Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

I’ve got a new lazy Sunday morning routine. It involves a large mug of earl grey, honey on toast and this journal to read, in bed for as long as it takes. I do like lolling in bed with magazines and books. I’ve just received a great one for Christmas. From myself! I was going to wrap it up, but it’s promise of inspiration and colourful photographs were too tempting to save for December. I have only glanced through it so far, but am already enthralled. Frances Palmer ‘Life in the Studio‘ ‘Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity’, I am sure some of you would love it. I was ‘introduced’ to Frances through Instagram because she is a dahlia grower and grows lots of dinner plate sized, frilly, magnificent varieties. She is a renowned potter, designing and creating the most beautiful ceramics. Her book has lots of gardening tips, recipes and artist’s musings. She talks honestly and directly about her brother’s death from a heroin overdose. Reminded forever of the fragility of life. “Each day needs to be experienced and not taken for granted. It requires determination to be alive, to confront challenges and be present.” Wise and beautiful words.

It’s Wednesday today and we are waiting to hear which ‘tier’ we will be in when Boris announces the latest updates tomorrow. My journal contributions will become a little more sporadic over the next few weeks as we reopen the flower shop and get busy with Christmas orders. We’ve decided not to take on any extra staff. The shop is small, Helen and I have developed a sort of telepathy and can have something done in the time it takes to explain to someone else exactly what and how we require a thing to be! (So much harder with a mask on anyway!) 

I was going to write about the vaccine, Christmas bubbles (not the ones in bottles), and other updates, but I can’t remember all the facts, which will probably change again anyway! 

Keep well everyone xxxxxxx


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

At the end of my first day as a young doctor in the surgical ward thirty seven years ago, our Head of Department walked the team on duty through Intensive Care before he went home and summarily decided on whom we were to resuscitate and whom we weren’t. There was a forty-year-old man with a severe liver condition that we weren’t meant to bother with. That moment in time has stayed frozen in my memory. A naive 23-year-old girl. Last I checked, I still don’t have those balls of steel prerequisite to triage. 


Clearly Balls Of Steel are not a problem in Switzerland. According to a Reuters report on Friday, the Swiss have encouraged their Covid-vulnerable citizens to sign a ‘do not to resuscitate’ order for the benefit of medical staff and their families if they are ‘especially imperiled’, over the age of sixty and/or have complicating medical issues like diabetes or heart disease. I’m sixty-one. Goodbye World. Sixty. Goodbye Trump, Biden, Pelosi and McConnell in the USA; Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Xi Jinping in China, Merkel in Germany, Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore, Queen Elizabeth, Charles and Anne in the UK, my personal favourite King Harald in Norway and a large proportion of my very ordinary, plebeian friends. 

Opposition groups to this directive pointed out that Switzerland was not in an emergency situation, which merited this advice. But in a country that supports legally assisted suicide, it is not such an anathema to make strong decisions and take personal responsibility for their treatment. Sixty. 


According to the WHO, 422 million worldwide suffer from diabetes. It also estimated 17.9 million died from cardiovascular disease (mainly from strokes and heart attacks) in 2016. Preventative care is key. Simply put, No Sugar. A healthy diet, decreased stress, increased exercise, hormonal balance and vitamin and mineral supplementation goes a long way to preventing this epidemic. I can’t fathom why preventive measures like social distancing, masks, handwashing and avoidance of mass gatherings is sooo very difficult for folk to fathom in Covid times, given that three different vaccines are shortly to be rolled out. Instead, the English government is pressurised to allow fans to attend sporting matches from the 2nd December and Christmas is on again for a few days in order to allow families to gather. As someone said, there will be a lot of funerals to attend in January. The mind boggles. What has happened to common sense? To Sacrifice? To experiencing hardship for a short period? Fact: Celebrating Christmas alone is miserable, having spent many on Labour ward working. Fact: Next Christmas will be different. Fact: We will survive one Christmas if you think of the greater good and the fewer numbers that will succumb to Covid from all that social contact. Courage and resilience. That’s what you tap into. Instead of being a Wet one. 

We watched a Norwegian program on a Sea King helicopter rescue of a body lying in a raft in the freezing, stormy waters of the North Sea one November. The man had an emergency beacon clamped between his teeth. Once the body was hauled in, a decision was made to attempt resuscitation because his body core temperature was extremely low at 20 degrees Celsius. The doctor and crew did CPR for two hours, no mean feat, whilst flying him to Bergen where there was a heart lung machine available. They dropped him off at the Bergen hospital. Six days later, the crew got a phone call from a man who complained that his ribs had been broken during CPR. It was the sailor who had to abandon his sinking sailboat. He survived. Miracles happen. 

Miracle man second from left.
Photo taken from YouTube.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



Slow light illuminates

the waking street


as windows exchange

their daily messages.


