“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

I make a note to self as I begin to write this and start making apricot jam, not to take multitasking too far. Apricot season has begun here and yesterday I bought a 10 kilogram box of beautiful Goulburn valley grown fruit. I see my Mother’s annotation to the recipe, “take care to watch, especially at the beginning. If it is not stirred the apricots will stick and the entire batch will be ruined”. The voice of experience. I always knew when to make myself scarce; the smell of burnt jam was the trigger to decamp somewhere far away, and to stay away long enough for the saucepan to be cleaned. 


Mangos are also in season and a box of my favourite variety also came home. There was gloom early in the spring that fruit crops would rot in the orchards. Australia uses seasonal pickers from South Pacific nations. Our climate policies are working their hardest to sink their homes into the ocean. We don’t want them as economic or environmental immigrants, but we are happy to make special quarantine arrangements so they can come and do the backbreaking work Australians reject. We repeat it so often we now believe our own bullshit of a clean, green country and a fair go for all. 


After the jam, came the bottling and I have begun to fill the pantry shelves that have been emptied of all last seasons produce. We are having lunch with a niece and her family on Sunday, so I add baking Speculoos biscuits to the shortbread I made for them earlier in the week. It was worth making these delicious biscuits for the rich spice smell that now perfumes the house. It is cold and very windy again here and there is no hardship in being kept to indoor activities. I cut and wrapped a large slab of quince cheese to take on Sunday. Utterly magical with a good cheddar or a strong blue.


We have good friends coming to breakfast tomorrow. It will be lovely to catch up. Twelve months to the day we almost lost Craig to a heart attack. One triple bypass later and he is fit and dangerous. He has to be away by 10 for an appointment at dog school. They were one of the lucky few able to find a puppy during lockdown. Collecting the charming border collie pup stretched the rules, so no one talks very much about that side of things. Cosmo’s destruction of PJ’s newly established garden might also be a topic to avoid. 


This entry has started and stopped. Another interruption came with a blocked drain on our front loading washing machine. No fun emptying the water from the little drain hole so close to the floor that you can’t get a decent bucket full before having to empty out and go again. The culprits were two five cent pieces (Australia’s smallest denomination and most useless coin) and a paper clip. My husband is the culprit, he never checks his pockets or turns his trousers inside out! Shame he won’t have the smell of burnt offerings as the warning to keep clear this evening. Perhaps I will have forgotten by then...


Sydney is having a little COVID crisis. They are already locked out of Queensland and Western Australia. I have missed the five o’clock news so I don’t know what the Victorian response will be to the increase in cases today. No one wants to destroy our 49 days without a single case of community transmission. The health department is preparing for the autumn/winter when it is expected that anything “sleeping”  in the community will declare itself. 


Take care lovely people xx


PS the dahlias have started flowering and the wind hasn’t blown them over!


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Apart from Brexit Brinkmanship, the early part of the week dances around the notion that Xmas should be cancelled. Chris Whitty says so in sharp contrast to Politicians around him at the Briefings. Wot he says is this: “just be because you can (socialise), doesn’t mean you should” Splendid, direct advice previously mainly applied to Gentlemen and Bagpipes.

Then we have the showdown between LA’s and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson. Having been moved into Tier3 with the rest of London, Greenwich immediately advise their schools to close for the rest of term, relying on virtual, computer-based teaching at home. This is to minimise further risk of infection in the runup to Xmas with household bubbling in mind - massively inconvenient for some households where the childcare/work balance is tricky, but arguably a good thing socially. It coincides with figures showing the highest rate of infection is in 7 to 11 year olds, while that of hospitalisation is in the over 70’s.  


So stung is Westminster that anyone else might have a handle on control, Williamson orders Greenwich and anyone else thinking of shutting up the School Shop early to desist, if not on pain of death, on pain of being taken to Court.   

