29.
The daily death toll is roughly 150, which is about 50 or 60 fewer than it was in July when the pandemic was supposed to be at its peak. This suggests that the mortality rate is stubbornly persistent. The figures are unreliable and anyway have to be matched to the rate of excess deaths, which itself has been high.
Schools are still on staggered attendance, with the different grades divided into groups that go to class on different weeks. You can still opt to do ‘lockdown home schooling’, which is what I do, when there are comorbidity fears, as there are in my family. I’m also shielding, which comes fairly easily as I freelance from home and am otherwise a recluse.
Some science writers here say that there is unlikely to be a second wave of the pandemic and that South Africa is doing well due to growing herd immunity. I know that herd immunity is a factor with every epidemic, but it often has an insidious ideological side to the way it’s discussed. As we see everywhere else, when restrictions are lifted, or if they are badly carried out and full of holes, the rate of infection rises.
What’s needed is for us to be able to suppress the virus while getting on with life in ways that restore people’s incomes and frayed mental health. And with all the support needed to do so. That requires very consistent policy, messaging and the rest of it, which for the most part we’ve had.
But now most folk seem to think that the worst is over. There’s no nuance, where people mix caution with being busy. It’s either one or the other. So, many no longer bother with masks, distancing or sanitising. We’re not quite at White House levels of carelessness, but it seems that herd stupidity now abounds.
Maybe I’m just far too jaded, over suspicious of optimistic or even hopeful pronouncements, particularly by scientists and politicians or even people I chat to in the shops. After all, as the mackerel said to the herring when they lay in the bottom of the fishing boat, it can’t be all bad.
Walking in L.A.
Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA
Cooler in L.A., shades of autumn, foggy mornings. Optimal bike riding conditions. Unfortunately, I can't ride together with my husband since his bike is electric and he leaves me in the dust. Speaking of which, we are having our hardwood floors refinished. Luckily only three rooms need to be done, one of which is my sister's bedroom so she has had to move out for three days and has retreated to her ex-boyfriend for the duration. Her mattresses and those from the spare room are piled high in our dining room. I suggested she try the Princess and the Pea scenario but she declined. The noise from the machines the first two days was ear shattering so I had to retreat outside. Once finished (no pun intended), the floors will be much lighter making the rooms brighter too.
Two nights ago my husband and I went to have dinner at our favorite local Italian restaurant. We had to sit outside naturally but the heaters were on so it was very pleasant. We spoke to the owner with whom we've been friendly for years. We asked him how he was surviving and he said barely: just enough to pay everybody but not himself and, of course, he hasn't been able to pay rent for months. I hope he makes it. The other day I cycled through the nearby industrial estate and noticed several for lease signs and it's like that everywhere now.
The saga of our Fearless Leader continues. A friend of mine told me that when she heard he had succumbed to the pestilence she was overjoyed and slept like a baby for the first time in months. That didn't last long though since it was announced that he would be detained in hospital no longer.
On a happier note, we will be driving up to Oakland next weekend to visit our daughter and family.