Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

According to New York Times Sweden Has Become the World’s Cautionary Tale, and there is some truth in that headline. We have had 5500 deaths so far which is awful, but there have been substantial improvements in covid ICU care, so more of those patients survive. Closer to home, my mother's nursing home is again corona free but sadly and necessarily closed for visits as before. Her dementia is worsening and it is more and more difficult to find out how she is doing when talking to her on the phone. 


After several very rainy days, yesterday was sunny and we went for a 3,5 hour walk around the lake Flämsjön. This walk is my favourite summer vacation pastime and starts very close to our house. The walk is mostly in a nature reserve with huge hardwood trees and meadows and, it was a complete pleasure. I had good company by husband, son and his Bordercollie. Today I tried out the canoe for the first time this summer. The lake was blank as a mirror and it was a peaceful experience of this beautiful place. In preparation for lunch for Georg´s cousin I picked some cherries from the only “proper” cherry tree in the garden. The wild cherry trees are everywhere else and are not as big and sweet. On Sunday it is time again to take the train north and back to work.


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

For so long it was so frightening to be living here in Westchester County, New York… at one time one of the most heavily infected counties in the most heavily infected state. And after so much effort on so many residents’ parts…masks, social distancing, deep cleanings, isolation sacrifices and a general feeling of respect and responsibility for others (not to mention fear), we had managed to eradicate most of the county’s infections. The residents, for the most part, continue to implement the virus precautions health experts (not our president) suggest we should keep in place. Most of us, that is, except for a pair of idiot parents living in Chappaqua (about ten minutes from here…famously the home of Bill and Hillary Clinton) who stupidly let their idiot kid travel to idiotic Florida (where the virus rages and runs rampant through the state) for a holiday. While down there, said idiot kid apparently and obliviously contracted the virus and brought it back up here with him when he returned home. He then took his virus to his Chappaqua High School Graduation ceremony, and then he and his virus moved on to various parties full of kids from a number of communities around the area. A good number of them (and some of their parents) came down with the virus and now they are all quarantining while the rest of us wonder what might be in store for us. Officials tell us it is under control again, but who really knows.


Meanwhile, the parents of my lovely neighbor Anna have fled from their home in Alabama (a state on fire with the virus) to the seclusion of their daughter’s home here. They have been responsibly self quarantining themselves ever since they arrived here two weeks ago and have not gone anywhere except out the door to the one acre garden. I spoke with Ludmilla (the mother) the other day from across our stone wall. She told me that no one in Alabama was wearing a mask. She also told me how frightened they were on their fleeing drive from Alabama to here in New York. They were too afraid to stop and spend the night anywhere. So they, and their two hound dogs and one love bird, drove sixteen hours non stop to get here... except for pit stops for petrol, and occasional pee stops in the bushes because they were too scared to use public restrooms. Ludmilla told me it wasn’t until they reached North Carolina that they began to notice masks being used and it was a considerable distance further north until they saw masks on people in any sort of regular way. They plan to stay up here indefinitely. Hopefully the idiots from Chappaqua and their irresponsible actions won’t drive them somewhere else.


Words know no distancing

A B Lindgren, A Swede in Beaconsfield

COVID-19 drive-thru… testing, TESTING!

Not the kind of drive-thru I thought was the only kind of drive-thru that existed. Not the greasy “Maccy D” type fries in bags, with creamy sauces and icy drinks or the Starbucks coffee shop with disposable cups and rubbery cakes. No, the kind of drive-thru that asks you to drive a swab through your brain to catch the little COVID virus buggers once you’ve poked the swab so deeply into your throat that you feel like vomiting.

Following a fairly straight forward slot booking process on the government COVID Testing Site, I put my two children in the car along with passports, water bottles, hand sanitiser and booking confirmation codes and head off to a remote car park at the back end of a reasonably busy and mask clad Slough.

The number of men in high vis vests waving us in a different direction whilst giving instructions through the car window filled me with the hope that some people still have work (at least)! Right, turn left, now right, down the lane and stop. “Hi”, says a kind eyes masked man (which has so soon become “normal”). I smile and say “Hello”. He has a way that makes me feel welcome and reassured and his eyes are deep, brown and want to help more than he is able to do. His supervisor shouts some negative feedback due to the attention given to us and we get waved along to the next stage of this clinical and mechanical process.

