Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Festive disappointments by Franklin Lewis Macrae


This year Christmas is going to be different to all of the other Christmases. My grandparents can't come to stay anymore and we can't go to visit them either. Pappa's cancer has returned and he now has to shield. COVID is dangerous if you have cancer and he must have an operation and some chemotherapy. I thought granny Aye could come on her own but she had to shield too so that he doesn't catch the virus. We wouldn't want him to be on his own anyway. My other set of grandparents may come now.


This year sadly, the Brighton ice rink will not be opening. They have it outdoors by the Royal Pavilion. The COVID numbers in Brighton are high so they have decided not to do it this year. We always go for Marli's birthday. I am finding this extremely annoying because in the summer I got a pair of rollerblades that I am now really fast on and now I'm unable to put my skills to the test on the ice rink.


Celebrations under COVID by Marli Rose Macrae


In ten days it will be my birthday and I will be ten. Normally I would go ice skating for my birthday but this year the rink is not open due to COVID. I love ice skating and was just getting good at it last year. Mummy bought me rollerblades in the summer and she said they would help with ice skating. Fortunately, mummy and daddy are planning something else but I don't know what it is.


Luckily, Santa is still able to come. We're unable to visit him in his grotto due to COVID however. The prime minister said that we must leave hand sanitiser out for him as well as his usual snacks of whisky and a mince pie. We are allowed to touch and open our presents on Christmas Day, we don't need to wait for three days before we can touch them safely.

My granny aye and pappa were planning on visiting at Christmas but pappa's cancer has come back and he has to shield therefore they can't come. If pappa catches COVID then he won't be able to have his operation. I am disappointed but mummy says the best gift we can give them is keeping them safe.  

Lockdown is over but not much has really changed. We still don't go to busy places and last week mummy took us to Cow Gap (Beastie Cove). It was bitterly cold and I couldn't feel my fingers afterwards but I had an ecstatic time. The wind screeched like a newborn baby but I took my shoes off and paddled in the sea with mummy. Franklin eventually did the same. There have been storms and heavy rainfall and the cliffs had changed as had the beach, there were new chunks of chalky rock everywhere. Our favourite rock pool was still there though. It's getting dark so much earlier now and mummy was nervous but Franklin and I loved walking at dusk and we had the most wonderful time. We saw a dog barking at a seal and the bewildered seal was barking back! Next time, we will take our head torches.


School is allowing each class to have a Christmas party. Usually we all bring party food in but we're not allowed to this year because of COVID so there will be dancing and games but no singing or food. The head teacher has arranged for some reindeer to come into the playground though to cheer us up. Once, Santa's reindeer pooed outside the front door of our house and mummy had to clear it up! There was glitter in the poo.


Today was Elf Day and everyone had to dress up as an elf. We spent the day making Christmas things. We had our Christmas dinner too, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, carrots, peas and HORRIBLE Brussels sprouts. Pudding was a strange carrot cake. 



Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

At work we look on with dismay as the irresistible force of the UK’s demand for "independence with access" meets the immovable object of the EU Single Market & Customs Union. We have stockpiled EU-sourced raw materials, and enjoyed a short term sales boost as our European customers have in turn stockpiled our finished products in their warehouses. And given that our domestic business is performing very strongly at the moment, we are enjoying something of a mini sales boom. But what awaits us in the New Year is anyone’s guess.


One of the most interesting assessments I have seen of the Brexit saga is that it proves that De Gaulle was right all along: we should never have joined the EU (or Common Market as it was then). The UK and mainland Europe have fundamentally different readings of the calamities of the twentieth century. Because of its history, and belief that the nation state is fundamentally a “good thing”, the UK has been increasingly uncomfortable with the EU’s direction of travel and perhaps leaving was always inevitable. And of course the longer our marriage with Europe lasted, the more painful the divorce process would be.


For mainland Europeans, reflecting on the German invasions of France in 1870, 1914 and 1940, the concept of the independent nation state is “part of the problem”. Instead the answer had to be an ever closer union between these two core nations, pulling in around them the other nations of Western Europe, and in time bringing in the East European nations as they escaped from the collapsing Soviet empire. And around this new EU empire Brussels has constructed a complex protectionist wall of tariff and non-tariff barriers, which the UK wants to maintain access to, whilst sitting outside the wall. This is the “cake and eat it” contradiction – which of course the EU is equally guilty of when it comes to fisheries. 


