Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

The biggest news for us, this week, is that the Norwegian government is assessing who will receive the vaccine first, when Norway eventually gets it. The elderly and ill will get it first, before health workers. And areas in Oslo and Drammen that have a higher number of cases will be prioritized. Only time will tell the long-term side effects of vaccination, given the limited trials of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. I don’t think there have been any reported cases of the extremely rare complications like Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) or transmyelitis (infection of the spinal cord). But so much hope for the elderly and vulnerable who are suffering from the terrible loneliness of isolation that lockdown and safety measures have imposed on them.

We aren’t in lockdown but the government has advised caution against meeting with more than five people socially and against travelling within Norway. My husband had to cancel celebrating his daughter’s birthday with her, near Oslo, later this month. We will spend Christmas with each other without our adult children. The Very First Time. We shall stay in our PJ’s, glugging champagne, gobbling fruitcake, scoffing pinekjøtt and svinemør whilst bingeing on Norsk TV programmes. And more chocolates and marzipan pigs. The TV programs are not as fun for me as watching norsk crime during Easter. Over Jul, it will be Norwegian fairy tales. No mention of Jesus and the three Kings. 

Having said all that, a French colleague of my husband came ‪for dinner on Saturday‬. She hails from a little town near Lyon in France, is an engineer and moved to Norway two years ago. She was a breath of fresh air. We talked about our dreams. Her dream is to live in Norway. She is in her forties with parents and siblings back in France, a lovely flat in Paris AND wishes to move here. She has lived all over the world, in China, South Korea, Algeria and South America. She absolutely loves the nature here, the country and Norwegians. To that end, she learnt Norwegian, communicates only in norsk and is planning to buy a flat in Oslo near the forest so she can go hiking. 

I love dreams. I wrote my first dream (I think they call it vision statements now) when I was 35 years old. The year I had a paradigm shift in my life and outlook. I re-wrote that dream when I was fifty during a coaching course. I wanted to live in a long one-story house overlooking the sea with a mountain behind me. Amongst other very specific things. When I first met the man, who would become my husband, I asked him his dream. He stated that he had none. His life had been so stressful that it felt like he was putting out a series of forest fires. There was no time to hope or dream. After a few months, he admitted that if he dared to dream, it would be to go back to the town he grew up in, where his parents and brother are buried, close to the sea where he had dived for scallops as a teenager, and caught fish and crabs. Seven years later, when I went to try out Norway for a month, I chose to go in the worst month of the Norwegian year, which is January. I worked with a crusty, old lady whom I’d known long before I met my husband. Out of the blue, she offered to sell us an apartment she owned the floor under her own apartment. 


Three years later, my husband and I live in a long apartment in a house that was built in the sea in 1895 with a hill behind us. He has moved back after 30 years to the town of his birth, Ålesund, where he continues to go diving with childhood friends. 

God helg my friends. 


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Duncan from BT arrived, as promised, on Thursday. I was a bit bothered as within minutes he looked panic stricken and wanted to use the lavatory... on returning to the job he enthused about the efficiency of our flush!!!


He was with us all morning... much scientific measurement inside and out and frequent changes of ear splitting drill bit... but the success of this first stage was promising and we felt encouraged.  


Then (cue hysterical laughter) Duncan announced that the BT cable to the house was too short! After a quiet half hour splicing this issue too was overcome. Then came the booster discs. Only one of the three required had been supplied and this would not operate beyond the hall which means that we have no signal throughout two thirds of the house. No problem, be patient, they will arrive on Monday and all you have to do is...


Job completed and tested... Duncan left and I spent a happy afternoon and evening rebuilding the bookshelves. 


Fast forward to Friday morning. Still no discernible difference in much anticipated speed... husband calls BT and they cannot find any indication that the hub exists. They too ask us to be patient... (our middle name by now)... and they will call back before noon. They didn’t. We called them and after holding for nearly an hour we were informed that the hub which had been fitted must be faulty... a new one will be delivered on Monday and an engineer will be in touch! LOL!