I am handed three grey plastic bags through my car window and inside there’s an instruction leaflet, a test tube, a swab stick, a pad to soak up moisture and two further, sealable plastic bags. I cannot help but think of the added pressure on the environment this virus must cause. Masks in the ocean. Plastic bags galore. Delivery increases. Gloves that need disposing of…

The instructions seem pretty clear. I poke the stick with the cotton at the end of it towards my tonsils and gag. Hoping I’ve dug deep enough and that the COVID buggers stick to the intended stick. My already sore throat feels even more unpleasant than it did prior to the test.

I then take the same stick and slide it up my nose. My eyes fill with tears.

“Now children, it’s your turn”

My son sticks his allocated stick with cotton at the end up his nostril and then proceeds to do the second nostril whilst telling his sister “this is easy”. Not sure he is poking far enough in to reach the COVID bugger but I leave it as is as he doesn’t like medical tests at the best of times.

My daughter’s turn.

She sticks the stick from her allocated bag into her nose and I can see her little eyes watering. 

A sudden sadness washes over me as I look around. This somehow sums up the state of the world and I see a grey car park, rows of cars with people separated, men in masks looking important and a distinct lack of warmth along with an obvious absence of humanity. I am sorry to have to share this with my children. 

I’ve managed to convince them this is necessary if we even want to consider travelling to see family in Sweden. 

They go ahead and do it. They get on with it. Yet I am sad, a little ashamed at the state of the world and feel an overwhelming sense of WHEN AND HOW WILL THIS END.

Swabs are done we drive towards the next gaggle of waving men in high vis vests and someone indicates we should stop by a white shed. A young man appears with a plastic visor on his head and a bucket full of completed swab tests and points to indicate I should add my three test bags that are now inside a hazardous content plastic bag with another zip-up plastic bag and a moisture-reducing pad with a plastic test tube containing next to it in the plastic stick with cotton at the end. 


A man waves to us enthusiastically, I stop the car as he tells me to keep moving and I am free to go. Two more men wave us out of the very obvious exit (there are many signs giving directions too!).

Driving home through the traffic light dense centre of Slough I take a sip of water and wish for better days.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

This week I started watching the first series of My Brilliant Friend. I have read all four of the books by Elena Ferrante and really enjoyed them so was worried that I might be disappointed seeing it on screen. I have watched two episodes so far and am completely hooked. The two little girls are perfectly cast, very believable and just as I imagined them. I have, however, had to start reading the first book again to get to grips with all the different families. So I am going to continue reading and watching which seems to be working well. 


My childhood growing up in the fifties had similarities. We roamed freely as long as we were home for meals. We had our own adventures which rarely involved our parents. A family day out was a rare treat. We were advised by older kids which grown-ups we should avoid although there was usually vagueness as to why. If we were bullied by older kids we kept our distance from them and didn’t expect adult intervention. I think my parents only went into school twice. My mother went in to ask the infant teacher not to make me drink the little bottles of lukewarm milk that were put on top of the radiator to defrost in the winter. It made me feel sick and we were made to drink the whole bottle. I had just started school and cried bitterly every morning because I didn’t want to go. It took a while before I dared tell my mother why. The second time was when I was much older and fell off someone’s back while playing in the playground before school started. I hit my head and lost consciousness. The milkman found me - my friends had disappeared not wanting to be blamed for my death! No phones then so a child from the top class was sent to inform my parents. But I never experienced the poverty and violence of the children in My Brilliant Friend.  

This pandemic has made life more difficult for families who were already living in poverty. It has made it more difficult to discover and help children living with abusive parents. Vulnerable children who aren’t going to school have no respite from their troubled lives and we still have two months before all children will, hopefully, be back at school. It is very worrying and nobody knows what the long term effect on our children will be.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

My spirits are lifted. Weekly Angel, the divinely named Judith, returned and working alongside her we achieved a miracle of scrubbed order overlaid with the smell of beeswax. Balm to my soul.


Bert the Barber has cut our hair; his salon at Walsingham a sanctuary of cleanliness and disinfectant but no reading materials or refreshments. Temperature taken with a little speed gun affair at the door; one client only inside, no waiting and masks worn at all times. Husband thrilled to be shorn... I confess to collecting his curls as though they were the locks of a firstborn!


Finished the sixth and currently final Jackson Lamb novel; now feel in control of my life again! They were terrific but I was certainly rattled by the edginess of them and I am convinced they contributed to last week’s gloom.


Last night in the bliss of my newly organised home I picked up the charming ‘A Journey around My Room’ written in 1790 by Xavier de Maistre. Another recommendation and quite delightful. His essay on the mirror as a work of art is highly perceptive and amusing and I love the fact that he balances on two legs of his chair and utches it around the room so that he can put his feet up on the mantelpiece! He also advocates that everyone must sleep in a pink and white bed... which I notice through the power of Instagram also appeals to Peter and Margaret’s Bertie!