An open door

anticipates arrival


and a welcome mat 

is duly laid.


Let now be the time

for cautious promises,


for hope to listen

with half-open ear


as tongue-tied custom

once more finds a voice 


and rediscovers

what it feared was lost.


From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

Spent Sunday - Wednesday utterly alone but walking by the river yesterday with a friend I felt more alone than when I  had been physically so.


I'm feeling scratchy and irritable and no-on'es company is quite good enough for me but my own, I've been watching Eric Rohmer films on my laptop and, like my own company, they are the only things that hit the spot right now. I must have watched half a dozen of the little beauties in the last few weeks. They all concern ordinary people in ordinary jobs, usually young people - hairdressers, town planners, a student who works in a  factory at nights to subsidise his studies. The characters are articulate about their feelings when pushed and the films are quite static, gently funny, hugely verbal and, having watched so many in so short a time I begin to see that they are all about the search for, the need for love. 


Prompted by something that Peter wrote in the journal about his mother a few weeks ago, I've been thinking about how my parents kept their distance from me though I didn't realise it at the time and I'm sure they didn't mean to. I don't want to go into detail but my father had a way of never quite making me feel I'd achieved anything and I think this may have had a subsequent effect on my self-confidence. If ever I do talk about him in detail people are shocked at how undermining he could be and I in turn am shocked at their reaction because it's just my dad and I never knew another. He was a child care worker in charge of a large children's home and he had compassionate, progressive ideas. 


'But was he a good man ?' somebody asked me incredulously when I had told them of one of his slighting remarks. I replied unhesitatingly that he was, But was he? How do I know? And why does it matter to me? Perhaps because whatever happens I love him.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

...Fibre installation... Hold tight! Your equipment’s on its way! The headline from the latest BT email...


...Shop in Holt... I passed by yesterday and the owner was there... very nice conversation affording some flexibility... discussion reopened... my heart beats with excitement but my head aches with economics of such a venture at this time ...Holt quiet and yet with an air of prosperity...


...Will we collect my mother next week and bring her to Norfolk? Tier 2 to Tier 2 ???


...I have started to design this year’s Christmas Card. I have created a card every year since 1978 but the religious element once so important to me has become more opaque... I increasingly favour the feel of the winter solstice. The handful of examples shown also trace early cards printed with proper blocks! Photocopiers and letterpress have all played their part and last year I experimented with photography giving rise to Stars at a Glance.
This year the flock may reappear but the primary image will be a photograph I took last month of a piece of etched glass set into the door of a Dutch cabinet c. 1750. The sun is black but from behind a herald appears. The message has to be one of hope.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

FT, luxury and Covid

I have subscribed to the weekly letter of Tim Harford, the "Undercover Economist" for the Financial Times, from the time when we stopped going to England. 

I used to read and enjoy FT Weekend when we were visiting our friends and family in England. Tim Harford was one of my favorite journalists, his aim being to explain "the economics ideas around every day", and I think he succeeded very well. The other journalist I liked in FT Weekend was Lucia van der Post who "invented the" How to Spend It" column. Just her name is so good (it sounds to me like a kind aristocratic streetlamp). 

I checked her on YouTube, as the world expert on luxury. She looks a perfectly normal old lady, no face lift, thin hair and approximative make up. She says real luxury is Authenticity and Memorable Experience. Thanks to her l understand why I feel that I live in luxury, I am constantly on the receiving end of Authenticity and Memorable Experience! In medical care you get a lot of both, often too much of them.

Tim Harford's weekly letter is on my email : "We will not understand Covid until we stop debating it". Covid, he says, is not a subject for political debate, only the policy and administration concerning it should be debated, rather than denying or distorting the facts to fit an irrelevantly theoretical political creed. Making decisions is always complicated: in my daily experience, deciding whether to do a biopsy or not, or participating in other therapeutic decisions, I can tell you it's not always obvious or easy, and each decision is a new one. It's this "decision fatigue" above all which creates the very common experience of burnout for doctors. But medical decisions might be easier than the choices a government has to make for the good of the population it has the responsibility to protect in these completely new and unknown circumstances. One should try not to play the blame game. Harford writes, "the mindset of the debater is not that of the calm seeker-of-truth ". Politics, he adds, rewards anger and in-group loyalty, and the audience is there to be entertained. But in our situation there is no reward nor entertainment to be hoped for. In the present culture of permanent festivities it's impossible to even think of diseases.

We looked last night on YouTube at The Breakfast Club, an excellent 45 minute interview with Barack Obama on our imperfect democracy. He certainly knows what politics consists of. The main lesson he gives are the indispensability of compromise and an acceptance of the fact that in doing what you can to improve peoples' lives you will still not be able to benefit everybody. Let's hope that modest but genuine target is shared by our governments. 