Gratefully Sheltering

James Oglethorpe, VA, USA



I shake snake shimmy

on the frontier of the wind

a fluttering of flight feathers 

flittering into poise

floating instinctive in air

head bent in communion

eyes fixed earthwards

target acquired

closing of anchoring tail

wings tucked in

plummeting into gravity’s grip

unerring focus flawless strike

mouse twitching in my talons

hooked beak precise for purpose

eviscerating peristaltic entrails

pulsing in my maw

as I rise unsurpassed

into the limitless blue.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Rudy Giulani has set an example for me.

I will find it difficult to stop working. Work gets harder with age, but it gives me a reason to get up in the morning and the feeling of being useful - and I have worked intensively since I was eighteen. Looking at Rudy G, first giving an astonishing press conference in the car park of a suburban landscaping company, then being completely inadequate at a federal court in his capacity as a lawyer, I understood that I should not continue working beyond the due time. I would have liked to be in the medical life for a full fifty years, just as runners aim to do their last marathon aged one hundred, but that now doesn't seem to make any sense. Rudy G.'s example tells us not to stay on the stage too late and to leave with a ridiculous performance. Thank you, Rudy.


Need a detox.

Sadly, I am addicted to news, mainly political, the more deadly kind. I feel sick and sad if I get too much of it. I need to do something about it, as it probably ruins my brain and certainly wastes my time. Good buzz, bad buzz is just the same for politicians and the media, buzz is their aim, never mind of what kind. Fear of missing out gets rather too common these days, the acronym is FOMO. Wiki says that it's more common with people who have unsatisfied needs: but who hasn't? We have had radio news detox for a week now (we have no TV), just allowing an hour in the evening to read English newspapers together.

The other addiction I have got rid of is sudoku. I did too many of them during the first lockdown, and realise now that it did not help at all, even with boredom or laziness. 


Voyage autour de ma chambre (Travel around my bedroom). 

Was written in 1794 by Xavier de Maistre - just his Wikipedia page is a great short story. He was condemned after a duel to stay home for 41 days and wrote during that time 41 chapters. 

As a rebellious young girl, I experienced shorter condemnations, locked down by paternal justice. Locked for the afternoon in the attic. It was a wonderful prison, old toys, old flags, abandoned tools, broken pieces of furniture, unused blankets in a box, old clothes, old books and magazines. I remember reading the Reader's Digest I was considered too young to read downstairs. If you have never been locked in such an attic, you can't imagine what you have missed. It was an occasion to be absolutely free in my own world.

So, it has just come into my head that I should read this special travel book, and Rob tells me he has a copy among his unread purchases.

I don't know what is actually in my bedroom, I will have to think about that (I share it with Rob, but it is MY bedroom, he already has a study and a library in the house - a little territorial dispute).


Let's visit my bedroom (all from memory).

I will give you a guided tour.  

There are my favorite books, contained in one Ikea bookshelf. I had a good sorting out during a "minimalist crisis" ten years ago. One shelf for the unread ones which I have been wanting to read for the last ten, may be twenty, years and still part of the favorites list. The others are the read favorites, but without looking, I don't remember all of them. Without checking, Simon Leys, Michel Tournier, Isaac Babel, Tolstoi are the authors with more than three books... and more recently Sylvain Tesson. It seems nutty but I am sure that some of you also can't remember your favorite books. Not the bibliophiles, like Rob they know them all. And for each, the year they bought it, where, price paid, publisher, year of printing, typeface, number of blank pages... 

A diversion about blank pages: our daughter still mocks Rob for having said one day, explaining the qualities of the book he had just bought "and it has the blank page at the end, which is often missing". She could not believe that a blank page in a book could bring joy and pride to anybody and she found it laughable.

By our bed are three small bookshelves with the favorite ceramics, mainly bowls. I feel they are good company - all potters we love, the favorites: Richard Batterham, Hervé Rousseau, David Louveau - our favorites from La Borne, see note-, Jeff Shapiro, Hans Vangso. I like to look at them before sleeping, they give a reassuring feeling, probably like that of a prehistoric woman, counting her pots to know that she can cook the next day the big deer that darling has just brought back.