Having deliberated various solutions to support the wood fired pizza oven which is still unused on its pallet, my husband has presented an inspired sketch using gabions rather than bricks. I am really excited about this. I like gabions!


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

The good news is I’ve had my hair cut and coloured. The bad news is I’m not going anywhere! The pillar box coloured poster in the window declared, reassuringly, the salon to be “COVID SECURE”. But obviously nothing can be guaranteed! All chairs were spaced at the recommended one metre plus apart. All the stylists were wearing visors, must be quite difficult to wear one all day long. I was not required to wear a mask, but took one anyway as I thought I might have to. No tea or coffee on offer, only water or cordial served in a paper cup. Lots of single use PPE, plastic gowns, gloves and even towels in use. Hayley (my hairdresser) said she resisted buying the single use towels but as she’s working so many hours for the next few weeks she hasn’t got time to wash and dry all the normal towels. So much waste!!! Will we be dredging all this shit out of the sea in years to come? Every time a client changed seats the chairs were wiped down with antibacterial wipes, reminding me of hospital staff cleaning plastic mattresses. In spite of all these safety measures it was still great to see and catch up with Hayley and her girls. “Next time I see you I’m gonna hug you!” She said as I was leaving.

My sister is an actress and she starts a new job on a well known tv ‘continual drama’ tomorrow. She should have started in April. I will let you know how coronavirus has affected how they film the show etc next week.

Another highlight of the week is that the butcher winked at me! Unless he’s got a twitchy eye, but I’m taking it as a wink as I am craving the attention!! Keep well everyone xxxxx


From The Black Shed

David E, Pitlochry, Perthshire

Astute readers will already have noticed that we have moved from Norfolk to the Scottish Highlands. Until this week it was not possible to travel more than five miles from one's residence without incurring the wrath of Nicola Sturgeon, a leader who's reputation has risen to new heights and who's cautious and clear decision making has been supported by even the most ardent anti-independence proponents.

We travelled midweek with adequate sustenance to avoid stopping en route, managed to avoid the Border Reivers, and were grateful to find no border controls!

It's been wonderful to get out on the hills after such a long enforced restriction, to fulfil the senses and to walk uphill at last. On Friday I took one of my favourite walks to Loch Ordie in the hills above Dunkeld. Apart from the clear air, the views and the heather in full bloom the wildlife consisted of one red squirrel, one roe deer, two pairs of guinea fowl and six mountain bikers. Perhaps I should explain the guinea fowl, not normally native to these parts-they live free range at a remote farm.

The next week or two will be filled with more walks, some work on the house which has been neglected for so long and visits to my wife's family. We're not anxious to return to Boris rule any time soon.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

The highlight for me of this last week was visiting my mother and stepfather for the first time since before the lockdown. They live about two hours’ drive away, just to the south of Manchester. To help maintain social distancing and minimise risk of transmission we took our own meal and crockery. It was too chilly to sit outside, so we ate in the conservatory, with the doors open, sitting apart from one another. Mum (88) and stepdad (91) were on good form, and very pleased to see us. However, I was concerned that Mum reckons her ability to walk any distance has significantly deteriorated during the lockdown. She used to walk to shops half a mile away twice a week and walk to Church a quarter of a mile away three times a week. She now reckons she is too out of practice to do this, but is determined to get back into the habit of walking more. 


My stepfather, as is his habit after a couple of glasses of wine, was recounting interesting cases from his time as a Judge, and both of them were reminiscing about their childhoods and their experiences as children during the Second World War. They have been married 13 years, but our families have been close for nearly 60 years. Their marriage seemed to follow almost naturally after the deaths of firstly his wife and then, in 2005, of my dad. The wedding in 2007 was remarkable in that there was no real separation between the two sets of guests. Everyone knew everyone, as they had so many shared friends. Our families used to holiday together in the 1960's and 70's. I went through 14 years of school close friends with one of his sons. And to remarry after nearly 50 years of a first marriage seemed to be a remarkable vote of confidence in the institution, or as they would say, the sacrament, of marriage.  It is wonderful now, as the years go by, to see them ageing gracefully together:  


That time of year thou may'st in me behold 

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 

Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 

(Sonnet 73)


Meanwhile the Chancellor has given the magic money tree yet another shake and conjured up some billions for the arts and the hospitality industry. It is undoubtedly necessary, but when we eventually wake up from this nightmare we will find ourselves living in a much poorer country than before.


