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Macrae children

Plague Journals, Marli Rose Macrae


This week I started to make a Nutcracker ballet scene made out of cardboard and paper. All the characters are cake decorations and I cut up an old hair clip that was encrusted with fake jewels.


We've been to Beastie Cove a lot this week. We've been sitting in our rock pool. The tide was coming in and waves made it too dangerous to swim so we just sat on the shoreline. We found two fossils as well.


It rained most of the day yesterday. Mummy had to go to a picnic at Charleston and daddy was busy working in his home office. Franklin and I were bored so we dressed up in each others' clothes. None of my shoes fitted him so he borrowed a pair of mummy's high heels. We knocked on daddy's office door even though we mustn't disturb him and he looked very shocked when he saw us!


This morning we went for a swim at Hollywell. We didn't have enough time to get to Beastie Cove as I had a ballet lesson. The waves were massive, it was a pity I forgot my new body board. Mummy was collecting seaweed, she says it's good for her plants, when a big wave came in and soaked her dress. She didn't mind though, she never does.  


Tomorrow we are going to Brighton to look around Snooper's Paradise. I like buying vintage Bunty comics there to get the dressing dolls and mummy keeps buying vintage French circus tickets, they are so beautiful. Daddy has given Franklin and I £10 each!


Plague Journals, Franklin Lewis Macrae

Over the last week we have been to the beach many times as there has been a heatwave. Dad bought us body boards and so far they have been really good fun. Mostly we have been going to Beastie Cove (Cow Gap). It's quite a trek over the Downs to get to it and by the time we arrive we are hot and ready to swim. There are many, many rock pools and we've found one just for us. Mum lies in it and reads. We take our rock shoes for clambering and I prefer this because sometimes I see anemones clutching onto the rocks and many crabs too. We found some fossils this week, they are small but still fossils.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

In the last few weeks there have been several Covid outbreaks in food manufacturing and processing facilities in Northamptonshire, and as a result some colleagues are suggesting that we should try to increase our levels of Covid protection at work. At present we aim to follow government guidance as closely as possible but are reluctant to go beyond that – recognising that we are not experts on viral infections. Among ideas being considered are temperature checks for all staff when arriving on site, and maybe even the company paying for Covid tests for staff, whether on request or randomly. I am inclined to support the first proposal but I am very sceptical about the latter. The most important thing we do to keep ourselves safe is our commitment to continue to pay full pay to anyone who is isolating due to showing symptoms or following test results. This avoids the risk that staff who are unwell will feel under financial pressure to come to work.


And what about the entirely foreseeable A Level fiasco? An organisation called “The Centre for Data Ethics and Invitation” published a paper last year warning of algorithms’ propensity to make decisions which “reinforce pre-existing social inequalities”. The study stated that algorithms risk “entrenching and potentially worsening” bias. This is precisely what Ofqual’s results mechanism did by, for example, downgrading students based on a school’s past academic performance. The Chair of Ofqual is also the head of the Centre that published this research paper. Oh dear. And now, in allowing predicted grades to stand the buck has been passed to the universities.


The government also announced a reorganisation of Public Health England, correctly in my view separating out health protection from health improvement. The former involves infectious diseases, antibiotic resistance, and environmental hazards. The latter involves encouraging the population to eat spinach, stop smoking and go for a run. The head of the new National Institute for Health Protection is not, however, a medic. Instead she is an Oxford PPE chum of David Cameron’s. If you want to develop a new line of conspiracy theory, go to Wikipedia and look at the list of PPE graduates in public life – they cast their influence across vast swathes of the House of Commons, the BBC, the Civil Service and quangocracy. Perhaps the quality of governance and decision-making in this country would be greatly improved if these individuals were all invited to take early retirement.


Our visit to see my mother in law in her care home on Saturday was slightly more successful than the previous one. Sarah was able to sit in an indoor atrium with her mother for around 45 minutes. But conversation was even more difficult than usual, and Sarah was not convinced that Nora knew who she was. The negative impact of months without visitors is very marked.


From a very small Island

Michael Johnston, Isle of Wight

Oops - nearly missed the deadline! Another week passed and it has brought so much stress to so many people. Best beloved's grand-daughter was one of those waiting for her A-level grading. Sure enough, she, with so many other young people was a victim of 'the algorithm'. One of her grades was initially marked down, although reinstated later of course. As it happens, she wasn't prevented from going where she wants to go for further study, but things could have been different, as was the case for other young people upon whom the future of the world depends. What a travesty of incompetence we have seen recently from those who feel themselves so privileged to govern us. I, and almost everyone I know, now believes we truly are being ruled by donkeys. I think I should change my name to 'disgusted of Ryde'!