By lunchtime Tuesday, two changes: Greenwich caves in as it “can’t justify“ a spend on legal fees and The ‘British Medical Journal‘ and ‘Health Service Journal‘ break cover by issuing a joint editorial, urging a change of Xmas rules. They are very direct: “the Government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives. If they fail to take swift and decisive action they can no longer claim to be protecting the NHS”...  Xmas will become “a Super Spreader Event”. Ouch!  


Initial reaction from Government is to reject the idea of rejigging Xmas and plough on regardless, but by the end of the day there are signs they’ll promote the Whitty approach hard. Sure enough, come Wednesday morning, ‘just cos you can doesn’t mean you should’ becomes Government policy and later Boris develops a new, snappy, TV slogan re Xmas 2020: “smaller, shorter is safer“.  


Placing London in Tier3 shifts the balance of population control significantly: 38million of us now ‘live’ under its grip - two thirds the population - and for the first time a huge swathe of the Home Counties are included.  Bad news indeed, particularly for any pub or restaurant hoping for some Xmas trade to end the year on.  Norfolk stays in Tier2 for the moment. The cry from earlier in the year, addressing Londoners with second homes or boats here goes out once more: “Please don’t come up to Norfolk for Xmas.”  


Evidently shocked into action, feeble thinking from the Dept of Ed allows them to announce on Thursday that years 11 and 13 alone will return after Xmas, everyone else gets taught remotely, and furthermore there will be mass Covid testing at school. As a reaction to Greenwich it’s extraordinary and comes as something as a surprise to the schools who, if they are open (many closed due to isolations/infections) only have a day or two before end of term to organise the regime. Most say it just can’t be done - lack of computers, lack of training, lack of staff, lack of testing accommodation/protocols, lack of the will to live all being cited.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany

Inevitably, it had to come to our second strict lockdown yesterday. The country is more or less hibernating over Christmas and the New Year, and the season is going to be much more contemplative than in other years.


My husband has been working from home for many weeks by now, I have just started to meet my students online exclusively. I just hope schools will be open again soon after the Christmas holiday which is going to commence at the weekend.


We purchased a lovely tree from a farm close by last Sunday and look forward to putting it up and decorating it on Saturday. To add to this, we are looking forward to reading quite a bit, as we won´t be able to meet a lot of members of the family or friends at all this year.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

When I wrote about visiting Bruges I didn't realize that it is the 80th Anniversary of the Sheffield Blitz. 

When as a young child you live through a war for 6 years it stays in your mind forever. Always popping into the fore of your mind at an instant of memory.

On Holiday one year my husband and I visited Pickering in North Yorkshire and we were browsing in an art shop and saw a picture of the Lancaster Bomber and my husband had to have it.

A few months ago I saw a photo on social media of a derelict Anderson Shelter still standing after 80 years and I had to save it remembering the times I was dragged out of bed, dressed in a siren suit to run down the garden in the middle of the night in the cold to get in the shelter. As I look at it now they were so tiny and inadequate but it saved us from the blast of the bomb that dropped at the bottom of our road 200 yards away when our windows were shattered. All Sheffield City centre was ablaze, the bombs that were destined for the steel works fell on the city centre. For years I remember that just rubble remained where all the shops had been on the Moor shopping area. My Aunt watched all the city in flames. A piece of shrapnel just missed her.


We lived on a hill surrounded by the railway line, gas tanks and the Hallamshire Steel and file company that the Germans were aiming for. They missed the railway line that carried all the essential equipment and troops for the war effort by a few yards destroying the houses and chapel at the bottom of our road. Everywhere we went were mountains of rubble and destruction. On the hillside above us at the top of Parkwood Springs there was an Anti Aircraft gun emplacement with Ack-Ack guns a Barrage Balloon and Rocket guns that could also be fired by women.


As I got older and had grandchildren I realize how much has changed in my lifetime, so I decided to write my memoirs for them. This got sidelined when I got caught up in the 1950s slum clearances when the place I lived, Parkwood Springs, was ear marked for slum clearance. The lovely community spirit we all had lost forever by 1970.


