Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire
One week to the strangest Christmas I have ever experienced. I hope you all manage to enjoy Christmas this year however you celebrate. We are certainly having a much quieter one than usual and planning a big family get together as soon as we are able.
We had a busy week as number 2 son and three grandchildren came to stay so my daughter-in-law could self-isolate for three days before going into hospital for the operation on her shoulder. It all went smoothly but she has been told to expect to be off work for twelve weeks rather than six as the condition was worse than expected. She went into hospital at 4pm and was told at 11pm (while still on a drip) that she could go home. Her bed was needed for someone else coming in early the next morning. She overheard the staff talking about the backlog of operations caused by Covid so she felt lucky to have had it done. She is in a lot of pain and finding the exercises and physiotherapy excruciating.
I went to the garden centre yesterday and bought lots of Christmassy plants to brighten up outside, and tulips to anticipate spring. The daffodils are already poking through in the garden and the snowdrops won’t be far behind. And we are nearly at the shortest day. All good. The weather here has been mostly dreary and wet this week which doesn’t encourage outdoor exercise. Snow is forecast around Christmas time which would definitely be an improvement.
We are looking forward to Peter reading The Tailor of Gloucester on Christmas Eve. I am sending a photo of my wall Christmas tree. Happy Christmas everyone.
From St Just
Jane G, St Just, Cornwall
It's the last day of what, in the last few weeks, has come suddenly to feel like a very long term and a very long year. Michaelmas is always long - literally so, because 0th week is a very full week of meetings, while 9th is packed solid with admissions interviews, and the weeeks between contain more teaching than is entirely feasible. This year admissions ran on till late in 10th week - this week - because doing them remotely is cumbersome. That said, we had only two complete technological meltdowns, and both those interviews were rescheduled; we also had some excellent candidates. But it was distinctly odd seeing neither candidates nor colleagues in person during the whole process, and if it was odd for us, it must have been even more so for the people who were having their Oxford interview in a corner of the school staff room or sitting on the end of their bed. Until this, term seemed to run almost as normal, in a very subdued way: lectures were all pre-recorded - with the disconcerting effect that a colleague might suddenly say 'I've just been listening to your lectures' - but tutorials were in person except when someone was having to self-isolate, with chairs pushed back into corners and masks a-muzzle. It worked surprisingly well, though when towards the end of term I had a remote meeting with a student I'd previously only seen masked, I found myself saying 'good heavens, you have a chin'. (He took it very well and replied politely 'so do you'.) In a way the near-normality was the most disconcerting thing: it brought home to several of us that in any term we effectively live under conditions of lockdown: eat, teach, mark, sleep, repeat, with the occasional addition of a little light shopping for food. This may need consideration in future.
Other than that, the main things I've noticed have been road signs. I've been driving in rather than taking the train, and Oxford surpassed itself with a ring road sign instructing 'For Oxford use Park & Ride only' at a time when the government was advising us not to take public transport. Then it had a re-think and made it 'essential travel only', no doubt advising us to pause in a convenient lay-by and consider our position - only the lay-by was being used for road-works, and at its entrance was another sign saying simply '2 meters distance', with not a person in sight but a line of cones as far as the eye could see - neatly spaced at the regulation intervals. Meanwhile in Cornwall there's a police van parked about two yards from the border beside the A30 with a very prominent traffic camera pointing directly at the oncoming traffic. It's only just come to me that what it almost resembles is a gun turret.
I can't even begin to think about the recent rise in cases, which makes it seem as if the wreck of the year and the country and people's lives has been entirely pointless. I do know a grand total of three people who have now had the vaccine, including a friend's 90-year-old husband who dutifully joined a queue of other elderly people only to be told that no, these were the sons and daughters of the people who had come to be vaccinated. He was shown into a room where apparently everyone else was either in a wheelchair or walking round in circles talking nonsense to themselves; the one exception was a lady who raised an eyebrow at him and said: 'It makes one feel one has done rather well.'