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

Wet days and gentle soaking rain have characterised part of every day for the past couple of weeks. It has been beautiful and in the clear, sunny breaks the daily walk has been a joy, with that very special light that only happens after rain. There is so much happening in the garden at the moment. It is enclosed enough to capture perfume, so the moment you step inside the gate and remove the steamy face mask, the perfume of Parma violets and white and pink daphne sing; jonquils and hyacinths join in and life is all it should be, for a moment or two at least. 


I have given away following the daily update. The numbers have not fallen as dramatically as I hoped, and the numbers of those in intensive care, and knowing what that means tomorrow and next week, too heartbreaking. The venom of politics sickens me. Blame is being hand balled everywhere. The Premier conducts himself with dignity and patience, and makes me feel there will be long term reforms in the future that will make our community a better place.  I cannot believe that when this first began we were fed the line that there was nothing much to concern anyone. The Federal Government was dragged kicking and screaming to the first round of restrictions and various support measures around them. I remember wanting to get the virus (a mild illness), so I could just crack on with life as usual. How wrong I was. The politicians are returning to Canberra to sit in parliament. They are all meant to be isolating for two weeks, so they don’t bring virus to the ACT where there appears to be no circulating virus. My sister tells me residents are worried because brothels have re-opened. Let’s hope the MPs don’t break quarantine and introduce it into the community there...

I don’t know if The Guardian in England features the work of  Australian cartoonist Andrew Marlton. First Dog on the Moon always hits a sweet spot. 

Cartoon by First Dog on the Moon


The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin, The Black Mountains

Your dad has a rare day off today so he's taken you and your scooter to the Southbank. We all got the train together and I left you at Blackfriars. 
It's my first morning without you for quite a while and my first time going into Central London since March. 


I walk down Fleet Street and feel unnerved by the quiet pavements, the empty buses, the closed shops, pubs and restaurants. Those that are open have urgent signs demanding face coverings, arrows on the pavement point to one way systems. As I walk past the Royal Courts of Justice, so eerily quiet, I hope that justice can still be carried out in these Corona days.


Heading towards Covent Garden I start to enjoy the quiet, I'm walking slower than my usual London gait, I'm looking up and appreciating the buildings, the old shop signs, the 'vintage' posters advertising spring events and theatre shows from March, the hoardings covered in 'thank you NHS' graffiti, the road closed signs, so little traffic except for cyclists who now own the city. 

I don't need to get caught up in the hustle and bustle because there isn't any.


The sun comes out and I sit down with a coffee outside a cafe that is usually far too busy to even think about going to. 


I imagine the people who are not here; their ghostly resonance still making the pavements thrum. It feels like I'm living in a parallel universe where 70% of the population are existing in a different dimension. 


London with space to breath is a London I like. But it also feels lonely, shop workers have to go over the top friendly to be welcoming above their masks and I feel so out of practice interacting with strangers. I see a few people get frustrated at each other for getting too close, glares, grimaces. I hear pockets of conversation 'what hours are you working now?' 'are they coping?' 'oh we're surviving' etc...


It's almost time for my appointment - a much needed haircut. And then back home to a more familiar world. 


Wishing Sheila a very happy birthday!


Bumpy landing on the south coast

Catherine, Sussex

The highlight of my week was a trip just a few miles out of town, to a small village. It was my first home in the UK after returning with my mother from Germany, whence we fled when I was about three months old, after the disgrace of my father’s court-martial and subsequent dishonourable discharge. (It is a complete coincidence that, after a peripatetic life in the UK and abroad, I have come home to roost here.) She and I lived in a small cottage on a farm outside the village; it is high up, with unparalleled views over the English Channel, surrounded by low trees and scrub bent at 90 degrees by the prevailing winds. For my mother, coming from being a Somebody in the UNHCR (as it became) with a social whirl amongst countless gallant officers diametrically opposed to the grimness of her work as an interpreter in the refugee camps, it was probably like landing on the moon. Isolated, different, she was unused to parochial country life. It was a long difficult walk with a pram even to the only three shops, in the next village.


It took many years for me to piece together our time there, my having inherited no information. Eventually, hard sleuthing discovered the farm’s name. And, joy of joys: last week, on one of my exploratory town rambles here, I fell into conversation with a nice woman of my generation who, it turned out, had been ‘born and bred’ in that neighbouring  village, and was a fount of information. She told me about the three shops, and so it was to see them (now a café and restaurant) and retrace, busy road permitting, my mother’s steps to them that I went there.