One day in 2014 I was exhibiting my art in the marquee with my local art group at Stannington festival when someone came to ask me if I had any pictures of Parkwood Springs, well I didn't because I had been looking for information as well. Nothing in the library archives at all. So I decided from that day on that I had to record the history before it was also lost forever.


I produced my book "The Lost Village of Parkwood Springs" in  2017. It took me three years of blood sweat and tears. I had no idea how to use the internet or a computer. With very basic education I got Sheffield University Archaeology dept involved and became friends with the students that I am still in contact with today. One girl from Portugal invited me to her wedding later that year. I had a book launch and 70 people turned up and I sold 82 books that night. I was amazed.


Last week as I was browsing on Face book and saw a video on History 0114 The Sheffield blitz 80th Anniversary and I made a comment re. Parkwood Springs. I got an answer straight away from the author Joe Peacock. He is the grandson of one of my contributors in my book and wants to speak to me. His Video is excellent on facebook:

History 0114  The Sheffield Blitz - 80 year Anniversary By Joe Peacock.


Sheffield Blitz 12th to 15th December 1940 

On the 12th of December a yellow alert was announced followed by purple and then Red at 7 pm that the German Luftwaffe were about to attack Sheffield. On that night! 51 HE 111s, 122 JU88 and 7DO 17s planes were headed for Sheffield east end Steel Works where they made Armour piercing shells, but the bombs fell on Sheffield city centre. 16 high explosive, 11000 incendiary bombs that were meant to cause fires dropped that night.

Then on the 15th December the Pathfinder unit dropped 11,500 incendiary bombs that created fires that could be seen as far away as Middlesborough in North Yorkshire. 3000 houses were destroyed, 1500 people were injured and 660 people were killed that night.

But the people of Sheffield were resilient and began clearing all the rubble and steel was still produced.


The derelict Anderson Shelter. 

The memorial flight over Lincoln City by Jays Lishmam


Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, VA, USA



I am sheltering responsible in the weeds,

peering over the cotton horizon stretched

elastic between my ears watching you —

camouflage jacketed, hiding from reason —

swagger smirking maskless from your home

imagining you will walk contactless

between contaminated drops

raining down from the infected sky.


Inhaling, exhaling, you transmit 

nanoscale viral loads of spiked plague

from the ventilator of your pandemic lungs

into the airways of your loved ones,

and those who will care for you,

when drowning in ignorance you suffocate

with gramps facedown in the bed next to yours.


WTF, dude. Grow a pair. 

Be a man, not a wuss.

Be human. Wear a mask.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

Monday !  4.12.20 7.30 am

Sometimes I wake with a word on my lips. This morning it was euphonium. It's a sort of tuba I think. The comedian Jimmy Edwards with whom I worked in 1971, played one.


I'd just been dreaming that I was buying a single Cox's Orange Pippin in Homebase because they were much nicer than the ones in Waitrose next door. As I was buying so little I was shown to a special till in the corner where I wouldn't have to queue. I apologised for not wearing a mask but they said it didn't matter as Homebase had found a vaccine. Earlier I'd been sitting on a Government committee as an observer. A friend of mine, the actor, David Warner, was presenting a paper. Before the committee commenced its business, a group of delegates approached me with a complaint about the floorboards. A grey-haired old lady pointed down at them and said 'You can see that can't you?'. I looked and saw that each floorboard was numbered. 'It's very offensive to us, you know,' said the old lady. I realised that the floorboards being numbered meant that they had probably come from Auschwitz where the inmates numbers were branded on their arms. David's presentation was concerned with the effect of the pandemic on the retail sector but I had to leave as soon as it started because I felt naked and conspicuous without a mask and I was convulsed with a sudden fit of coughing. 


Later this morning I am going to Homebase to buy a Christmas tree because I've been told they're much cheaper than the ones in my local greengrocer. Later, I'll probably pop into Waitrose in Richmond where they have, among other things, very good apples and cheaper than my local greengrocer. Richmond feels like a ghost town. The House of Fraser, previously Dickens and Jones, once the beating heart of the High Street, has been snuffed out by covid. 