I would like to think that the two parties are playing an elaborate game of charades, in order to satisfy their audiences back home, and that a deal will be pulled out of the hat at the last minute. But I am losing hope in the probability of that outcome.


Meanwhile in the domestic arena, Sarah and her brother have finalised arrangements for their mother’s funeral service, which will take place on Friday 18th December, after which we will put up our Christmas tree, and start looking forward to a quiet family Christmas.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Oh - it's a damp and drizzly day here on  the Island.  I think dreak is a word the Scots might use for it! Notwithstanding that, all is very happy here in my nest. Best beloved has moved in for a time whilst granddaughter enjoys a period of semi-isolation in her house after returning from college. So far the experiment seems to be going well, the aim being that we don't become joined at the hip, as it were, but live our own independent lives as much when we are together as when living apart. I think it will work out well, because we have an easy and relaxed relationship.

Thankfully I see little real evidence of this tier 1 place becoming overrun by booze cruisers from Hampshire and elsewhere. Maybe my initial worries were not justified. Time will tell as always. Christmas will be an interesting exercise, and like others I wonder whether there may be an infection spike come January. Best beloved, myself and granddaughter plan to be together on Christmas Day provided the present cautious path works out well. I feel a bit sad that I am not in a position to offer hospitality to my immediate family. Maybe in 2021 - who knows!


These are my two words on Brexit: 'Just horrified!'


Nature certainly has been asserting itself round about. Squirrel activity is more or less continuous, the little furry beauties cavorting all around my house and garden. I think we are so lucky! No more great egret sightings.


My son has come out with a solution to the mask/no mask issue that some seem to find so difficult, see picture...



Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

D day approaches and yes, the D stands for dog! A new dog! Password = Terrier! Fingers crossed and all being well, she should be here next week. I can’t wait! 


This week has seen such dismal weather. Grey, wet, foggy, cold. It is December of course but it doesn’t inject much joy into the current situation. Have managed to get in the garden a few times but it is so wet underfoot and the cold is so discouraging. Time for indoor jobs - like writing out Christmas cards and sorting through old decorations. Oh and tidying up! Open fires make a lot of dust, don’t they?!


In need of a change of scene (and to escape dusting) - I took the train to Lowestoft on Tuesday afternoon. There’s a Marks and Spencer’s there but aside from that - I was shocked by the general emptiness of the town. Three of the major department stores are long gone (Beales, Palmers and Godfrey’s stores) and there is an air of decline and decay all through the high street and mall. (photos below). It is as if everyone is waiting... for the new year? For the pandemic to be over? For common sense and decency to return? 


The TV news is taken up with Brexit and talk about vaccinations. Last night there was a prediction that Essex would move into Tier Three. Cases are rising in many of the major towns there. The neighbouring county to us. The presenter reads out the numbers of daily deaths at the local hospitals. Sober. Detached.  In the monotony of it all, we roll through the guide to ‘What’s On’ in search of a Poirot or a good movie. Avoidance. We are still working our way through a box set of Kavanagh QC and keeping tristesse at bay with the odd episode of the Golden Girls or The In-Betweeners. We watched some Fawlty Towers too. One episode in particular had us howling with laughter! 

Laughing matters, doesn’t it?


Live-at-five and CNN

Keep us all abreast

Of breaking stories that can tend

To make us anxious and depressed

Problems with no answers

Hang on like some chronic cough

And everyday some some brand new issue

Rears it head to piss you off...


Oh, what to do, what to do?

How to take a brighter view

When your noodle's totally fried?

Human spirits need to be

Leavened by a little levity.

So take those blues

And bounce them off the wall.

Keep your humor please,

'cause don't you know it times like these that

Laughing matters most of all.


Waldrop & Gallagher 1998



Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Two ongoing joys in my life: painting and studying. Sometimes they overlap.  

Painting: I’m painting or drawing every day, a warm-up to the fundraiser I’m organizing, March Arts Marathon. I thought I should try out producing something every day to see if I could do it. So far so good. Every single time I paint it gives me joy. Even when the results are unsatisfying. Partly it is the intense pleasure of color. And then, because it is watercolors I’m using, it is the intense pleasure of the unexpected and the questions the unexpected sometimes raises… how can I take advantage of that?  What can I do next?  Every day I email the result, whatever it is, to an acquaintance who also wanted to try doing it every day before signing up for the fundraiser. What a difference it makes to have someone expecting a painting from me. It keeps me to it even when I’m tired or discouraged, and it always leads to joy, even in those discouraged exhausted moments. 