Sometimes things just turn out absolutely right. It was the most beautiful balmy evening; I passed the shops and wandered up the hill to my home village, which is almost contiguous, glad to find that there was a choice of two footpaths which my mother might have taken. Thenceforth I could go no farther, there being neither pavement along the busy road nor footpath to the farm. Instead, I wandered around the church, village and neighbouring forest.


The forest is important. When I was around eight, living by then in urban London, I painted an image I had in my head. I no longer have the picture, but the image is still clear in my mind’s eye. It was of a dappled forest clearing, lit by sudden rays of steeply slanting sunlight. Now here’s the thing: we left the farm and moved into town when I was perhaps one, or 18 months. Certainly no more than two. My mother will have loved the forest, which was easily accessible from the farm, and I no doubt spent many hours there, bumping along in my pram and perhaps later toddling along the paths and rides. But even when I made the painting I had no conscious memory of it at all. Just, it seems, deep in my subconscious. Extraordinary. I was moved in a way which has no words as I stood there on Tuesday, surrounded by tall trees and – the slanting rays of the evening sun.

Before that, I had checked out the church (locked) and mosied on down a lane past contented horses and cows and passing equally contented walkers making their way back from their rambles to and along land’s edge. Contentment is contagious. I picked up my first conker of the year and then munched (again, first this year) my way along a blackberry-clad lane (now lined by the most hideous nouveau-riche houses with no reference at all to the lyrical upland landscape) before turning into the forest, which was the perfect end to a perfect evening.


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany

This is the third week of school after the summer holiday and we have already had several students staying at home temporarily due to symptoms that could indicate a Corona infection. I deal with young adults and a lot of them love to celebrate and travel to destinations like Turkey or Majorca. Well, we constantly air the classrooms and keep distances as teachers.


The extreme heatwave shall be over at the weekend and everybody is looking forward to rain, especially the farmers who are also suffering from low prices for their products (especially dairy products). 


I was most impressed by Obama's speech held yesterday in which he very openly expressed his concern about the US. We have friends who live close to Washington DC and are very unhappy with the current administration.  She has been homeschooling their children for many months and he is supposed to work from home at least until the end of the year.


Many people in Germany accept the restrictions imposed on them but a growing fraction does not care and cannot understand the reasons as they claim we have never had too many patients in hospitals and a low death rate from Covid-19. The happenings in similar countries in Europe like Britain or France seem to be too far away from them. That is sad and alarming at the same time.


A Coronavirus Chronicle

James Hayes, Twickenham

BOOKS BY THE METRE                                               

(with apologies to Flann O’Brien)

In these unprecedented times, television studios are lonely places. Most interviews are now conducted over the ether and people spend hours preparing to talk to the country in badly-lit sitting rooms, speaking into laptops.

It is astonishing how often many of the interviewees fail to properly prepare for the event, and end up staring everywhere but into the camera. This swiftly creates a perception in the viewer that, important as these people are - academics, politicians, high-ranking medics, experts etc. that they’ve been on the sauce, or are not, as my mother would say, the full shilling. As they stare at the wrong part of the screen, it is easy for us viewers to stop listening and spend those important few minutes mesmerised by their physiognomy, and sometimes their nose hairs. Needless to say this diminishes the importance and effectiveness of these pundits and communicators.


Now, in addition to this, the interviewee’s sin is doubly awful when they pay little or no attention to the background of the shot. Politically and socially, this can be deemed a major blunder. I am sure like me, you have recently witnessed some of the poor career-defining choices the unaware have thoughtlessly made. Let me list a few.

There is the tired sitting-room-door-and-wall background, replete with chipped paint and a pair of electrical sockets with numerous black cables snaking their way across the wall to various locations. Not attractive!

Then, the glass-doored cabinet proudly displaying some ghastly collection of pottery and knick knacks, alongside a collection of  framed certificates showing the resident’s academic accomplishments. Not a good image.

Also, the totally bare stark white wall with institutional lighting, can make the viewer suspect that this person may be an inmate in some questionable facility.

I could go on.

The discerning interviewee however, knows how to miss falling into any of these traps. He/She I suspect, lives in a beautiful home which has been Farrow and Balled to within an inch of its life. It is likely to have a sitting room or study with crafted bookcases bedizened with a multitude of hardback volumes.

