Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

Well, against a truly apocalyptic background we went away to a resort for three nights to celebrate our anniversary. We rented a cabin right on Lake Champlain, and the resort is self-contained, which felt like the safest way to travel.   We ate out in their restaurant twice, and the tables were about eleven feet away from each other, with not many people there. Mostly we ate in our cabin. Somehow, though we’ve been isolated and living with each other and not seeing many other people for months, we haven’t paid much attention to each other, so it was lovely to be somewhere with really nothing else to do but pay attention to each other and the ducks on the lake and the sunsets. And it was lovely to be somewhere different. I was excited just digging out my suitcase!

But the news:  

We called my brother in Seattle, who said he’d been in eastern Washington state, they own a bit of land they camp on during the summer, and driving back they could see the fires about an hour away from their car. Flames and smoke. He said the wind was at 45 miles an hour, and they were frightened and very relieved to get home. I spent a day worrying about an English friend of mine and Linzy’s who was last heard of driving from Portland to Boise, Idaho in a camper, but then learned from Linzy that they made it safely. Meanwhile the second day we were at the resort the sky in Vermont was hazy, caused by smoke from the fires having travelled a couple of thousand miles from the west coast to the east coast. At the same time a hurricane was flooding Florida and Alabama. Meanwhile Trump was saying the fires and the strength and frequency of hurricanes have nothing to do with climate change. And the political revelations, which I won’t belabor here, are shocking. And this isn’t even to talk about the rest of the world. 

So it was a discordant time… peaceful and beautiful but a small oasis in a frightening world.

We were grateful for the respite.


Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

Next week, the country will shift to lockdown Level 1. That’s when a bare minimum of restrictions will apply. They don’t amount to very much. There are some limits on numbers at public gatherings but the strict rules on masks and distancing will still apply. 


The curfew will now only cover the hours from midnight to four in the morning. What it’s supposed to target is anyone’s guess. Is the virus more likely to be spread by night revellers after midnight? 


The limits on alcohol sales will be further relaxed: people will be able to buy booze from Mondays to Fridays, instead of from Mondays to Thursdays. Saturdays and Sundays are still off limits.


The news is full of reports about Africa unaccountably surviving the pandemic relatively unscathed. The WHO is, apparently, baffled. Some experts speculate that because disease is anyway rife on this continent that people are more immune to corona. But that can’t be right, surely. What about all the warnings about comorbidity? All the people with HIV and TB and diabetes? 


Should we now write the word experts in quotation marks?


No one wants to give African countries any credit for simply having made sound arrangements, for doing things better than other countries. The rates of infections and mortality in SA are gradually falling. The recovery rate is about 88%. People talk about the country having got over the worst of the pandemic, of returning to normal. There’s a sense of relief. 


Being a curmudgeonly pessimist, I think it’s all terribly premature. 


Still, we’re told to be careful, to avoid a second wave of infections of the kind we hear about in Europe, where there was a lot of talk a few months back about returning to normal. And now look what’s happening. In the UK, in France, in Spain. Rich countries that seem totally clueless, while poor or developing countries are coping far better.


But we don’t know what will happen. What if we’re in for a slow burn - a long, drawn out pandemic that smoulders when we take precautions and flares up when we relax our guard? We just don’t know. One thing this pandemic has taught us is that predictions, forecasts, extrapolations are about as fallible as the Bishop of Rome.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

19th September 2020

Back from Dorset. When I said goodbye to my mum on the doorstep I mimed a hug at her but she gave me a proper hug. Aah, she’s a rebel.


Sadly I left a day early as I had to meet a piece of furniture on Monday morning as my arrangements had collapsed which meant travelling on Sunday. I went via Bruton to pick up some china for the shop from one of our ceramic artists. I left there at 3.30 and got home at 11.30 in the evening after a terrible drive. A brief stop at Fleet services so Earnie could have a pee and a police van parked next to me. They went into the building, arrested somebody and came out with a bloke in handcuffs following behind the policeman like a well behaved puppy.