In the chest of drawers, I remember putting there all kind of little things I want to keep. Opening the drawers is like allowing the happy past to materialise. Included are my first illustrated dictionary, children's card games, pieces of silk materials, pink specs, a box of vintage leather wallets and purses for Rob who regularly wears them out, two vintage Sony Walkman, one for cassettes and one for CD's.

In the two big closets is what left from a later "minimalist" crisis, enough for the closets to be full without risking everything falling out when you open the doors: surviving old handbags, summer clothes in winter, reverse in summer, a shelf of slides and projector, a box of Christmas cards tided up year by year with ribbon - very emotional at our age -, fifteen photo albums of the children from the time when cameras were still cameras, several boxes of material dating from when I used to make my clothes before the children were born. These materials are still fresh and beautiful; they will be used as soon as I stop working. A box of beads, pliers and scissors, everything needed to make bracelets and necklaces. Just two months more to wait, before using them again; it may cause trouble with Rob, God knows why, he doesn't like me making "jewels". 

On the mantel piece, a lime scented candle, a nineteenth-century tiny yellow teapot made in Montpellier, and a fine celadon ceramic in the shape of a lotus, by local ceramist star Jean-François Fouilloux. 

On the walls, English watercolours and prints. I love them all.

What is not visible in the bedroom are dreams of the past - and its archeological remains - and dreams for the future.

I find that travelling in my bedroom is a really enjoyable experience. I recommend this trip, a zero-carbon trip, a contribution to save the planet and enjoy oneself during lockdown. Also, a good time to clear one's clutter in Mary Kondo's style, though I am not entirely a fan: the method is, if there is no emotion, out it goes to Emmaüs- the French Oxfam. Rob doesn't approve of this method at all. He is worried that one day he will be sent to Emmaüs too. You start by chucking out old newspapers, according to him, and you end by chucking out your husband. 

Plans for more time in lockdown.

I am thinking of what to do if the lockdown lasts five years, as Guillaume de Machaut experienced during the Black Death - about whom I wrote on the 3rd of May. 

I should learn about all the plants which grow in our garden. It will need a long time, even the bits of grass seem all different, and then all the moving creatures who live with us there. 

We live by the local little Natural History museum and we used to go there once a month with the children. There was a microscope where you could look at the incredible creatures who live in a handful of garden earth - if I remember well, they were some creepy-crawlies which had legs only on one side. Knowing all this will take a good year of hard work. Luckily, unlike previous generations, we can learn so many things on the internet without having the necessary books.

Another big task will be reading the books that I recently put away in several boxes, history, neuro- and cognitive sciences. The thing about unread books, those which seem to hold out a promise, is that one also tends to avoid reading them, through a secret fear that reading them may turn one into a different person. 


Note: ceramics in La Borne. 

If you are a ceramic lover, it's a wonderful village, a kind of time capsule from the 50's. A traditional potter's village since the thirteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the most famous family of potters was called Talbot - we met once an old lady in the village who was very proud of her Talbot (and so Scottish) ancestry.  

In the mid-twentieth century, the style of pottery broadened from domestic traditional to creative individual style. Earthenware, woodfired. Most of the kilns are now in the Anagama Japanese style. About seventy potters you can visit, living and working around the village. Two very small museums and a new Ceramic Center and two nice restaurants, booking recommended. If you happen to drive on the motorway from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand, it's forty minutes east of Vierzon or Bourges.


Special for Margaret as a Steward and a gardener: 

La Borne is near Aubigny-sur-Nère. This village was given by Charles VII of France - the one helped by Jeanne d'Arc-, to John Stewart of Darnley, Connétable de l'Armée d'Ecosse, for following the "Auld Alliance". You can still visit his château and the great gardens created later for the Duchess of Portsmouth, mistress of Charles II, " the ribbon around her waist linked England to France"- Peter will say "Oh La La". It stayed a Scottish enclave up to the nineteenth century.


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Next Saturday on the 21st will be my eldest daughters birthday the one that lives in Oldham .

We will not be able to celebrate due to covid. It usually snows on that day, I only remember this because there have been many occasions when we were leased expecting it. So I looked at the forecast for Saturday and lo and behold the forecast was for snow which has now changed again.

