Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

I had planned to write more, but I have been getting the bus to and from work and it’s a bit of a schlep, so I will simply say this “When you’re feeling down look for a flower”. I’ve just read that on an Instagram post from @thehappydahliafarm. Meagan Major bought the farm in March this year, it’s located in California and they are experiencing wild fires in nearby areas. Fittingly she also says dahlias represent resilience.

Keep well everyone xxxxxx


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Finally today we had a lovely heavy rain for all the flower beds have been so dry ~ quite warm again and humid so the fans are back in service. Yesterday I had my first guest for lunch in the garden sitting at opposite ends of a 6’ table and enjoyed making leek and potato soup with turkey bone broth made last Thanksgiving and stored in the freezer, with dill and a sprinkling of extra sharp Vermont Cheddar cheese on top, an arugula salad with olives, cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese in a homemade vinaigrette dressing, hot French baguette and homemade peach pie for dessert. It was lovely to visit with my friend and to catch up on each other’s news and to break the feeling of isolation.


News arrived in the afternoon that the print I had hoped would be selected for the Society of Wood Engravers 83rd exhibition was accepted and all the lovely comments from Instagram and friends just about made my week, perhaps my month. It is sometimes a mixed bag working at home with just yourself to appraise one’s work, and so encouraging to get positive feedback so I am feeling very grateful to the SWE for it is such an honor to be among other artists I very much admire.


The journal contributions are such a delight to read and I want to respond to some of them ~ First of all, it amazes me that people who say there is not a lot to report then go on for six or so paragraphs with the most interesting tidbits ~ I admire them so. Nicky, I will most certainly be taking my annual drive to Vermont to see the beautiful autumn foliage and always look forward to it! John, have you read David Garnett’s ‘Never Be a Bookseller’? The Fleece Press has done a lovely small book of this charming essay. It is lovely to hear that after almost 40 years of marriage Hilary still gets the tingles ~ Congratulations! I can relate to David’s pleasure in his bus rides as that is how I feel about my car rides these days ~ such pleasure in small everyday adventures ~ and congratulations on your 85th plus sonnet ~ what an accomplishment! Shirin, your new home has the loveliest views so finding a special place to sit and enjoy them would be my first thought, bulbs planted in the grass, and then designing garden ‘rooms’ one leading unexpectedly to another. Antoinette, cycling for your bursitis is inspiring and so encouraging! Linzy, a childhood view of home is always so much larger than it is when revisited as an adult, a fact I can so relate to! Jane, I agree how much we all need a good old-fashioned party with live music, laughter and singing! Catherine how clever you are with your recordings ~ I so admire musicians and it was lovely to ‘meet’ Arthur. Mary, your National Gallery lectures sounds so interesting ~ I have recently and for the first time, enjoyed two different Zoom lectures! I smiled to read about MFS’s mother and step-father going off on a holiday ~ good for them! I found Mark’s daughter’s reassurance very touching. Chris and Shiela’s tea with Margaret and Peter sounded wonderful and oh, those mussels! Margaret, so sorry about your annual Poetry Picnic this year ~ I, too, am finding comfort in a full stockpile of wood, and the chimney cleaner is scheduled here at the end of September. I would love to have been a fly on the wall the evening you danced with Bertie round your kitchen table. Your beautiful zinnias, asters and crabapples shout end of summer. The Macrae children are always refreshing and delightful! And to all those wonderful descriptions of life in little English villages ~ country lanes and footpaths, egg stalls, topping out parties (whatever that is) overnight trips to Devon in a van ~ all of these give my American heart and soul such pleasure ~

Thank you everyone for all the great stories, poetry, memoirs and insights into your lives as we continue on with this pandemic, our uncertain political situations and the like ~ we are all in it together ~


A Coronavirus Chronicle

James Hayes, Twickenham



The leaves are turning brown. The stags in the park are doing that loud Autumnal groaning. Rutting time is upon us. We are in a new season, but our crisis continues.