These citizens have learned the craft of not only showing off their intellect, but also, by dint of what is visible behind their heads, revealing their impressive literary tastes. They are patently aware that the attention of the Newsnight viewer will sometimes surprisingly stray from their musings and opinions, and fall to studying their literary purchases. It is a win-win situation. These are the true professionals, and will doubtless be invited to feature soon again on our screens. 


STOP PRESS. Last night I witnessed a strange sight, an interview online with Iain Duncan Smith, the fading politician. Picture the scene. Nighttime and indoors. The background of the shot comprised a pair of vast grey ghostly gauzy curtains wafting in a little breeze. It created an unsettling atmosphere. What was in the foreground added a further mildly disturbing sight. In this dark room Duncan Smith’s bald dome and serious face stared into the camera, cruelly underlit. It took me back to my Halloween childhood when in our dark bedrooms we held a lighted torch under our chins to disturb our siblings. Needless to say I didn’t listen to a word the great man said. This should be a warning to all. Emily Maitlis maintained her reliably professional cool, but I suspect for the general public, it added little to their opinion of Mr D S and may, in some cases, have led to disturbing nightmares.


Now, convinced of the great number of fiercely ambitious persons out there, who in the current climate are desperate to carve out a strong media profile, but alas, are deficient not only in the reading department, but devoid of that important quality, taste, I can offer a welcome solution. 


My consultancy company (Metro Media Management) is proud to announce that as of today we will be providing a brand new service which will not only transform these fine people’s lives but assuredly enhance and enrich their media careers, and make them the envy of their friends and colleagues.


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For your bookshelves

A comprehensive choice of books, art monographs, leather bound classics, weighty biographies and autobiographies, numerous Shakespeare collections, old fond orange Penguin paperbacks, large guides to foreign capitals, along with Companion Guides to some of the major world art galleries, first editions of the Just William books, complete works of - Phillip Roth, J K Rowling, Hilary Mantel.. (even, if required, The Complete Pam Ayres). We offer a vast range, which will encompass all the latest important publications. Special attention of course, will be paid to the size and clarity of the fonts on the spines of the books. Rest assured the observer will be made totally cognisant of the title and author of each work. An extra (and not expensive) service can provide small objet d’art to be scattered along the shelves. For instance - a small alabaster bust of Shakespeare, a little African (Moroccan) box made of decorated white bones, an exquisite teapot engraved with gold Chinese calligraphy... 


For your walls

A huge range of art works ranging from perhaps a Picasso lithograph, to a small Vuillard interior, a classic Antonioni film poster, even a choice of Victorian watercolours can be hired (or in some cases purchased). What about a couple of highly polished musical instruments?  These are but a short list of tasteful ‘props’ that are readily available. Our lavishly illustrated brochure chosen and compiled by Tristan Delahunty, lately of Sotheby’s, shows our full range.


A Special Service

With assistance from the client we are able to create a number of framed photographs which will show he or she in relaxed conversation with major national and international luminaries - perhaps sharing a joke with George Clooney, or in deep conversation with the Dali Lama or dining with Angela Merkel for instance. There are infinite permutations on this theme available. Picture those on your wall or bookcase!



Small unobtrusive extendable tripods with state of the art lamps together with colour ‘gels’ are also available and In certain circumstances we are able to provide a lighting designer to attend the ‘session’.


This is only part of a range of services Metro Media Management can offer, all of which can be delivered and installed at very short notice.


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Talk to Tristan and Larissa


Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

I had a week of vacation last week, at our summer house, with perfect warm weather. We worked to enlarge the area of the robot lawn mower, removing stones, roots and such, and bathing quite often. Lots of dragon flies in the air and tiny perch in the water. This week, back at work in the outpatient clinic there was few real meetings with patients, instead we had many telephone calls. The situation for the hospital here in Uppsala is still good with no corona patients in the ICU during the last weeks. Tomorrow I have weekend work, so may have to take care of corona patients.

View from the Wrong Side of the Pennines

Elle Warsop, Oldham, Greater Manchester

So, unsurprisingly, youngest son, back on 7th August from partying in Malta, trapped at 30,000 feet in a small cylindrical object for four hours in both directions, air recycled amongst maybe two hundred passengers, has tested positive for Coronavirus as have several of his friends. And now, husband has had a positive test - he started with a tickly cough last week and had lost his sense of taste by Friday, so I was pretty certain he had it anyway. Eldest son and myself both awaiting results now; we both have sore throats but no other symptoms. How do you define a new, continuous cough? I have kept having to do a cough, on occasion, in the last two days - more than I normally would. This is unusual to me, but is this a new and continuous cough? Whether or not this is a symptom is anyone’s guess but I decided to go for a test. Now I’m getting paranoid about the slightest twinge. We can only wait and see.