If it does snow on that day it never lasts long and melts away very quick.


Being in lock down yet again with covid cases rising as I speak. Boris is in isolation due to another MP testing positive for covid and he makes a speech from home on TV and doesn't even bother to comb his hair. I am disgusted with him and switch the TV off.


My mind has been very busy wondering what to write about in the journal this week

It reminds me about the wonderful city I live in Sheffield my birth place. Not many people know that it is the greenest city that is steeped in history, built on seven hills with rivers and valleys between that created the industrial city it turned out to be. Which is why it became the "City Of Steel".

Sheffield sits at the end of the Penine Hills and moors of Bradfield, Howden, Ughill, Hallam and Strines. The peaty water runs off these moors into Sheffield creating many rivers and valleys.

A ten minute drive from home and I will be on the moors thats become a mecca for people since covid struck. With the wonderful heather and the wind that blows the cobwebs out of your mind, where you hear the eerie call of the Curlew and Buzzard and the chuckle of the grouse and more recently a bearded vulture that was blown off coarse and spent the summer on Howden moor. (Twitchers abound ). 

In a few minutes I could walk down either side of the hill where I live into the Loxley or Riverlin Valleys which join the river Don further down.  

Wherever we drive in Sheffield there are bridges to cross causing many a bottle neck of traffic. Or a hill to climb.

If I could visit my daughter in Oldham near Manchester I would have to travel over the Saddleworth Moor The Snake Pass or Woodhead  over Howden moor which in winter all three get close because of the snow that builds up.


My youngest daughter lives at the other side of Sheffield 9 miles away. On the way I pass the Porter valley with the "Shepherds Wheel" working museum in a former water powered grinding work shop situated on the Porter Brook which flows into the river sheaf that runs through the center of Sheffield also joining the river Don. 


The River Sheaf valley is where the Industrial Hamlet museum is situated and the wonderful Ecclesall Woods where charcoal used to be made. In spring the Bluebells are sight to behold and the perfume is wonderful especially when its rained. Every one of these valleys have a walk of about three miles along these rivers with wonderful wild life. I have frequented these places all my life and I love it. We also have the city center canal basin that flows alongside the river Don to the famous Meadow hall shopping center.  


In the center of Sheffield is the Kelham Island Museum situated on a man made Island 900 years old with the mighty 12000 hp River Don Engine (pictured) in steam that operates every hour on a visit. The noise is deafening. The museum also houses the little mesters street cutlery workshops and buffing wheels. 


Usually during November it holds a Christmas Victorian Market now closed due to covid. It's a magic affair with many stalls, singers and comedians for the children and mulled wine and turkey sandwiches, chocolate and the donkeys in the crib etc. We will all be missing that this year. With its wonderful craft stalls where you can buy all your Xmas presents.


Last week I managed to meet my daughter Sarah for a socially distancing walk around Ecclesall Woods and saw the wonderful autumn colours of the trees recharging my batteries for winter to come.

Ecclesall Woods

My painting of the bluebells

Kelham Island Museum


A Poole-side View

Martin Green, Ashley Cross, Poole



Silent, I sit before a steel-grey sea, flecked white.

No passing ship, no sail, no pleasure-craft in sight.

Where on our strand are the dogs, the kids at play,

The ice-cream sellers, the folk "down for the day" ?


Yet here I am, enjoying nature's balm:

Among life's storms, a moment's treasured calm.

Not locked indoors, as often is the case,

In thrall to documents and letters, staring at typeface.


Whilst here, outside, washed clean by nature's tide,

I watch the gulls float on the breeze and glide -

No fear of Covid there, among the clouds -

Observing the empty beach, joyless without the crowds.


Come back the the bouncing ball, the barking dog,

The games of hopscotch, rounders and leap-frog,

The rose-cheeked toddler with sandy drink and bun

And all the bric-à-brac of picnics, summer fun!


The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin, London



It’s 11pm and I’m working. It’s the third evening this week that has been eaten up by this film project I’m directing. I don’t mind working late and feel invigorated and purposeful. Even though I’m not leaving the house much, my imagination is flying off to the locations where I’ll be shooting. 