Our Suffolk holiday next week is definitely going ahead, and we have received reams of safety instructions, including a note that we cannot arrive before 7pm on arrival day and must leave by 9am on departure day, so as to allow sufficient time for thorough cleaning between families.  We have also been warned there will be no board games in the cottage - presumably they didn’t want to have to sanitise individual scrabble tiles at each changeover. We’ll take our own.


Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Like most people we are missing our children. It was a month or two before the middle of March that we last saw B’s daughter and her partner. We last saw my daughter Lucy the weekend everything shut down. She drove up with disinfectant, wipes and hand sanitizer for us and we all visited for an hour sitting in the driveway in our down coats and hats and gloves. Until we got too cold. Then she turned around and drove the two and half hours home. 

Last Friday my friend Sam and I were driving back from New Hampshire, a neighboring state, where we had been looking at a possible house for Lucy. We hope to get her out of her large apartment building before the virus starts up again with a vengeance. And her business is teaching archery. Of course she hasn’t been able to teach since the middle of March, but if she had a bit of land around her she could at least teach private lessons. 

We were about a hundred yards down Reservoir Rd, where it is still pavement, not yet dirt, when I spied it. A small ramshackle caravan with a for sale sign in the window. “Stop,” I said. Sam pulled over and turned around. We peered in the windows where we saw three books artfully arranged on a small table with a lamp. The inside had been staged. We couldn’t see much else. It seemed to date back to the ‘70s… that was my guess anyway. 

Sam looked at it dubiously and said “You could probably offer half of what they want in cash and get it,” as we walked back to the car. And indeed it did look dilapidated, held together with the  fifty year old thin metal siding and silicone caulk. 

B. and I have looked at caravans on and off for years. We’ve thought of having one as a spare room, but also for traveling and holidays, especially now camping on the ground and, more importantly, getting on and off the ground, holds less and less appeal. Or is impossible. But we’ve never found one that suited us. And new ones are prohibitively expensive. 

I told B. about the caravan, but she hasn’t been feeling well, so she didn’t pay much attention. The next morning I asked her if she’d be up for going and looking at it, and she said yes. I called. The woman selling it sounded nice, and off we went down to the end of Reservoir Rd. The woman had a mask on, and looked as if working out was her primary occupation. Not that she had a lot of money, but that she was so skinny and so fit. No trouble for her, getting up and down off the floor.  

She’d set up a footstool so we could clamber up into the caravan. Inside it was beautiful. All wood, the cushions newly covered, with a tiled floor. Just lovely. It turned out she and her husband had seen it lumbering down the road with a for sale sign on it and had bought it for two hundred dollars. It had spent the next six years in their garage while he spent the week ends completely rebuilding it. Inset lights. Hook ups for cable tv because he liked to watch NASCAR. A closet with steps over the wheel well. Then he up and died before they could use it.  

She’d towed it to the yard of her new house and had spent two years escaping her teen age daughter and large dog by going and sitting it it. She especially liked it with rain drumming on the roof. But now it was time to sell. “Time to move on,” she said sadly but determinedly. 

B. loved it. “It’s exactly the same as the one Mom and Pops had that we used to stay in when we visited,” she said, talking about when she and her husband and their kids visited his family. Lots of good memories. They used to play cards around the table. The table of this caravan comes apart to make a bed, so one doesn’t have to sleep up on the bunk that unfolds about six inches down from the ceiling.


We bought it. A few days later Sam and I picked it up. Towing it, he estimated it probably weighs about 2500 pounds. A little heavier than his boat. Not something one of our cars could tow. The plumber came and hooked up the sink so we can attach the hose and have cold water. He’ll return to hook up the propane so there’ll be a gas stove. And I bought a hundred foot electric cord to run to the caravan from our house so all the outlets work. It’s small, but there’s a bed and somewhere to sit and a mini kitchen with an icebox. And it is seriously sweet. 

The next weekend Lucy came and stayed two nights. We set up a “living room” outside with a table and chairs. I’ll add the fire pit we bought a few weeks ago. It was all very satisfying. And the woman said now she’s going to look for a camper van so she can travel when she retires.