On my local high street some shops have bowed to the Coronavirus axe and departed the scene. The windows of an upmarket clothing shop present a new sticker in their windows. Bright red they announce major price deductions. Nowhere is the word SALE in evidence. This word has now been replaced by a term new to me. SEASONAL EDIT. It gives me a welcome laugh. SEASONAL EDIT. How smart!. I wonder if the word SALE is now a slight embarrassment to the well-off. 


I am in a temporary limbo. My mind wanders. I dither around, dipping in and out of my books. In one I find a bookmark. It is a brown, aged scrap of newsprint. I reckon that I inserted it in the book way back in the Seventies. On it is a verse of six lines. Like SEASONAL EDIT it gave me a laugh. We need the laughs. 


‘And were you pleased?’ they asked of Helen in Hell,

‘Pleased?’ answered she, ‘when all Troy’s towers fell;

And dead were Priam’s sons, and lost his throne?

And such a war was fought as none had known;

And even the gods took part; and all because of me alone! 

Pleased? I should say I was!

Lord Dunsany - Irish writer and dramatist (1878 - 1957)


I take down an old brown notebook. On the cover is scrawled - JOTTINGS, OCTOBER ‘95. Inside are a number of short extracts from books I have enjoyed. 


In several of P.G.Wodehouse novels there is a recurring character, Psmith. The P is silent and was added by himself, in order to distinguish him from other Smiths. My quote, unfortunately, doesn’t give the book’s title. 


‘Her temper in the mornings was terrible. I have known her lift the cat over two chairs and a settee with a single kick. And all because there were no mushrooms.’


This from ‘My House in Umbria’ by William Trevor

‘She ran away from him when she discovered that he was NOT the manager of a meat-extract factory, as he had claimed, and that he stole his clothes from D H Evans.’

Howard Norman’s truly wonderful 1994 novel ‘The Bird Artist’ is set in the first 23 years of the 20th century in a small community tied to the sea in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. Fabian Vas is a young boy who trains as a bird artist by way of a correspondence course with a legendary, but dour teacher called Isaac Sprague. The book is full of crusty characters with wonderful names, some of which I jotted into the notebook.

Botha August (the lighthouse keeper, who Fabian murders - he mentions this in the fifth sentence of the book): Margaret Handle: Enoch Handle: Lambert Charibon: Alaric Vas: Romeo Gillette: Cora Holly: Helen Twombley: Boas La Cotte: Lemuel Spivey: Mitchell Kells: Ethel Kitchener: Petrus Dollard: Chester Parmelee: Laslow Sprunt…

I have an old Faber and Faber paperback edition of the book which I bought and read back in 1995. I reread it a couple of weeks ago. In these turbulent times, it gave me much pleasure and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


An extract from Ivan Turgenev’s ‘Fathers and Sons’.

‘Occasionally he would go into the garden for a few seconds, stand there like a stone idol, as though stricken with unutterable bewilderment (this bewildered expression never left his face all through) and then return to his son’s room, trying to avoid his wife’s anxious questioning. At last she caught him by the arm and convulsively, almost menacingly asked: “What is the matter with him?” Whereupon he  pulled himself together and tried to manage a smile in reply; but to his horror, instead of a smile, he found himself somehow seized with laughter.’

Bazarov’s distraught father during his son’s fatal illness


‘George Moore who met him (Turgenev) in Paris, remembered how he had condemned as vicious that method which always records what a person felt rather than what he thought. In realising his characters, Turgenev’s procedure was not to analyse their consciousness but to exhibit their behaviour.’

Isaiah Berlin on Turgenev


In later pages of the notebook are various bits and bobs of quotes that amused me at the time.


‘Of course they have, or I wouldn’t be talking to you.’

Dame Barbara Cartland, when asked by a BBC reporter in a radio interview whether she thought English class barriers had broken down.


‘A man who ‘could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, dance a minuet, and play a violin.’