These short films are designed to be conversation starters, screened in classrooms and online to encourage young people to discuss the actions they could take to act against climate change. This week I’ve been talking to a lady in Happisburgh in Norfolk, a village quite literally on the edge as coastal erosion is unstoppable there and people are being forced to leave their homes. While we were speaking she got a High Tide alert, warning her and other local residents of potentially catastrophic waves. She told me she could feel the vibrations of the waves rocking the foundations of her home. 


I’ve stopped thinking about the pandemic really, the current lockdown has enabled me to switch off my social life so I’m entirely consumed with work or two year old shenanigans. I’m still not reading newspapers and I’ve stopped listening to the radio. I feel lucky to have these distractions, but the gnawing worry about the virus has simply been swapped with a slow burning rage about the climate. 


I’ve also had wedding dress shopping to do, which has been the best distraction of all this week. It may only be a short ceremonial signing of a piece of paper and then a dinner for just the three of us, but I don’t care, I shall look fabulous. I tried on the full ensemble today and showed you when you woke up from your nap, you beamed such a huge smile and I swear you said ‘beautiful’. 

You may also have said bogey.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Not much has been happening this past week - no virtual holidays, walks together with best beloved or much else.  The dreaded migraine struck on Monday quite late, followed by a relatively slight low mood event on a Tuesday morning, which thankfully went as quickly as it arrived.


Speaking of virtual holidays, the other day best beloved had a phone conversation with a friend who does (voluntary?) work with care homes. It seems they put on virtual cruises for those suffering from dementia. Hearing of our foray in that area, said ‘friend’ remarked that the two of us are preparing well for the future! Best beloved phoned me to say she was mortified by the idea. I nearly fell over laughing and fortunately best beloved then also caught on to the humour. I must be weird, or is it my Irishness, that makes me enjoy jokes against myself. It does seem to be an Irish cultural trait.

An era is drawing to a close here on the Island. Our delightful, if uncomfortable, ancient London Underground trains are on the point of withdrawal from service. The current sets, made in about 1938, have served very well if somewhat bumpily for many years. They will be replaced by more conventional looking trains that are quite new, 1980s vintage I believe. The first of the new arrived yesterday on a ferry. I walked along the pier yesterday and caught one of the old trains as it nears its swansong. Change has to come I suppose...


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

Last week I had intended to warm my hands at the fire of David’s blissful days in Windsor, where he found: ‘…that a window had opened and we had been allowed brief access to a room that glowed with light and pulsed with music and that, even though that window had now closed, the six of us had shared something rare and utterly accidental, the memory of which would stay with us for ever.’ A jewel in these monochrome times.


But my pen was overtaken by gloom, which this week I am determined not to repeat. Except for one resonation which I can’t let pass unremarked: here and elsewhere I read and hear of the deepening sadness and despair of those who can’t reach their elderly loved ones, never knowing when will be their last chance. Some 60 years ago my beloved Babushka had eventually been allowed to leave the USSR, tried life in the UK, found it not to her taste, and travelled back the 1,600 miles to be once more unreachable behind the Iron Curtain. Later, she suffered a brain haemorrhage, and an unknown hand wrote to my mother on 19 November: ‘Greetings! I write at your mother’s request. She is at present in hospital, in a very serious condition. She was brought in on 10 October. She is paralysed as a result of acute sclerosis, but is conscious, although speaking inarticulately. She has not eaten for a week, but drinks water. There is almost no hope of recovery. She has been hoping all this time [six weeks] for your letter, and is very worried about you. So far her wish has not come true. If you can, write to her about yourself, to say that you are alive and well. This would cheer her up greatly and set her mind at rest. She sends her most heartfelt and loving regards to you and your family.’ Letters were the only substantial means of communication, and took agonising weeks to arrive – if at all.


Three days later, Babushka died. I remember clearly my mother receiving the telephoned telegram giving her the news and rushing into the kitchen to be alone. I saw that she was deeply shocked and upset, as the call preceded the arrival of the above letter.