Tuesday !  5.12.20. 6am

This morning's word, dragged from the darkness, is cutaneou. Does he play for A.C. Milan?. No, I've googled it - 'prefixes - meaning skin.' Curious. I wasn't aware I knew the word but I've recently been diagnosed with excema on the back of my right hand, diagnosed a couple of weeks ago by my GP after I'd sent her a photo of my rash. I'm wheezing a bit too and wonder if I have a touch of asthma as I know they often go together. I'll call her. I wish I could go and see her. I wish I could go and see anybody. 


I was to have read Eliot's Journey of the Magi as part of a carol service in the lovely All-Saint's Church in Fulham on Thursday, in aid of The Brain Tumour Research Campaign. London goes into tier 3 tomorrow night. Theatres, bars and restaurants all closing but not churches apparently. 

The organiser of the carol service e-mailed all the participants yesterday to see if we were still up for it. I reacted with a trouper's reflex - I love the poem, first time I read it in a carol service was when I was at St Chris, I couldn't let the charity down or my friend who'd suggested me - but later I saw on the news that there's a new strain of the virus, I realised I wouldn't be able to sing or even socialise (awful word) with my friend. I'm 75 - I pictured myself in intensive care, stretching the NHS resources still further, and it seemed so odd to me that this service could go ahead while a couple of miles away a two-handed play in which a friend of mine was appearing at The Haymarket, is shutting down. I emailed the organiser a sorrowful change of mind and pulled out. 


And then there's Christmas, Francis coming round and staying the night on Christmas Day. I know it's allowed but should he? I read now that Europe surpassed The US in per capita cases last week. In Germany, a country with a more authoritarian tradition than ours, Christmas is cancelled. 


Not to mention Brexit, gunships in the ports. 'I told you not to mention Brexit.' (Spike Milligan gag.) 


Thursday 18.12.20. - 5.45am

New pattern of insomnia. I'm asleep by midnight but wake at 4 am. Sometimes I go back to sleep, sometimes I take ½ a sleeper which knocks me out for three hours but usually, as now, I lie awake or get up and do something till dawn. 


Yesterday I memorised The Journey of the Magi. It was a doddle after 128 sonnets and I half knew it already. I sent it to the carol service organiser. She'll use it in the streamed version and it may be featured in the church, live, tonight. I hope so.In the evening  my agent emailed to say I hadn't got one of the two jobs I taped for. It had gone to the wire, between me and one other. But they were still' looking at the tapes' for the other much more enticing  job. I don't suppose I'll hear before Christmas. 


It's been five days since I spoke to anyone face-to-face, except shopkeepers. I'm tired of my own stoicism, my self-discipline and restraint. 3 sonnets learned every  week, a low-calorie diet with the aid of which I've lost the stone I gained in the first lockdown. I'm a lean clean unemployed acting machine. Today I meet a friend for a walk in the park down to the river, much swollen recently, tomorrow out to dinner at my bubble friend's house, Saturday and Sunday other friends, other walks, other parks. It could be worse.


I didn't buy a Christmas tree in Homebase. I bought a house plant and I've made do with putting my lights round that . Fa-la-la lah - la la la lah.


STOP PRESS:  Francis called yesterday evening to tell me that his new album with the heavy metal band, This Be the Verse (a nod to Philip Larkin) has had a fantastic review in a major metal rock journal which says it is the best metal album of 2020. Immediately my spirits lifted and I started looking forward to Christmas and having the chance to celebrate with him. He has said for some time that he thinks this awful year could prove ultimately beneficial to him. For years he has toured with a highly proficient covers band and another live karaoke band and made a decent living in the one profession that is dafter than my own. But it has involved long hours of travelling and he's not been making original music, music that is close to his heart. Now there's just the glimpse of something else, perhaps supporting some major bands and who knows where that could lead? Mustn't get carried away but it gladdens my heart that he is at last getting some recognition for all his dedication and talent. Best Christmas present I could have hoped for.