Thomas Jefferson, described by a relative


In that great TV series ‘The Sopranos’,  two of Tony Soprano’s gang, Paulie and Christopher are charged with taking a Russian hoodlum out into the Pine Barrens and ‘disposing’ of him. Unfortunately, in pulling the said Russian from their car he deals Christopher a blow and escapes into the wood. Paulie now has to call Tony and convey the news in code.

TONY: Did you wrap the package?

PAULIE: The package hit Paulie with an implement and ran off!


‘A sort of friendship recognised by the police.’

Robert Louis Stevenson on matrimony


My Future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.

Timbuk Three lyric


‘In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed - they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce…? The cuckoo clock.

Orson Welles, ‘The Third Man’.


Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

Samuel Johnson , ‘Dictionary of the English Language’.


‘Of course, America had often been discovered before Columbus, but it had always been hushed up’.

Oscar Wilde


‘Apart from cheese and tulips, the main product of Holland is advocaat, a drink made from lawyers.’

Alan Coren, ‘The Sanity Inspector


‘Mr Speaker, I said the honourable gentleman was a liar it is true and I am sorry for it. The honourable member may place the punctuation where he pleases.’

Richard Brinsley Sheridan, on being asked to apologise for calling a fellow MP a liar. 


Extract from the diary of William Charles Macready whilst playing Hamlet on tour in America.

‘Cincinnati, April 1849.

‘Went to rehearsal. Found a most imperfect Horatio, who had rehearsed on Saturday and now knew nothing of words or business, one of those wretches who take to the stage as an escape from labour, and for whom the treadmill would be a fitting punishment. Rested. 

Acted Hamlet to a rather rickety audience, but I tried my utmost, and engaged the attention of at least half the audience. In the scene after the play with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, an occurrence took place that, for disgusting brutality, indecent outrage and malevolent barbarism, must be without parallel in the theatre of any civilized community. A ruffian from the left side gallery threw into the middle of the stage the half of the raw carcass of a sheep.’ 


When Mr Whitehead’s comedy, ‘School for Lovers’ was in preparation (1762) and the performers assembled at Mr Garrick’s house with the author, it was suggested by some person present that the age of Celia, the character intended for Mrs Cibber, which was sixteen, would be better altered to two or three and twenty, and Mrs Cibber’s opinion was asked about it. She was then reading her part with her spectacles on her nose, and after a little deliberation said, she liked the character better as it was, and desired it might remain as it stood. She was at this time more than fifty years old.


Thomas Davies, Garrick’s first biographer, on Garrick:

‘I have never heard him speak warmly in the commendation of any actor, living or dead.’


These last three quotes are from Diana Rigg’s theatrical compilation ‘No Turn Unstoned’.

As I was typing them the radio announced Diana’s death (Thursday 10th September 2020).

I acted with Diana in three productions in Sir Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre Company at the Old Vic in the early 1970s.

She was hugely talented, a wonderful actress, very beautiful and ferociously intelligent.

A sad day.


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

It seems the bumpy landings haven’t been confined to the south coast, after all. An ephemeral minister or somesuch earlier this week declared that the whole Covid business – or perhaps just the test and trace effort, I forget – had been just that. Indeed. The infection trend continues here, as elsewhere, a backwards tick; ie steadily climbing again, albeit not as rapidly as the April descent. The council still exhorts us to be careful. The school next door has this week reopened its doors; although its stated roll is less than 400 they form a veritable chattering and roaring torrent as they, their parents and cars pour down the road from both directions, reversed at the end of the day. (Since I moved here at the end of March it has been silent, so although I like the sound of the children’s voices the pollution has been a shock, remedied by briefly closing all windows at precise times.) Already schools elsewhere are closing again as staff fall victim to Covid: how long will this one stay unaffected?