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
The end of the fibre saga is in sight. We are being assured that any remaining problems will be resolved in the next couple of weeks once the system has settled down... but already we are delighted to be able to access the internet in more than just two rooms.
Mum has now settled in and has been assisting with decorations and wrapping parcels. She is SO careful and gentle and sometimes watching her I just want to weep. Not everything is sweetness and light though as even with two hearing aids she is as deaf as a post and constantly tells me to stop shouting! But when she looks askance and says ‘why do I need eye pads’ when the question was ‘have you got your i pad’ you can gauge the occasional levels of frustration between us!
As she spends several months each year with us, she is now registered as a temporary patient with our doctor and I had assumed it would be possible to book her vaccine here. Apparently not. She must receive it from her primary surgery. This needs following up as she may not be back in Liverpool for several months.
By lunchtime today all our preparations appear to be more or less complete and I have promised husband and parent that I will cease to be an unbearable whirling dervish... at least for the rest of the day!
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Joy of crossing the English border.
There has always been an ambiance of slowness, discourtesy, tension and suspicion. And that was before Brexit.
One doesn't read much about their way of life, at least I've never seen any articles or reports about it.
A lot of them are from eastern Europe, more than 900 miles from home, stuck in huge traffic jams in Calais or Dover for days. How sad and bored and long-suffering they must be, not being able to see their family and friends, often not even at the weekend, since trips lasted a full week even before the present traffic jams.
No proper provision now for food, showers or toilets. They have been very patient and peaceful so far. How long will that last?
I remember how at the Calais and Dover terminals, there was no loo closer than half a mile from the car park! And none on the M25 (so far, I know, if you do tell me please).
The Eurostar immigration control in Gare du Nord.
At the ID border control, a severe young man - I never saw a woman in the glass cabin - looks at your passport and your ticket and you again, and again. Then checks the photo, then stares at your face yet again. I wonder, is he short sighted? has he ever seen such a pretty-or ugly-girl as I happen to be? have I got so much older since I had my photo taken? is his short-term memory so bad? is it the Peter principle, and he has been promoted to a job he is not able to do? Or does he feel that he is protecting England from the invasion of Frenchie like me? I know well I have to stay cool, in order to be able to catch my train. I try to look like the saints in Guido Reni paintings, watching the sky while peacefully enduring the torture. A Radiologist (as I am) most of the time spots a breast cancer, even a small one, in less than 20 seconds, and doesn't have much more time available. Do the border control officers have a real professional training, or are they just boys put in the box without any idea of what to do?
On the suitcase control Gare du Nord.
My English sister-in-law likes small oat flakes from the Biocoop. When we used to go to London by Eurostar, I used to take 2 or 3 pounds of them in my suitcase.
Once going through the X-rays check, a young custom officer stopped me.
Did you prepare your suitcase yourself? (he put a very strict look on his face).
Yes. (I knew immediately what it was about, and decided to act the stupid girl and play the game).
What is in your case?
I can't remember. (He looked more pompous and a ray of self-satisfaction on his face).
Can you open your suitcase ?
I open my suitcase, on the top a very full brown paper packet from the Biocoop. (A very satisfied young man blowing his chest).
What is in there?
Small oat flakes.
She likes them a lot for breakfast.
Can you open the packet ?
I do as told. They are real small oat flakes; it's written on the label. He looked very astonished, I don't think he knew what it was, very few people know about porridge.
He then went through everything in my case, and complemented me on the order in it (I sort things in several transparent plastic bags, to be sure I have everything I need).
He seemed to be relieved and looked a bit stupid, we both had a good laugh. And I never took oat flakes to my sister-in-law by train again. Imagine what Customs are going to be like after Brexit. This incident involved just one suitcase and a bag of oats. But a twenty-mile queue of lorries? And at present very few private cars because of Covid.
Channel boat crossing
Our car was shiny and new. A young female custom officer ordered me to go in the kind of garage they have in Dover. In these garages, you usually see young Englishmen taking endless boxes of beer and wine out of their boot - there is a huge spirits supermarket just by the Eurotunnel in Calais.