La Fontaine in lockdown. Le lièvre et les grenouilles. The hare and the frogs.

"Un lièvre en son gîte songeait, 

( car que faire en un gîte, à moins que l'on ne songe?)..."

"A hare once dreamed as he lay at home -

( What else can one do at home but dream?)..."

Book 2 Fable 14. The subject of the fable is fearful anxiety which comes from too much lockdown.


Time to think, time to dream

Time to dream. Lockdown gives us that time. It doesn't happen very often, for the buzzy bees like me, to take time for dreaming, in the sense of letting one's mind wander. It generates anxiety, but it helps to mature choices for the post Covid life, or just to invent some new lives. If only in that sense, maybe Covid-19 is a benediction for me. Time to change what needs to be changed in my mindset. 

The prophets of our time predict the new world that is coming will be different, not necessarily better. Anyway, nobody really loved the way we were living before March 2020, and we are told by the environmentalists that it was not "sustainable".

Time to think. What do I need to equip myself for this new world? After the dreams, we will have to make choices and adapt. But to do that I will need to wait for those new circumstances to take shape. All that can be done is to sharpen one's spirit to be ready to think quickly and make the right choices when the time comes, according to our values.

We probably are still in the dreaming tiers of Covid. 


Voyage autour de ma chambre (by Xavier de Maistre).

 A really good book, a very pleasant surprise, one-page chapters, entertaining, beautifully written. The shortest chapter consists of only one word "le tertre", the knoll - have you ever read a chapter of one word? A challenge for learned readers. The knoll which he climbed up was probably (we are left to understand this) where he spent an indescribable time with the Lady of the previous chapter.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

As the pandemic rolls on, the weeks seem to merge one into the next, increasingly indistinguishable from each other. The last seven days saw us dash down to Hampshire on Saturday afternoon because we received a call from my mother-in-law’s care home, suggesting that her life was about to reach its natural conclusion. But it was another false alarm. I attended a couple of school governor zoom meetings on Tuesday, contemplating the school’s deteriorating financial position, a consequence of falling pupil numbers. The fall in numbers is partly due to falling birth rates locally, and partly due to the lack of new overseas academics and post grads coming to Warwick University this September, who would bring their primary-aged children with them. On Wednesday I contributed to a panel discussion on “Effective Governance in an Employee Owned Business” as part of the Employee Ownership Association’s virtual annual conference. And on Thursday we had our weekly directors’ virtual catchup meeting, discussing plans for our virtual annual staff conference to be held next Friday. I was the subject of some teasing because alone of the six directors I live in Tier 3 (Warwickshire) whilst my colleagues all live in Tier 2 (Northamptonshire). But I have a house in Corby, so from now on I will consider myself subject to Tier 2 rules, not Tier 3. 


The local Warwickshire MPs in Kenilworth, Warwick and Stratford are understandably up in arms about being included in a blanket West Midlands Tier 3 approach. I have given up caring. Next stop we can ask Public Health England for advice on reducing deaths in road accidents: I am sure their recommendation would be to ban all motor vehicles. If the pandemic has exposed anything, it is the weakness of the structures and public institutions of our nation. The NHS is not actually very good (are we allowed to say this?) – there must be a reason why no other western democracy organises its public health provision in the way we do. The civil service also isn’t very good – and we have learned that civil servants in the Home Office get very upset if the daughter of an Indian newsagent, educated at a comprehensive school, shouts at them in her frustration at the slowness of change. And the many and varied quangos that litter the landscape are simply not up to the challenges that the modern world presents us with. Our Prime Minister in waiting, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, has decided that the best course of action for the present time is to continue splurging the cash. He presumably agrees with Ronald Reagan that “the deficit is big enough to look after itself”.


In due course the government will have to choose between the three main routes for bringing down the level of the national debt. One is to impose the painful rigours of tax rises and expenditure cuts, so called “austerity” (which is what the European Central Bank forced on its Greek and Italian colonies ten years ago).  Another is to somehow reignite the fires of inflation – but these are very difficult to extinguish once started. And the third and in my view best route, is to encourage economic growth, with the state getting out of the way of the private sector, and allowing individuals and companies to get on with the business of generating wealth and jobs, freed from unnecessary regulations. But somehow, I suspect we will just stumble on hoping, in the manner of Mr Wilkins Micawber, that something will turn up.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Not a lot of news here. As expected, we shall be in tier 3 once lockdown 2 ends. Cold but sunny trip to the nearest beach this morning. Plenty of fossils. The premature Christmas wreath on the cottage near us was replaced within a couple of days by a much more suitable Autumn one, although elsewhere around the town other Christmas ones are just beginning to appear. On Tuesday I made a Christmas cake, and the production of handmade cards has begun. Margaret – yes please to Peter’s Zoom Tailor of Gloucester!