Then there’s studying. I signed up for a winter ecology class because I’ve wondered how insects survive, why are there wasps, yet again, in the summer, and if I flick a spider outside in the Autumn am I dooming it to death? Also, I thought this winter might be easier to navigate if I learned more about winter. I started the reading for the class and it is fascinating. And a new language. I’m learning words, what pleasure. Today’s word: subnivian, the strata under the snow that is warm enough for creatures to survive. Voles and mice and such, which reproduce at an extraordinary rate, providing food for owls and foxes and coyotes. And all this is happening right outside my door. Igloos are built on the same principle. Paradoxically, snow creates warmth. The joy of learning something new is intense.  


My other observation these days is that people are much friendlier, or more wanting to be friends, in this covid time. I suppose because people have more time, or more room in their lives I should say. And me too. Meanwhile the vaccine rolls out and glimmers of hope appear, though I’m wary, thinking the only way through winter and spring is not to chafe at the restrictions but settle into the possibilities inside them. Hope might make me chafe. Might make me long for Singapore Airport, for Australia, for going just about anywhere. Therein lies madness!!!!


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



Crumbs of slight comfort

fall from the newsdesk


as piecemeal statisics

to keep us informed


or as grains, seeds, 

each planted in hope


that tomorrow’s harvest

will not fail.


Thus another word

takes on a new meaning


to join the many

that this year has endorsed;


precision as metaphor

printed  in numbers,


a granular lexicon

not lost for words.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

I really don’t know where this week has gone and can’t think of anything I have done! I think it has been all about Christmas. I know this will be a very different experience but I still wanted to put up my usual decorations and make the house look Christmassy. It makes me feel happy.


I have posted lots of parcels as we won’t be seeing most of the family. We usually have a big extended family get together in the middle of December and this obviously won’t go ahead. A birthday present I posted second class on 3rd December has still not arrived so I am getting myself organised and have now posted everything I need to, including my Christmas cards. That’s another thing I have done – lino printed my Christmas cards. It’s all coming back now. I also made two fleece monsters for presents for babies and a dress for four year old Margot. And I made the summer puddings.


I do remember one sunny walk collecting suitable materials to make my wreath. It is all natural, mainly green and simple. I really like it. In the past I have added fake berries and baubles and made something rather garish but I prefer the less is more idea now. I also had a 10k walk along the Monsal trail with a friend yesterday followed by a hot chocolate and bacon and sausage bap from the café at Hassop book store. We felt we had earned it. It was lovely to chat and walk and felt very safe being outside. Her husband died just over a year ago so it has been a tough year for her.


The Christmas tree has its lights on but no decorations yet so that’s my next job. Here are three photos of my busy week. Take care everyone.



View from the Top of the Hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

As if we didn't have enough to worry about with Covid and Brexit, now there's bird flu going about and we need to keep the chickens in to stop them mixing with wild birds. This has been difficult in the past as the barn where we have the hen houses is open to the elements down one side and the pheasants and partridges come in to pinch the chickens' corn. We have now acquired some big sheets of netting and Richard's planning to put it up this weekend. The hens aren't keen on going out today as we're surrounded by thick fog.


So now we're in the last minute race for a Brexit deal but everyone is looking very gloomy about it and making contingency plans for an “Australia deal”, which is Boris-speak for “no deal”. His wooing of Ursula von der Leyen over dinner appears to have fallen a bit flat. You had to wonder whether the choice of two fish meals on the menu was her way of making a point about fishing rights. Aside from that, it seems to hang on the “Level Playing Field” and “Sovereignty”. The oven-ready deal, the one that was going to be the easiest deal ever, seems a very long time ago. No doubt by Monday this “Aussie rules” charade will be heralded as the best deal for the country, just as lorries are lining up at the ports and prices are rising. The EU has drawn up a no deal agreement! (Stop press: Boris has stopped calling it the Australia Deal as he's realised we all know it's not a deal. It's now known as “WTO Rules”, which is what it always was). Poor Michael (Lord) Heseltine is absolutely apoplectic with rage, recalling decades of European conflict before we joined the EU.