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

It has been a big week in Victoria generally and Melbourne in particular. It began with the hard lockdown of nine public housing high rise “apartments” (flattering description of tiny shoe boxes with poor ventilation and communal laundry facilities). The first many of them found out about it was via television and their buildings being ringed by police This was followed by promises of support for our most vulnerable. Suffice to say it took a few days to get that operating, and it seemed that it was largely a community response rather than a government one. Then it pretty quickly became clear it was a Melbourne problem, and the city and one shire just north of the city was locked down. Not before the entire state became a pariah to the remainder of Australia. This situation was expressed most clearly in the closure of NSW to Victorians. There are 55 crossing points. The two states are largely divided by the Murray River and border communities straddle the river. My sister and her husband live in one such community, and it is a major crossing point. Fortunately there is now a supermarket on their side, but all medical facilities are on the other side. To get there you have to cross a bridge, one lane each way. It now takes 30-45 minutes to cross and I pray neither of them suffers a medical emergency. 


I have three nieces in Melbourne. Two live in hot spots. One of the girls has lupus and is immune compromised and our anxiety has increased with the news that her sister’s children were sent home from day care when a staff member tested positive to C19.

In my community there are mixed feelings about the lockdown and our reprieve from being included. Relief that we will no longer be inundated with people who interpreted an easing of restrictions as “time to party”. It has been really awful. The shop keepers were distressed by the behaviour, but appreciated the extra trade it bought them. I think it inconceivable (given what we now know about aspiration) that we will not have cases here, and it is likely the whole state will moved into tighter restrictions. People astonish me with their selfishness. After the lockdown occurred a party in Melbourne was interrupted by the police and 16 people now have a total of $26000 in fines to pay. An idiot trying to use a little used crossing point on the border was arrested and said to the arresting officer that he “didn’t believe in the virus”! Meanwhile 11 people in intensive care fight for their lives. The cases will continue to rise;  38,000 tests were taken yesterday in Melbourne. I’m still debating going to my ophthalmology appointment in Melbourne next week and I have a dental implant scheduled there for early August. Who knows what the situation will be then. 


On a much brighter note the galanthus are flowering, and as I planted out some nemophila seedlings today I see the species tulips and the fritillaries are just breaking through the soil.


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

As expected, the caravan sites opened their doors to hundreds of visitors last weekend and on Sunday there was a car neatly parked beside each one. It wasn't quite the same as usual though, it seemed quieter, with less people walking about, as though each family had scurried straight into their caravan to enter a kind of second lock down. The camping areas are still closed, maybe because of the shower blocks being a hazard.


It was lovely to see the family on Sunday. The planned garden meeting wasn't possible, due to strong winds (it's nearly always windy up here but this was worse than usual) so we moved into the kitchen, trying not to look nervous. The elder grandson was very cheerful to find he is now taller than me. He is expanding his repertoire of rock standards on the electric guitar. Last year he performed at his first "gig" in a crowded local club, looking so grown up as he found which amp to plug his lead into. Face to face lessons have resumed but I wonder when he will be able to take to the stage again.

Our visiting homing pigeon has become more confident. He now comes to the kitchen door and beats on the glass with his beak and wings, eager for food and company. He has discovered the window sill and likes to jump up there to look in and he has also twice stepped over the threshold into the kitchen when the door was open. I am not going to encourage him to come in any further as we have discovered he can now fly and I don't want to risk any damage. Yesterday Richard followed him when he saw him fly round to the barn and found that he has a friend in there, so I expect they will be off soon. I have read up on how to tell the gender of pigeons and the only sure test is to do an endoscopy up the rear end, which won't be happening any time soon but the males are slightly bigger, with a glossier 'cape' around the base of the neck. I will need to see the two together to be more certain but I think I have got it right that ours is male. However, I don't have a good track record on sexing animals. I once took a small stray kitten to the vet to be neutered and the vet phoned me, saying 'There's a problem with Smudge'. 'Oh no, what's the matter with her?' 'Smudge isn't a girl, he's a boy - but happily the operation is cheaper'.

We are still being cautious about venturing out, although I have managed to buy some books in online auctions to replenish my depleted stock. The auction houses have organised viewing, either by appointment or by limiting numbers, and the use of masks and gloves is politely requested. I'm enjoying bidding online, although it can be frustrating when you can't see the other bidders. I miss the atmosphere of the sale room, the little chats with casual acquaintances -  'Have you come far?' and 'Are you here for the jewellery?'  One of the auctioneers, often seen to admonish the live customers with 'Quiet by the door please', now says 'Quickly on the net'. We are all learning to adapt.


Thin air

John Mole, St.Albansa



Open up. walk out

and throw away your key.


How eager it is

to leave the sullen lock.


Watch as it disappears

through a residual dark


that brightens even now

to speed its welcome flight.


Trace where it lands

among the gradual changes,


the many open doors,

the groups, the gatherings


then let it lie there

beyond reclamation,


gratefully disowned

and yet still yours.

© 2020 Margaret Steward  Proudly created with Wix.com