I think I am managing to stay rather calm. I am amazed I haven’t screamed and shouted and laid myself down on the floor like a toddler and howled to be honest. In the last, almost six months, I have pretty much been a prisoner of this house, I have followed the government guidelines and done as I was told, while the rest of the family has done what they wanted. Now I am pretty much guaranteed the gift of Covid19. I want to rage. There is little social isolating in this house. Husband gets the milk bottle out of the fridge, coughing as he does so without even really thinking about it. When I point it out, he is unconcerned. I am the only one concerned. The scale of the damage is unimaginable and incomprehensible. Since youngest son got back, husband has been working in other people’s houses where he measures them up for insulation (he was kitted up with PPE I hasten to add and complied there otherwise he would get the sack), eldest son works in a cafe, daughter has gone back to London in a coach. But any concerns I expressed were batted away like an irritating fly. Now husband’s company and eldest son’s cafe are having to deal with the fallout: who have they been in contact with? Only now do you realise that the scale is incomprehensible. If those two hundred passengers went out and spread it like youngest son obviously has, well… now I see the maths and the numbers are multiplying out ahead of me like a nuclear explosion.


Update one: eldest son’s test has come back negative. If mine comes back negative, I’m not kidding but the sheer exhaustion of trying to stay away from the Infected and their germs is going to kill me before Covid19 does. I am so tired. I am a prisoner of my house and my mind. No switching off.  


Update two:  My test was also negative (as was Daughter's) and rather than cry with relief it was with frustration and shock. HOW? How? I keep going down a rabbit hole of spraying everything and not knowing where or how to stop. It is exhausting. If only it were visible!


I feel like I need to be fair now. Eldest and youngest sons have both called husband out on his coughing and not covering his mouth. Even going so far as to say that he ought to cover his mouth when coughing even if he didn’t have Covid which is a fair point! Husband trying a bit harder but very begrudgingly. Funnily, he cannot understand why I have no sympathy for him having Covid. Hmmm, let me see? I have decided that I am not being very kind really. He does, after all, have a potentially fatal illness. He is not ill at all though and would go to Tesco if he thought he could get away with it. I think I’d call the police. I have been trying harder though to be kind. I need to kill him with kindness perhaps, just in case Covid does it afterwards maybe. Even his sister phoned him and rather than show any sympathy, shouted at him for going and sitting in their parents’ garden last week. So it’s not just me who thinks he is irresponsible, inconsiderate... And still he didn't get it.


My fear now is that I will still get it and be really ill. I am scared. Or that I will get it, at the end of the 14 days of isolation, stuck in this prison, and have to isolate for another ten days. I get a text every morning from NHStracing;


Isolation Follow-Up: 11 days to go. Thanks for the reminder.


I think I will go insane. I’m just off to check on my supply of whisky. Single Malt anyone? That’s as near as I’ll get to Scotland this year!

From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

On Monday night I dreamt that a rather sweet young woman asked if I could lend her some money ~ I handed her my wallet and told her to take what she needed. There were many people around us as if we were all going to a special event ~ perhaps a concert. We became separated in the crowd and when I couldn’t find her, I realized I didn’t get my wallet back, and began to think of all the cards I would have to replace if my wallet had become lost. When I woke, I wondered what I would have done if I had indeed lost all my identification and credit cards, and then vaguely remembered that my driver’s license (which is good for 8 years) may have expired on my birthday in July, which when I checked, it certainly had. Thank heavens for my dream and where has my mind been?

So early Tuesday morning I drove to the local Department of Motor Vehicles finding a long line around the building all waiting to get in... After three hours of standing in the hot sun, I finally got my license renewed with eye test, and a new photo, but felt incredibly exhausted from standing all that time and probably quite a bit dehydrated, I could barely walk to my car, and it has taken a few days to feel somewhat back to normal. Of course, everyone had to wear masks, and supposedly keep the 6 feet recommended distance which was very loosely respected.  What an ordeal ~

On a good note, the weather has changed from hot and humid to lovely cool temperatures which made it so much nicer to be in my print shop working on my two submissions for the Society of Wood Engravers Annual Exhibition. So relieved that it all came together and am looking forward to lightly hand-coloring one of them tomorrow.

I so loved Margaret’s list of things she has learned during quarantine last week ~ and want to wish Sheila a most Happy Birthday celebration in her garden safely surrounded (I hope) with friends and loved ones! 

And now to rest ~

Notice the three men in a 6’ space meant for just one.

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