Businesses have been told for months to get ready for Brexit but have no idea what they actually have to do. I am fully expecting the postal costs of sending books to Europe will soar. Happily all I need to do is to change my shipping rates online which will take a few minutes, once the Post Office work out new prices, remember to write customs stickers for the parcels and then allow weeks or months extra delivery time. It remains to be seen how sales will be affected and what it will do to profit margins. Some businesses have flights on standby to bypass the traffic jams.


We are about to go into two weeks of self-isolation before getting together with the family, who are doing the same. Hopefully that will ensure a safe and happy celebration together. All our shopping is being done online and we're getting our post collected, so back into full lockdown from Saturday, with shopping left at the door. It just feels like the same old routine now. At least we should be warm as the oil has been delivered and the plumbers came earlier this week to fix the radiator in the living room. They are very chatty and the elder one told me the only book he had read all the way through was the biography of a local man who had a tractor company. He enjoyed the book as he knew lots of the people mentioned in it. He seemed interested in how much the book was worth so I looked it up online and the only copy in the world was priced at £671. It turned out he knew that already, as someone looked it up for him a few years ago. Unsurprisingly the book has sat there all this time at that price and not sold, I wonder if it's over-priced! The plumber didn't want to sell it.


There are delays in mail and courier deliveries due to all the online shopping going on and I am currently waiting for my supply of charity cards and all my family presents to arrive. I'm expecting to be writing cards right up to the last posting date but this is nothing new, I always leave it a bit late as I resent starting Christmas until we're well into December. I once had to go to casualty for a tetanus jab after I stood on a rusty stable fork and I took my Christmas cards with me as I knew I'd be there for at least three hours. It worked out quite well, they all got done in time. Once I was nearly locked in at closing time in the book section of W H Smiths on Christmas Eve as I was determined to only spend one day on my Christmas shopping. It will serve me right if the cards arrive too late to be written and posted.


There was a bit of worry yesterday about the delivery of our new Christmas tree as the Yodel driver arrived but couldn't find the parcel in his van. Happily he came back tonight and my new little tree  is now ready to go into the hall window, changing colours constantly, lovely! I usually have the grandchildren here to help put up the big tree a couple of weeks before Christmas but we will have to do it without them this time. Isn't it going to be wonderful when we can go back to doing those lovely things together! I've noticed that most of the cards I've received so far have messages about next year being better than this one but my favourite was “Bringing you Joy this Christmas”, which gave me a lovely warm feeling.


It's just been announced that there will be mass testing of secondary school children in London and the South East as something of an experiment to try and reduce the spread of the virus there while keeping schools open. Welsh schools are returning to online teaching. It's so hard to find a balance, isn't it, when education is being interrupted and parents are tearing their hair out.


This week Sky News reporters made the news for all the wrong reasons after six of them got together to celebrate Kay Burley's 60th birthday, how very silly of them. I think Adam Boulton's tweet “What a load of morons” was a bit harsh. Sky have acted swiftly. Kay Burley will be off air for six months and Beth Rigby for three. I'll miss Beth's interviews but it's ironic that she harangued Dominic Cummings in the garden of No.10 for breaking the rules with his Barnard Castle trip.


I am so sorry to hear about the situation in the US, it's dreadful. I hope all our friends there are keeping safe. Now it seems that over a hundred Republican Senators are supporting the president's latest legal bid to overturn the result of the election. They are doing this to stay on the president's “loyalty list” for fear of his displeasure. Shame on them, don't they know you should stand up to bullies? Hopefully the Supreme Court will stand firm, despite half of them being appointed by Trump. I see that Trump is going to break another record by having the highest number of executions of any president for a century. It's more normal for executions to be suspended during a presidential transition but he's not normal and in his mind there is no transition. Clemency is reserved for his friends and family. Shame on him.


I had a newsletter from an online book selling site in Sweden, entitled  “JULKLAPPSTIPS!” I was intrigued so I got a translation from Google. It means “Christmas Gift Tips”. What a wonderful word, I must find ways of using it, although hard to drop it into general conversation. Here are my Julklappstips - Var saker alla (keep safe everyone), and oh yes, don't take any risks just because Christmas is coming!