Since Monday, the day my gp surgery began accepting bookings for this year’s flu jab, I have been trying to get through on the phone (the only way permissible); just once did I get partially through, to the recorded message, which flung at me, so rapidly that I had no chance to note them, the hours during which one is permitted to ring again to make a booking. So back to regular attempts to get through. (At my latest try, just now, I inexplicably got through to a vet’s: we had a most interesting conversation about this imaginary animal who needed a flu jab, until we both realised and had a good laugh.) In past years I have gone to Boots – much easier – but as already described, ours is in the nerve-racking Arndale. Still, I might have to bite the bullet, although I have now wasted precious days and might be bottom of the pile. I have uploaded the much-lauded Zoe app in the hope that my pennyworth will be helpful, although I have yet to organise their daily questionnaire. Why is nothing simple any more?


It was decided by all that it would be nice to resume Sunday dinners, now that both households have had time to settle down. Accordingly, I invited the Js here. It was not a success, and we were all relieved when they left early. Charitably, I would say that impending events are playing on J1’s mind.

On Tuesday I dipped my toe in the Zoom waters with a U3A talk, about animals, virtual and real, in London. I really enjoyed it but had regretfully to leave halfway through: I had noticed that dear old Arthur had a bit of a wheeze, so had booked him in with the best reptile vet in the area, more than an hour’s drive away, and unfortunately the first slot was that same afternoon. We parked in the yard and the staff came out to us. Luckily Arthur was declared fine, and given a general looking-at, which put my mind at rest. At the time of the booking, before Sunday, I had invited J1 to come too, as I thought it might distract her; nearer the time I was apprehensive but it was ok. So a happy outcome for all.


The weather has been lovely, so on Wednesday I went to the beach for a teatime swim.  Sadly, there turned out to be a brisk onshore breeze, chopping up the water and stirring it around so that it no longer benefited from having come in over warm sand. I did a quick couple of groyne-and-backs but hopped out before my body gave up in the cold. All the same, even though this time the experience was not sublime, I was glad I had gone.


As the evenings draw in I have been increasingly regretting the lack of blinds on some of my windows. I think it not unreasonable to like my privacy. I eventually conceded that I would have to do it myself, so went on Thursday to buy one nice cheap blind with which to experiment. If it doesn’t fall down I’ll progress to other windows. On the way I stopped for a quick food shop; I had been told midday was quietish, but it wasn’t, and I snatched up any old stuff just to get out quickly. J1 tells me to go just before closing time, but then there’s all the sanitising to do when I get home, and I’m tired. In fact, that day I was so shattered after the outing and lunch that I uncharacteristically had to go to bed and sleep for a while. It now turns out that I have a cold, which explains it.

From U3A talk: Peter Pan’s statue and Queen Mum’s Gate both in Hyde Park


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Greetings from Edinburgh where we are marking my birthday weekend with a short holiday and taking the opportunity to catch up with family and friends north of the border. I hasten to reassure you all that at no time will we be participating in social gatherings of more than six people. These restrictions on our civil liberties are getting more draconian and more illogical with every successive announcement. It will one day form an interesting study in mass indoctrination, with clever use of three-part slogans and simple mantras. Future dictators should take note: if you create a sufficiently scary bogeyman, you will be delighted at the eagerness with which the British people surrender their freedoms.


Last weekend Sarah and her brother paid a joint visit to see their mother in her dementia care home. Nora has no real comprehension of the pandemic and is puzzled and somewhat annoyed by her son and daughter wearing face masks. And of course the wearing of facemasks is particularly problematic if the person you are talking to is deaf. Nora laments her condition: “I used to be so active, and never imagined I would end up like this”, but, contrary to what a nurse told Sarah ten days ago, she doesn’t quite yet seem to be entering her final days. It is very frustrating that Sarah is only allowed occasional, time-restricted visits.


However, after the visit to Nora in Alton we did enjoy a lovely lunch over in Midhurst, eating outside in the late summer sunshine. Thank you Stephanie and Stephen!


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Adopting my best Millicent Martin, that was the week that was: deaths low but infection numbers up, possibly because extra testing finds more, but most likely due to increasing familiarity among the young - see below. Mind you, exact numbers elude us as there’s also the ‘revelation’ that Test and Track continues to underperform, so presumably many more who’ve been in contact have never been found to be infected or not. It doesn’t seem to have moved much from the early days: they only ‘find‘ 80% of the contacts and 70% of them refuse to engage.