I was lucky enough to be at her own bedside throughout her last days, to the end. I didn’t feel blessed at the time, but realise now how fortunate I was, in comparison. When, some years ago, I was knocked almost unconscious I could hear questions but didn’t have the strength to reply. I hope my mother heard me tell her I loved her. Her mother, my Babushka, didn’t have that last consolation.


Now, as promised, gloom over. In the here and now, from Saturday I started to feel on the mend, and was pronounced fit enough to be allowed into the dentist’s surgery on Monday for a Covid-delayed check-up. The precautions there were phenomenal, which might go some way to expaining the slightly winding price quoted for a necessary replacement filling. I haven’t had one in donkey’s years, so was unprepared.


That (early start and long drive), contiguous with a weekend of babycare (shortage of sleep and proper meals), knocked me back a bit, so on Tuesday I enjoyed an entire duvet day, catching up on reading, interspersed with dozing. Such luxury! A long seafront walk with HN on Wednesday to allow his parents some catch-up sleep; after a fretful night following his first set of jabs he too was wiped out so, spared a feeding stop, which he didn’t fancy (although I am getting a dab hand at swift nappy changes en plein air – very plein that day), I walked on, along a stretch I hadn’t previously reached, which pleased me no end. I passed from grand late Regency and early Victorian seafront residences to a small fort, complete with cannon pointing out to sea, sailing dinghies and then fishing boats drawn up on the shingle, backed by their concomitant buildings, and a lifeboat station. I would have continued to the harbour, but it was getting dark, and still blowing, and I was conscious of HN’s frailty as well as the walk back against the wind, so that will be for another time. I am an avid shore-walker. On my way back, the starlings were just starting their nightly bedtime dance around the pier-end: entranced, I would have stayed for the whole performance, but it was long and the night drawing in, so reluctantly I moved on, looking back every now and then. The tide that afternoon had been extra high, and the waves exhilaratingly thunderous; on the way out my eye had been caught by a lovingly crafted little sandcastle encampment, inches from the highest reach of the waves. I don’t know whether it survived, but it seemed somehow symbolic of perilous times. A snatch of hopeful hymn can do no harm at the moment, I think:

'O Trinity of love and pow'r,

Your children shield in danger's hour;

From rock and tempest, fire, and foe,

Protect them where-so-e'er they go;

Thus, evermore shall rise to Thee

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea.'


‘Eternal Father, Strong to Save’
(‘For Those in Peril on the Sea’), William Whiting, 1860.

Less spiritually, on Friday I cleared out a garage block drain, which constantly overflows, and fashioned a wire mesh to keep out more of the omnipresent leaves and acorns. Lying face down on the concrete, up to my elbow scooping out stinky stagnant gunk, I marvelled at how I always seem to be the one ending up doing these tasks. But I like to get things done, and don’t mind - and it’s not over-giving this time: I want to stop the periodically rising waters reaching my own garage as well as the others. I have, though, begun to restrain myself in other giving scenarios, and am proud.


Local cases per 100,000 this week: still rising, at 110 countywide and 111 in this town, compared with 274 England-wide. My ordered face visor finally arrived, and I promptly bent it. Better get in a spare or two. We are pondering Christmas, but I feel it’s too soon to commit to any communal jollifications.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Week two of lockdown two and where are we at?


The news about the development of vaccines seems encouraging so I guess that is something about which to be positive. 


The departure of the prime minister’s special advisers is probably good news too and similarly the possible reprimand of a prominent MP who has been bullying her staff. Isn’t that what they say should be done with bullies? Bully them back?


Speaking of bullies, I’ve not been following what has been going on in the White House lately but hope things are settling there. It’s not quite a case of did he fall or was he pushed - but how soon can he be gone? Please!


At home, we continue - quite quietly - pottering about; a little gardening, some dog walking, trips to the shops for provisions, reading, cooking and baking, eating (and over-eating), watching television dramas, and chatting on the phone with people we know. Not a huge amount has changed for us and yet everything is different.


Still the worlds spins. 


Take care, good people. 

Same time tomorrow x

© 2020 Margaret Steward  Proudly created with Wix.com