She asks to see the French registration papers of the car. I give them to her.
Is your car new? (can't she see it is?)
Why did you buy a new car? (I promise this is true).
Because the other one was very old, and didn't work well anymore. (She at least realised that the conversation was going nowhere).
She freed us.
The English border officer for cars in Calais' harbor.
We have passed several times through the line of this jobsworth. He was always very slow and cold-faced. It could take him ten minutes to let us through, I timed him. Was he being extra careful or merely lazy? Or was it a kind of perversity? If you were just in time, he would be v e r y v e r y s l o w. He tried to annoy, and we were duly annoyed by him. Each time we saw it was him, we thought, in French, M****!
Taking animals to the UK.
We never had a dog or a cat. The only animal in the house - except for spiders coming in when we leave the windows open - was a stick insect given by the Natural History Museum keeper to the children. It was living quietly in a transparent plastic box on the dresser in the dining room. We had to collect blackberry leaves by the river to feed it.
The summer holidays arrived. Rob refused to take it with us in order not to be responsible for introducing rabies to the UK - I don't think that insect can carry this disease. Anyway, Rob did not want to be responsible for such a health hazard or to be imprisoned in Dover for illegal import of a forbidden animal.
The children were sad when we left it in its box on the dresser. Somebody was supposed to come and check it once a week and put in some more leaves. When we came back, the stick insect was dead, head in the water of its little glass. We never knew if it was an accident or suicide. We missed it and felt a little bit guilty too.
What is the journey to England going to be like in future?
Thank you, Mary, for the recipe. Everybody is going to make one, it's the pumpkin season.❤️
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
18th December 2020 - 66,541 Covid Deaths.
This week seems to have gone by very quickly but nothing much has happened.
The highlights have been:
Came back to a Fortnum and Mason hamper left in the outside khazi which was so exciting and very generous. Without wanting to sound ungrateful it was marginally less exciting because it was six lovely bottles of wine and I don’t drink wine, but it was still a thrill to see the basket with F&M stamped on the front which came out of a beautiful turquoise lined cardboard box.
If anyone wants to send me a Fortnum and Mason Hamper, a bottle of fizz, preferably pink and a box of violet and rose creams will hit the spot. Bubbles darling! Violet creams are strictly off my diet but who cares.
Anyway the wine will get drunk when friends are allowed to come round again or they can go towards the post covid journal party when we have all had our jabs!
I think something else quite exciting happened but I can’t remember what it was. Have been trying to keep on top of the shop which has been busy. Putting away hundreds of carrier bags, hanging felt whales and pheasants in the window. Re ordering socks which always walk out of the shop, pricing things up and sending out Instagram orders. Have spent a fortune in the post office with posting Christmas presents as well.
I’ve brought my 2 little Christmas trees in from the garden and stuck some decorations on them. Not very smart I have to say but quite cheerful.
The chickens have got to go into lock down now because of bird flu so I bought them a poly tunnel which they are not very keen on. We’re going to net half of their pen so they can go outside of their new house. Roger the gardener will probably do them in if they still have to be locked down in the spring as he’ll want to fill it up with seedlings. I just had a look to see which house they’d gone to bed in and 4 of them were sitting in a tiny wooden fruit box like sardines in the wrong house. Frizzy the old one was completely squashed.
In the big wide world the R number is going up and the rates of infection are very high. They’ve found a new virulent strain of coronavirus in the South East, transmitted more easily and more quickly. There’s talk of banning people coming in and out of the South East. That's us!
There’ll probably be another lockdown after Christmas but Boris is holding off banning Christmas at the moment though they are putting the onus on the GBP, you can but should you? I think everyone’s fed up now and rather miserable about it all, theres a slight depression in the air.
In the newspaper preview on the news just now they said that the Oxford vaccine is due to be released by the end of the year and Camilla is going to be on Strictly tomorrow.
America has been hacked, probably the Russians.
They have started rolling out the vaccines and my mum will probably have hers soon but hasn’t yet.