At Bishops Stortford Services at about 10pm I stopped near the grass away from the building where all the cars seemed occupied by distinctly dodgy looking men. One parking space had 2 rats in it calmly eating their dinner.

I walked Earnie who was expiring by this time and then left. All very creepy. Came back with crossed legs.

The console table was being delivered between 7 and 9 and I didn’t wake up until 6.50 so raced over to the barn half an hour away. Never seen so many big lorries on the road. Of course the couriers got there just after 7.00am. I don’t do 7.00 am at the best of times. What a ridiculous time to come. Anyway I dragged the big box into the barn and then Earnie and I went for a nice walk in Blakeney before going to the shop to unload all the treasures.


It has been a week of micro revelations, my doubts about one person confirmed, touched by comments from a friend, amused by another’s tales. Some nice sunny days, marsh walks, pink sunsets and lots of blackberries and apple crumbles.


In the news I heard Boris wants to resign in six moths time, a claim from Dominic Cummings father in law, vehemently denied by No 10. Whether there’s any truth in that I have no idea but apparently he’s not properly recovered from CV and also has money worries and is feeling broke on his Prime Ministers wages. This weekend he’s working out what to do with the country. We are on the verge of another Coronavirus surge, the second wave. Positive infections are going up at an alarming rate, thought to double in 8 days and there is talk of a mini shut down for a couple of weeks, a circuit breaker to calm down the R number.

It will be illegal from the 28th September to break the self isolation rules of 2 weeks if you have been instructed to do so by NHS test and trace. There will be payments of £500 to help people on low incomes self isolate but there will be a £10,000 fine for those that refuse or break the rules.

Testing is in meltdown as all the school kids have had sniffles and everyone has gone for tests but they are mainly negative. Test and trace is not working.

The universities go back this weekend.

The rule of 6 is here already but there is much talk of stricter rules and curfews. The hospitality industry is very concerned.

No minglin said Priti Patel. It is illegal. Grouse shootin is not.

One government minister recommend neighbours snitching on their neighbours. I think this is disgusting and divisive and so destructive.

A lot of the North and North East of England is under a semi lockdown already, over 13 million people under restrictions. 

Rishi is concerned that a full scale major lockdown will be disastrous for the economy.

Neil Ferguson, former Sage advisor, the one who broke lockdown rules visiting his girlfriend, has been in the news again saying restrictions need to be brought in sooner rather than later.

He’s grown a beard.

I expect Chris Whitty is having kittens.


In America US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “liberal icon and feminist standard bearer” RBG has died aged 87. There are going to be more Trump shenanigans as he tries to replace her before the upcoming election in 6 weeks time. The lawyers are sharpening their pencils.

It’s all a bit tense and people are worried again.

Who knows where it will all end. I better go to Lidl’s and stock up on nuts like a squirrel.

Take care everyone. Remember Hands Face Space and wear a mask and by the way use the f…in hand sanitiser.

Love Annabel xxx


View From the Top of the Hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

It seems I had the right idea about nipping out for some quick visits last week as the restrictions appear to be closing in again. It was lovely to see friends and family outside, taking advantage of the sunshine before the weather turns. We are not so far from the North-East and Lancashire, large swathes of the country which are entering new measures. This morning Matt Hancock received a grilling from Kay Burley, who asked him several times how near we are to a second country-wide lock down, a question he resolutely avoided answering. This probably means that Sage has advised the government to put the country into lock down and they are putting it off, even though hospital admissions are doubling every eight days. Feels like Groundhog Day.


I had early notice about the testing debacle, as my cousin's daughter was trying to get her five children tested. One had been sent home from school with a cough, so the rest have to self-isolate until she has a negative test. She booked a test, took them along and was turned away (wrong code or some such) and had to go home and book another one. Now we are seeing hundreds of examples of this on the news, with an extreme episode of cars queuing at a test centre but no-one there to administer the tests. Questions are being asked in Parliament. We are told that the UK has carried out more tests than any other country in Europe, perhaps we're just greedy or more worried than others. Or could it be that other countries are better organised with the tests they have?