Oldham gets whacked with more restrictions - ‘hospitality outlets’ can no longer serve food inside, so only those with beer gardens or takeaway offerings can carry on. This is an interesting distinction between inside and outside activity - see below. Younger folk - 20’s, 30’s - are blamed for being a touch too hugger-mugger and raising the infection rate from a comfortable 20 per 100,000 population to 150. Interestingly (and worryingly) the old use of ‘r’ makes a brief reappearance - the UK as a whole has moved to 1.1 nudging 1.2 and then...


Shortly after (Tuesday) we get news, rather breathless evening news that BJ will announce tighter, 6 person max groupings on Wednesday - which he does, but then adds “from next Monday”. Inside or out, it makes no difference, it is illegal to get together in groups exceeding 6. The Hacks are hot on the trail of just why the implementation is delayed if it’s so needed. I’d rather like to know myself. Maybe Boris has a major BBQ planned at Chequers this weekend. 

Irritatingly, there is an inconsistency here: Wales, that has equal access to ‘The Science’ that informs this decision (ie SAGE etc) only implements the ‘Max 6 Rule’ indoors at pubs etc. Outside they not only continue to allow bigger gatherings, their Health Spokesman is quite clear - “there is no evidence the virus can spread in open air between individuals as long as proper distancing is maintained” - so maybe this is the nub of it. Us English can’t be trusted to keep apart.


Banham Poultry, the Norfolk chicken ‘processors’ where so many of the immigrant workforce tested positive, come under scrutiny for allowing workers to carry on working when ill. As they process up to 1,000,000 birds a week (BBC) it’s obviously a busy place with little time to draft in and train new staff. You may find some sanitary reassurance that though an impressive ‘kill’ that’s only 7% of UK consumption - so there’s a good chance you‘ll avoid a Banham Bird in The Great Poultry Lottery if you’re nervous about that sort of thing. They are asking for financial support - which may suggest iffy financials and that could colour the whole sordid business and their attitude to workforce welfare and consequent hugger-muggering. Those of you with a curious bent may be doing the math(s): if 7% = 1,000,000, what’s total chicken consumption? Answer: 14,285,714. Blimey.


The schools go back, and so the Great Social Experiment begins. I talk to a head teacher at the end of the first day of youngsters (at least I believe they’re youngsters) clinging to her legs with snotty upturned faces. She isn’t looking forward to the second day.


Then, at the end of the week, Portugal rejoins those holiday destinations from where (whence?) UK holidaymakers now have to do ‘time’ upon return. Oh yes, and Birmingham households are forbidden to mingle.


It’s all getting a bit untidy...


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

What a glorious time we had this weekend in the real world. Friends, Dianne and Jeremy, drove down to Totnes. In normal times this would not be unusual - D and J often stay with us and we with them. Before Covid struck, Dianne and I had planned a shibori/indigo dyeing session in Totnes for April. That of course had to be cancelled. But we thought at the time we could reschedule for the Autumn when the virus would have disappeared.


Well, plans had to change, so no dyeing, but still their visit was terrific. We began in our garden, outside under the new canopy with Moscato wine they brought and Dianne’s delicious oat biscuits. Then, instead of staying with us, they left to camp near Beesands on the coast and we drove over on Monday with picnic lunch. From the campsite to the water is a thirty minute walk through fields and woodland. Then, once onto the beach, we ventured further - straight into the very cold water! It was so exhilarating. I have so missed swimming! Once dressed we were off and up the cliff path to Hallsands - the village that fell into the sea - then back the one and a half miles to Beesands for very fresh fish and chips.


It was such a good day that on Tuesday we repeated the exercise - the lunch, the walk, the glorious, cold swim. But this time we set off afterwards in the other direction over the rocks to Torcross and later more elaborate fish plus a bottle of wine. I hated to leave D and J on that Tuesday evening to drive back to Totnes. I would gladly have repeated those two days for weeks.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



Loneliness, greeting

its other self,


is never at a loss

for conversation,


loss being 

what they have in common,


the anecdotal

bond between them.