Oh yes the other excitement was The Night Manager is being repeated on the telly. I think because John Le Carre died last week. It is so good.
All for now. Happy Christmas. Be very careful.
Lots of love
Then and Now
Well, I have had many jabs in my short life, all to alleviate The Worry of The Time. Diphtheria was the first one, pre the war. I don’t think there was a a jab for Polio, or Infantile Paralyisis, the post-war worry for parents, with dire pictures of infants in iron lungs sprawled across front pages. National Service brought the Smallpox jab, where one stood in a fast moving queue watching strong men faint at the thought of a needle. I won’t count giving blood, which I remember volunteering for in the army.
But these memories have been put in the shade by the recent phone call from Norfolk and Norwich Hospital: “Hullo, John. Am I speaking to John Scupham ?” “You are, indeed, though Peter is what they call me.” “Thank you, John, we like to get things right. Now, John, can you come in for your vaccination tomorrow ?” Believe it or not, I said ‘yes’. They offered me almost any time I liked, so we chose 9 in the morning. For those looking forward to the experience, it was efficient and seemed to me very generous in the time given to each recipient. No parking fee — a bit of a walk to the newly tacked on and very clean vaccination centre. Many smiling staff and medical traffic cops and copesses. No waiting, then a charming quarter of an hour with a North Norfolk G.P. who noted one’s present medication, explained the virus and what the jab would do. The fact that we knew most of it was hardly his fault. I was just a touch reminded of Stephen Potter’s Gamesmanship, where the Doctor, aiming to be one-up, insists on telling an educated patient: “You see, the heart is a sort of pump. Look at my fist. It goes squeeze, open, squeeze, open... Do you follow me?” But, of course, it was all very sensible and good-humoured. The jab itself had no particular adverse effect on me — just a sore arm for a couple of days. After the jab, there is an obligatory sit-down for quarter of an hour or so, just in case there are side-effects, such as turning bright green, stripping naked, howling like a banshee, or dying. In my case, these were all avoided. Then an appointment for a month’s time for the second jab.
Happy days. And, again, gratitude and admiration for the good-humour and patience of the medical staff, which has always elicited my admiration at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Sheila, Norfolk UK
Merry Christmas everyone.
Thank you for all your wonderful
contributions - it's been a real pleasure to get to know you all.
It would be great if we can get this Journal to a complete year - so...
From the Editor
From where I’m sitting... on a sagging sofa by the Aga in an untidy Norfolk kitchen, the world seems to be going mad. Not wanting to sound like Scrooge but...
Christmas has been turned into a sentimental, commercial, unnecessary reason for throwing all caution to the winds for so many idiots out there, led by the politicians. Daily COVID Numbers are far worse than when we went into first proper lockdown last March (November was in no way a real lockdown) and yet people are still planning to drive into the heartlands of COVID to pull crackers and drink too much. Please, Boris, postpone Christmas, tell people to stay home.
The best present you can give Granny is a few more years of life, not a contaminated hug. And Granny is tougher than you think usually. When I think of several admirable women I knew who lived by themselves to a good age (one was 97 when she died), they would have happily sat out Christmas alone, reading, listening to music or the radio, eating whatever they liked, doing whatever they liked.
I heard one man interviewed on telly say ‘but we’ve got a 17 lb turkey... the two of us can’t eat that by ourselves.’ Give it to the homeless then, or a family in need.
Good news. Peter has had his first jab. We’ve printed our Christmas cards. We had a very enjoyable Zoom reading of Blithe Spirit with friends, and we bought our Christmas Tree yesterday. The Farm Shop only had five small trees left, but it’s rooted and in a pot and it’s small, short and local, so perfectly follows government advice for Christmas gatherings.
Remember that entries for next weeks journal should be in by 3pm on Wednesday, but the Christmas journal will be online as usual on Sunday morning. But that’s after Christmas, so let me now wish you all a warm, peaceful, smaller Christmas wherever you are and thank you all for your regular contributions and correspondence since March. The journal has been a real pleasure and lifeline for me.