The good news is that the 'brilliant' Baroness Dido has reappeared. We had been wondering why she was not being pushed to the forefront of government briefings, as she is supposedly in charge of Test and Trace. We recall her being hailed by the Health Secretary as having fantastic leadership skills, so she was the obvious choice for the job, in spite of having been in charge of a top media company at a time when they leaked the personal details of more than four million customers. When politely questioned by the Science and Technology Committee of MPs, she admitted that the number of people requesting tests is three or four times the number of tests available and that the capacity provided was based on modelling provided by Sage. Scientists getting the blame again when anyone could have told her that demand for tests would soar as soon as children went back to school. Also, a quarter of people turning up for tests apparently don't have symptoms and shouldn't be there as getting a test doesn't mean they can avoid self isolating. 


Across the pond, it seems that Trump now thinks the journalist he so recently admired is a 'whack-job'. Not surprising as Woodward highlighted so much of the president's stupidity. There is yet another book out this week which leaks the choice quote that 'the virus could be a good thing', as Trump does not like 'shaking hands with these disgusting people'. Or his loyal subjects, you could say. In the same week he has pulled off the 'greatest peace treaty you've ever seen' (throwing the Palestinians under the bus) so that he might get the Nobel Peace Prize, and has threatened to remove funding for coronavirus measures from Democrat areas while having peaceful protestors charged with criminal offences and accusing Democrats of brainwashing American children into believing that America is a racist country. There is no end to it...


The wild fires on the west coast have given us cause for alarm, as two close friends had been camping out in the wild near Portland and went out of communication for two days. Happily they got in touch once they managed to get an internet connection. They had driven out of the area through all the smoke and were safe, to our huge relief. Not all have been so lucky and the devastation is terrible to see. Naturally there would have been no fires if the forest management people had swept up the leaves, according to Trump, who appeared unaware that most of the land is under federal management and not the responsibility of local Democrats. In the world according to Trump, the scientists 'don't know' what's causing climate change and it will get cooler, just wait.


The big plus for us in recent weeks has been the return of sport, albeit a very different behind-closed-doors kind of affair. We have been enjoying international cricket, the US Open tennis and football (particularly Leeds United). During a (sadly rare) visit with family this week, I was describing to our daughter how we had the cricket on the TV, tennis on my laptop and football on Richard's laptop, all at the same time, with breaks for 'The Chase'. She reminded me gently that we used to laugh about my parents having two TVs in the living room. My Dad would watch sport on one, with the sound off, and my Mum would watch movies on the other, coming together at tea-time for Countdown. It seems we have turned into my parents. Not such a bad thing. I wonder what they would make of 'all this carry-on'.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

This week has highlighted for me some of the disparity of this pandemic - a contented and very pleasant week for Simon and me, but a disappointing and frustrating week for my son and his family. On Tuesday, Simon and I were able finally to get an outside booking at a very small, but highly recommended, restaurant in Brixham. It almost hangs on the cliff over the water and we arrived to a glorious sunset. Our meal of fish and more fish, was even more delicious than we anticipated.

Then, on Thursday, a morning video call from my son, my daughter in law and their two little boys. Why is everyone at home? Only back in school for  a week, Sam has a light fever and the sniffles. Pretty normal for a five year old but, as fever is a symptom, unless everyone can be tested for Covid, all must isolate for two weeks. But, no tests are available. So, two working parents, both involved in time sensitive and probably expensive scientific  

research, and two school age children are once again in lockdown.

How does this affect the children’s education? This is only the beginning of the term and winter approaches with the prospect of many more light fevers and sniffles. Without an efficient testing system, how are teachers going to deal with the likelihood of continuous, sporadic absences? Will teachers simply “mark time” and only advance to new topics when they have a full classroom? How will anyone really know what children have missed?


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Odd weather. So hot at times and then sudden drops in temperature. Felt chilly leaving the supermarket yesterday but by the time I was half way home - I was opening the car windows to let in some cooler air. Maybe it is the andropause - mood swings, hot flushes and all that jazz. 