I continue to be in awe of how much people manage to write in the Journal. Perhaps it’s because I often spend a good proportion of the week writing that I don’t seem to have the energy to write a longer piece than I do. Today I’m going to cheat and include the latest piece I wrote for the street newsletter as it is on a topical theme.

Trollope’s ‘Percycross’: the disenfranchisement of Beverley after the 1868 election


Earlier this month one major topic – apart from Covid – dominated the news. This was the USA Presidential election. It came as no surprise that Donald Trump refused to concede to his rival, Joe Biden, claiming corruption on the part of the Democrats. Trump made this claim with no real evidence simply because he couldn’t believe he had lost, but throughout history there have been many genuine cases of malpractice. In 1868 Beverley was at the centre of a corruption scandal that led to the disenfranchisement of the borough.


Until it was disenfranchised in 1870 Beverley returned two Members of Parliament. In the November 1868 election there were four candidates: Sir Henry Edwards and Edmund Hegan Kennard, both Conservatives, with the Liberals represented by Marmaduke Maxwell, son of a local landowner, and the novelist Anthony Trollope. Formerly a safe Tory constituency, the results of this election were less easy to predict than at previous ones, since the Second Reform Act of 1867 had given the vote to a much greater number of people, many of whom were regarded as ‘working class’. Of those eligible to vote in the 1868 election it was estimated that perhaps as many as a third fell into the category of those whose vote could be ‘bought’ by either side. 


The practice of bribing voters in the town was well-established; payments had even been made at an election of churchwardens at St Mary’s. The 1868 parliamentary election was no exception. Both Tory candidates were elected, but the results were appealed by the opposition. The resulting enquiry found that corruption had been so widespread that Edwards and Kennard were barred from taking their seats in the Commons, and the borough lost its franchise. The names of some 600 townspeople who had given or received bribes over the last decade were published. The Beverley election case was reported fully in the Times.


Neither Trollope or his fellow Liberal had offered bribes. Had they done so their chances of election might have been much greater. Trollope did not enjoy electioneering, and was said to have occasionally gone for a day’s hunting instead of canvassing. He described the two weeks he spent in Beverley before the election as ‘the most wretched fortnight of my manhood’. He received the lowest number of votes, and never stood for Parliament again, but in 1869 he drew on his recent experience of the electoral process when he wrote his novel Ralph the Heir. The town of Percycross, where an election was investigated for corrupt practices, is Beverley.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

We go back into Tier 3 after the end of Lockdown next week – like most of the country really. I’m feeling jealous of all of our friends in Cornwall. They were all very relaxed about the pandemic in September and welcomed us into their homes, although we were being more careful about hugging and being too close to each other. We couldn’t go back now as we would have to follow Tier 3 rules even though we would be staying in a Tier 1 area. 

I’m not sure how I feel about the five days of freedom over Christmas. It seems wrong and goes against “the science”. I also feel that some people may feel obliged to meet up with their families when they would feel safer staying away. They may be worried about offending them and nobody wants to do that at a time like this when we all need each other. If you have more than two grown up children you cannot all meet up anyway under the three households rule. We have four boys so that makes five households. Number 2 son has already asked if I will still supply the Christmas pudding and summer pudding, which we traditionally have on Christmas day, so they can continue the tradition at home. Of course I will. I just want us all to get through this safely. I am promoting an extended family party at Easter – I just hope that by then we are all vaccinated.


Number 4 son and his Greek partner were hoping to spend Christmas in Greece as she hasn’t seen her family since last Christmas. They have worked out how they can quarantine for two weeks when they get there, before they meet up with the family, and two weeks when they get back to London. but they are not comfortable with all of the risks involved with the travelling so haven’t made a decision yet. They are lucky in that they both work from home so could continue working while quarantining.

Charities are really struggling this year so I decided to buy everyone an Oxfam gift. Two of the grandchildren will get “piles of poo” which I feel sure they will appreciate. I did enjoy matching the gift to the person. I don’t make that their only gift as I feel it’s really my donation to Oxfam with a more fun way of donating.


I am continuing my year of buying less and using materials in my stash. My latest creation is a pair of felted slippers made with wool I must have dyed myself. I know this by the vast amount of dye that was released as I felted them. This was my first attempt at felting slippers and after felting one I realized it could be tricky making another one exactly the same size!  They seem to have worked ok but need a little embellishment as they are a Christmas present for someone who likes that sort of thing. Maybe a silk pompom. 


Jeremy is spending a lot of time in the garage making Christmas presents out of wood which has been recycled from offcuts of worktops, unwanted pieces of furniture and pruned trees. And so we keep ourselves busy. It is a beautiful sunny day here, I think a Monsal trail walk is calling.

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