Walking in L.A.

Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA

The weather in L.A.

Every morning, KCRW (the radio station I listen to), has the weather report given by film maker/writer David Lynch. In his slow and measured tones, he gives us the lowdown on the weather, typically ending with "We'll be enjoying those beautiful blue skies and golden sunshine all along the way. Everyone, have a great day!" He will also tell us that he's been thinking about a particular song - usually from the fifties - that will be played after his forecast. Today it was the Platters' rendition of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes - wonderful. He was a little off the mark today though because most of the day was cloudy, in fact, the skies seemed to be bursting with rainclouds but no rain was forthcoming. It has been so dry and windy lately with palm fronds, leaves and branches littering the streets.


The city and its inhabitants all have a despondent air, which is not surprising given the current climate. Restaurants once again are not allowed to have outside dining, although some are defying the order so as to keep their employees solvent. Many hairdressers, barbers, nail salons, etc. are going out of business permanently. Yesterday my hairdresser showed me some equipment he bought from hairdressers who have had to throw in the towel (no pun intended). Many people are rightly furious and calling for Governor Newsom to step down. Everybody is impatient for January 20th to come around to see the back of Trump. Very little Christmas spirit abounds. Today I did my bit and took two bags of groceries, including hefty navel oranges from our tree, to a local food bank.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

We are a long way from an airport, but definitely on a flight path – not for planes, but for geese. Every day flocks of these Arctic visitors fly over, in their clever V formations (apparently geese in flight are called a ‘team’) making such a distinctive sound. ‘Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat’ -  but no humans will be eating these geese at their festive feasts. Not that there will be any big feasts this year. It will be just the two of us for Christmas lunch, with no visitors, so the cooking process will be much more relaxed, and more leftover plum pudding for me! Strange times.


We’ve bought our garden birds a second squirrel-proof bird feeder for Christmas, as the first one has proved so successful. Suddenly our absent goldfinches have returned and are fighting for the perches on the feeders. The term ‘charm’ for a flock of goldfinches seems just right. The wood pigeons are also delighted, as they clear up anything the birds drop. The squirrels are cross, and will probably dig up all the bulbs. 


Happy Christmas everyone!


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

My goodness I nearly forgot to write. When I awakened this morning I was fully aware of the time of the week and the need to put pen (so to speak) to paper this morning, but somehow doing housekeeping stuff caused it to slip from my mind. Anyway, here I am writing and it's well into the afternoon.


Best beloved and myself have enjoyed a good amount of time together and really had a lot of crazy fun. For the first time in four years I went into the roof to get some of the Christmas decorations that have been up there since my wife Cynthia died. We now have a decorated house here in Ryde, which is very cheering. In my trip to the roof I was surprised to find odds and ends I can't recall ever seeing before, notably a brand new ice-cream maker. Cynthia must have bought it at some time without my realising the fact - such things used to happen from time to time! Anyway, best beloved and myself decided to try it out. I have zero experience with such devices and best beloved not much, however, the result of our first test has been spectacular. What have I been missing all these years! Ice cream will certainly be an option with the Christmas pud this year! What will I find next I wonder!

Delivering things seems to be a ritual every Christmas doesn't it! Well, I posted cards that needed posting and carried others round to houses near me. My youngest in her new home decided she could do with some of the legacy decorations, so they were packed up and taken round. Amongst those was a spare artificial tree. What she didn't know at first was that one of my neighbours had a spare real tree, which they offered gratis to best beloved. Never one to refuse anything, she said she would find a use for it, and so it came to me. Somehow I managed to shoehorn this into my very small camper van and deliver it to youngest. She is delighted! All good fun and through such maybe we can all forget the plague a little and have a merry if thoughtful time, even though not all gathered together and most definitely being sensible...