Occasional rain but the garden is so dry. Lots of leaf raking to do - that should burn up some calories. Looking out on the garden today - everything looks golden. There’s a breeze and I’m hoping it will stay like this - for today at least. Must get some more of the borders sorted.


The news? The government Is blaming the young for the increasing infection rate. Lots of lockdowns happening in the North East of the country. Curfews and closures. Glum faces on presenters. Three word or triad mantras are the order of the day: - “track, trace, isolate” and “hands, face, space”. Oh Innocence - whatever happened to “ hands, knees and boomps-a-daisy”? 


Last week was miserable since we had to say goodbye to our beautiful Labrador. Since then I’ve been worrying about our Jack Russell. They were together from 2008 - so it must seem strange for him. I wonder if I’m inflicting my feelings on him - superimposing a melancholy. Yet he has seemed withdrawn at times; less interested in playing or going for a walk. Then again he might be thinking “can’t you leave me alone... give me a break!”


I may have to find him a companion. Another small dog perhaps. The house seems so empty. Is it too soon? Inappropriate? Feels almost disrespectful to be thinking along these lines. Will it upset the Jack Russell? Will he be jealous? Too old for something young and boisterous? But where to find a dog in these strange times? And how to go about it? 


Had a surprise parcel from a dear friend from Florida. He calls it a Lockdown Care Package. A puzzle, tea bags, “Halloween candies”, dog treats and well, so many other goodies. I had been thinking how hostile the world had become and then the parcel arrived. We were delighted. Some people are... are just lovely. Faith in humanity restored. For now!


Take care and stay safe x


The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin

I'm writing this on the train heading back to london from a work meeting in the beautiful village of Chettle in Dorset. I've spent the day with a brilliant writer and a fantastic producer plotting characters and stories for a series of short films inspired by environmentalist Jonathon Porritt's latest writings. The subject matter has been bleak at times but holds a flame of hope for the future. 

We threw around ideas and then went for a walk which ended with harvesting apples from the community orchard. 

Today has been another one of those days that has so much hope and beauty in it but which is underscored with a deep sense of foreboding about what's to come. 


You had your own busy day as you started nursery this week and today was your last day of 'settling in'. It's been a roller-coaster week with a bit of a dramatic start when you bashed your chin on the pavement outside nursery before you even got through the gate. 

But you rose above the shock and the pain and curiously took a look around this new environment. You tried all the doors and gates like a seasoned criminal casing the joint for the easiest exit. But as time went on you started playing and eventually when it was time to go home, you waved fondly to your lovely key worker and promised to see her the next day. 


The following session was supposed to be the one where I left you for an hour or two, but you did not like that idea at all and let everyone know how unhappy you were until they called me to come back. It was heartbreaking to hear you cry and see you so upset, but again you rallied and feasted on the nursery food and waved goodbye with the same promise to return. 

So today your dad took you to nursery and left you there with a quick wave good bye and apparently you cried for five minutes and then got on with a busy day of playing with trucks, doing yoga, hearing stories and eating burger and chips. 


I was so relieved to hear that you had a good day. We've both been caught up in each others bubbles for such an intense time, I think it's perhaps been tougher for me to let you go, and without my anxious energy leading you up to the nursery gate, you sailed in with a more relaxed demeanour. 


This has been a good week then; work is going well, nursery has just begun, autumn is about to unleash its magnificent colours, a new phase feels like it's beginning... 


And then, on the train, my writer friend's phone pings - her husband says that he's heard on the grapevine that a nationwide lockdown is going to be announced for half term...


Deep breath. 

We'll get through


Walking in L.A.

Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA

Blue skies in L.A. again, albeit a very faint blue but a huge improvement over the first yellow then grey skies of the past weeks since the fires began. At one point the sun was a red sphere in a yellow firmament. The air quality has also finally improved to the extent that I have started to ride my bike again. My daughter in Oakland has reported to me that for the past three days they have been able to be outside. It's such a relief. D. had to constantly run an air purifier both at home and at work. At home she, her husband and seven-year-old daughter had to sleep together (luckily they have king-sized bed) with the air purifier running 24/7.