Time and again

they turn to one another,


prompted by memory

and desire;  


what almost was,

what might have been


if only life

had found the words.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

MONDAY Returned to the Bookshop where the owners could not have been more welcoming and considerate. Wore my swanky new visor for half an hour but abandoned its sparkling crystalline invisibility after trying to drink a mug of hot tea through it! Really enjoyed being back.


TUESDAY The divine Judith arrived at 6am to clean the house before Martin’s return. We love this early start and do it every time Martin is away. Mid morning we noticed a creature urgently pacing up and down the humane squirrel trap. Rushed out to investigate only to discover a perfectly beautiful hedge pig. We released it and after a few minutes it unrolled itself and beetled off sharpish. Martin arrived home. No fish. No squirrel. No nuts.


WEDNESDAY Received notification from the Covid experiment that as far as they can tell I do not have the disease!


THURSDAY Martín was alerted (by a friend called Bunny) of puffball mushrooms in a secret field. Diana Rigg died... but Emma Peel never will... the icon of our youth!


FRIDAY Weeded!


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Sunday 6th September

Nice sunny day so I did a bit of gardening. I planted out some primroses I had split from a large clump earlier and dead headed a few yellow flowers but I cant remember the name.


This weekend I had the pleasure of my daughter and son in law's company for dinner, our one family bubble enjoying fish and chips from the chip shop. I made an apple crumble with apples from my garden and custard. The first time we have sat together in my house, what joy I felt. It would have been the icing on the cake to have had a hug but I have to be happy with small mercies.


The good new is that my family in Oldham have tested negative of corona.


Looking forward to reading the journal has helped my state of mind. 

Its now one year and three months since I lost my husband, eating alone for most of that time. I suppose in normal times it would be the same. I am slowly coming to terms with living alone. Many people who have lost loved ones to covid 19 will be feeling the same grief and loneliness.


With a few more relaxed restrictions I masked up and went in my local Coop, it was very quiet and I enjoyed shopping for the first time in six months.

With the nights drawing in I am not looking forward to winter in lock down.

My visit to the shops was short lived as the very next day 9th September restrictions are back.  

In Sheffield schools have only been back a week and two have had to send pupils home who have tested positive with Covid 19.


I have not been to my art society meetings since lock down. The church hall management where we meet have taken the opportunity to use lock down to refurbish the hall. So for the moment its closed 


On a positive note I have been invited by Friends Of Parkwood Springs to a meeting with Calendar ITV. 

They are doing a short piece about the area where I was born. Parkwood Springs, Sheffield with plans to make it into a City Centre Country Park. Taking the area back to how it was a hundred years ago pre the industrial revolution.


We are to meet on the hill top with social distancing on land that was originally the estate and hunting grounds of the Duke of Norfolk. The gentry bought some of the land to build their houses because of the wonderful views across the land. Then by an agreement of the Duke of Norfolk the power station was allowed to tip ash on the land and the railway line was built at the bottom making the only entrance to it under a small railway arch. The gentry moved away and workers houses built for the railway and steel works. And a house refuse was opened.

During the 1920 depression all the trees were chopped down for fire wood. Gun emplacements and barrage balloons were installed on the hillside during the war. The railway line closed during the Beeching era, then in the 1960s slum clearances we were all told to move out losing a wonderful community. Later a ski slope was built and was vandalised after a few years.

I think the reason I have been invited is because in 2014, when trying to find the history of my birth place non-existent in the library or anywhere, I took the decision to write about it myself. In such a short time there has been so much history of such a tiny space in Sheffield which I have been part of in my lifetime. 


Sheffield city council have now got plans to make it into a country park. The refuse tip is to close 2021 and landscaped and the ski slope rebuilt. Trees have already grown back and ponds and heather and wild life has started to come back. Also during the quiet time of lock down deer have been seen again in the area. Taking this small area back to its origins one hundred years ago.

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