Three days ago I picked the last of the tomatoes from the garden and made a batch of tomato and apple chutney. Then I pulled up all the vines and let in our four game hens to do their stuff. In short order they had turned over the soil in a frenzy of scratching and pecking, devouring any bugs in their way. I hope they obliterated some of the larvae that turn into June bugs and ate my figs. My feathered under gardeners turned over the soil like professionals. I so enjoyed just sitting there and admiring them as they did what chickens do best (apart from laying eggs that is, which of late they have been loath to do since they are molting). To top it all off, the most adventurous of them leapt into an empty half wine barrel where I had grown potatoes and excavated half a dozen that I had missed. I think the girls earned their supper that day.

It's hot again, 87 degrees today. I long for winter, one reason being that it will see an end to the mosquitoes that have been plaguing us all summer (so many plagues of late). L.A. used to be mosquito-free until a couple of years ago when tiny mosquitos started to appear (ostensibly from Mexico but who knows?), emerging from under tables and recesses to bite our feet and ankles with glee. They glide by like dementors then disappear as if by magic when we try frantically to swat them. What delight when we succeed.


A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.

This week our Dear Leader offered two of his most profound Revelations yet - He is counting on herd mentality to make the corona virus go away, and that He "like(s) the best the people that are less successful - cuz it makes you feel so powerful."


That, Gentle Reader, is some revealing Revelations, and enough Crazy talk for any one lifetime.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Plague Journals, Marli Rose Macrae


A chaotic week


This week I was off school and today I'm going back. The reason I was off school was because I was poorly and mummy and daddy thought I might have COVID 19. Then everyone became poorly, mummy, daddy and Franklin. We all had sore throats. After a lot of fuss, mummy managed to get tests.  t wasn't very pleasant but daddy made me laugh. The tests were negative and I'm going back to school. Franklin is still unwell though so he is at home but he doesn't have COVID. Mummy is poorly too.


A great big tom cat is stalking Saskia. It sits outside our windows and upsets her. She hisses like a snake but now she won't go downstairs at all, she stays in mummy and daddy's room. Mummy has put newspapers all over the windows and sprinkled some stuff outside to try to keep the cat away. My granny Aye said the tom cat just wants to be friends. However, it has pooed outside the French Windows and beside the front and back door. Someone who wanted to be your friend wouldn't do that.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Spent most of this week in London. Glorious weather and so much space to step back and really appreciate what is happening. Fell madly in love with the plane trees which are just beginning to turn. Totally huggable!


Most noticeable is the sense of energy and optimism among those who are customer facing. The protocols in place are strong, confident and already appear to be well established. Masks are available at every shop entrance and sanitiser sloshes like champagne at Henley. 


Visits to optician and dentist both significantly longer than before lockdown. Costumes and masks at the dentist especially impressive.  Both bills reflected cost of PPE being transferred to patient but as Mehitabel would say ‘wotthehell, wotthehell... toujours gai’.


Walked from St James’s to Lambeth to the Garden Museum to see the Derek Jarman exhibition which was frankly rather too small to generate enthusiasm. However, the walk through St James’s Park, across Westminster Bridge and along St Thomas’s embankment to Lambeth was blissful and the book accompanying the exhibition is a gem. Walked back and rewarded ourselves with lemon ice lollies at Grom on Piccadilly! 


Fortnum & Mason was very quiet and shockingly already has its Christmas decorations and specialty foods on sale. A cashier confided that they are expecting ‘an early Christmas rush’. Rather charmed to encounter a flight of teacups attached to a wall on a flight of stairs. 


Shapiro Rare Books is in the throes of moving from Hanover Square to Bond Street where it’s new premises are on the first floor.


Investigating pretty tana lawn masks at Liberty I was disgusted to discover that they are sold in packs of five at £40 per pack and customers cannot choose the combination of fabrics! I did not make a purchase.


In spite of efficiency and optimism both dentist and optician expect a serious second wave and admit to stockpiling at work and at home.

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