Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I write this entry with my feet in paraffin wax wrapped in heated bootees! The lovely Davina is in my kitchen and I am having a luxury pedicure which is more about a fabulous circulation boosting lower leg massage than choosing a pretty colour. Davina is covered in PPE all colour coded in pink and black and looking beautiful. I have no hesitation in recommending her to all you Norfolk based Birkenstock wearers. Contact her via her website www.devinebeautytherapy.com


Thunderstorms and rainstorms.  Secateurs, rakes, sacks and the dump. After a decade I have started to clear and make sense of two parts of the garden which have forever been problematic. Seven years of just letting them commune with nature has not made them into the magical retreats I had hoped to wander. Rather they have become impenetrable and lack the interest to make them a destination. I am bitten and scratched but progress is being made and I am really enjoying the adventure.


My husband meanwhile continues to battle with the grey squirrels. The walnut tree finally started to bear fruit three summers ago but ere the nuts ever split the tree rats clean us out! This year Martin has invested in a humane squirrel trap and we have been watching the intrepid thief run through it, turn round to pick up the nuts placed as bait, and then, nut in teeth, retrace it’s steps through the trap and out the other end!!! This is not going to end well... for my husband! There will be no nuts for the Christmas table.


Otherwise, like everyone else, we have a courgette mountain AND today, in the rain, another bee fest! This time in the olive tree.  


Reader. The colour I chose is called Lobster Roll!


Greetings from the far south

Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa

We’ve not had, or yet had, the zig-zag progressions of the pandemic that you see in other countries. There’s just been a steady increase in cases, about 600 000 as I write this and getting on for 13 000 deaths. In general, government advice on staying safe has closely followed World Health Organisation guidelines, and so we’ve avoided the surges and decreases in infections that countries have experienced where policy has lacked clarity.


But the government hasn’t acted rationally or properly in all aspects of its handling of the situation. Police and army violence, and a strange urge to ban alcohol and tobacco are cases in point.


The enforcement of the lockdown by combined police and army operations have been violent and excessive. In the first three months of the lockdown, soldiers and cops killed 11 people and arrested a world record 230 000 for lockdown violations. The most horrific and high profile killing was of bakery worker Collins Khoza, who soldiers had spotted drinking a beer on his front porch before beating him to death indoors. 


The president and ministers have apologised for the excessive use of force by the police and army, but explanations and expressions of regret appear mealy-mouthed and insincere. No one’s been held to account, no one’s resigned.


The ban on alcohol and tobacco sales, now lifted, nonplussed many people, as there was no obvious or direct link between smoking and drinking and the spread of the virus. The minister coordinating the National Coronavirus Command Council argued feebly that tobacco sales had to be banned because people often share “zols”, hand-rolled cigarettes, and so would spread the virus.


Banning alcohol, we were told, would stop booze-related accidents and violent crime and therefore allow emergency rooms at hospitals to concentrate on corona cases. But though alcohol related crimes did drop, there was no evidence that hospitals fared a whole lot better than they would otherwise have.


The lockdown, now at Level 2, and the continuing curfew have tended to quieten things at night. But violent crime, robbery, house breaking, and vehicle highjacking are all on the rise. As unemployment and poverty deepen, due to the economic crisis sparked by the pandemic, it’s likely these will all increase.


Lockdown Level 2 is supposed to allow more businesses to reopen and more economic activity in general. It will inevitably be followed by an increase in infections, but perhaps not a sudden spike. In general people are complying with measures to contain the virus, which is quite an achievement in a country where most of the time no one wants to follow rules or any kind.


My two children and I are still at home all the time. The weather’s warmer, heading to spring at the beginning of September, and being outdoors is more comfortable, as the chill winter winds have lifted. Everything looks as it should this time of year. 


My youngest, Masana, can’t understand why we can’t go out and about as we normally would, and he gets very frustrated. He can’t understand why we can’t see the virus. We often drive around just to get out of the house. A few days ago, he suddenly wound down the window and shouted out “Fuck you corona!”. A couple of guys in masks we were passing smiled with their eyes and gave him the thumbs up.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Our Granddaughter has a name : 

Up to now, she did not have a name (she was born three weeks ago), her parents taking their time, trying different ones. In the US, apparently you have a full year to give a name to a baby, the infant being merely registered as: "a girl" + parents' names. This delay was a surprise for me. In France, the registration must be done in less than five days with the full names. She is called Flora, officially Florence, Marie, Soleil. We are so impatient to meet her, hélas probably not possible until next near. Covid teaching us patience. 


Blois and the Châteaux around:

Covid effect, we have never seen so many tourists on bicycles, a lot of families with children on tiny bikes or in carts attached to dad's bike. Sometimes three generations together. Most of the time they ride on the special bike lanes of the "Loire à vélo" but some take the risk to ride on the roads. When driving one has to be extremely careful, and it's frightening to go by a 5 year old who can hardly go in a straight line. 

The nice thing is that everybody seems happy, enjoying quality time as a family, the fresher temperature, the nice shadows of the trees and the spaciousness of our flat region. 

We wanted to go for lunch in Chambord - there were so many cars that an extra carpark was open. We came back to Blois, no way to get a table for lunch in Chambord, or the alternative, Chaumont. We will be able to do it in September when the tourists will be back home.

Finally, Rob had his birthday lunch in a newly opened restaurant in Blois just the other side of the river from our house. For once, with unusual self-control, he did not have his favourite "foie gras" as an entrée, probably a "new" year resolution. The meal turned out to be delicious in every respect, including the wine from Bourgueil and Vouvray, the roasted figs with vanilla ice-cream (restaurants often fall down with their dessert), and the coffee. 


Different rules in different countries:

In France, we often quote one of Pascal's Pensées (1623-1662) :  "Vérité en deçà des Pyrénées, erreur au delà" (truth this side of the Pyrenees, error the other side). Maybe, today, Pascal would have said "la Manche".

The naming of baby Flora in the USA makes me think of when my English mother in law died. Her funeral was held only several weeks later. I was so surprised, feeling somehow it was disrespectful. In France, by law the burial has to be done after 6 days maximum.  

Another important difference, I realise, when talking with my English in laws, concerns inheritance : in France, by law, you have to leave a fixed proportion of your goods to your children (legitimate or not) when you die.  A friend of mine, at the age of 55, discovered in this way that he had a half-sister. For example, in our case, with two children, two-thirds of what we possess will be "reserved" for them, the surviving spouse has also a share, and an independent will can only be made for the last third. My English sister in law was shocked at this infringement of her "liberty" to dispose of her own money, just as much as I am shocked by the absence in England of a justly calculated and obligatory legal responsibility toward the future generation. I thank the French Revolution for that (we will not talk for now of the horrors of revolutions). J-J-R. Cambacérès initiated the Code Civil, and Napoléon had it put into effect: the same law for everybody everywhere in the country; during the Ancien Regime, it depended on sex, social rank, social class - Clergé, Noblesse, Tiers-Etat- and the province you were living in. 


Nurses and health carers excluded from bonuses in UK  (and in France too):

There may well be consequences, if the "sacrifice" of the carers is needed again. Just the same situation in France.  As far as I understand, talking to carers who worked very hard and in dangerous conditions during the two bad months of the pandemic, they will not do it a second time if the situation deteriorates. A lot of them will stay home. They were applauded but that was it, and retrospectively the applause feels bitter. 

The legal conditions to get the bonus are so "well" crafted by the government, that most carers, instead of getting the 1500 € promised by President Macron, will get 500 € like all the civil servants who stayed home doing no work at all. In France, we say : "Promises commit only the one who listens to them".


Glyndebourne and lock-down: 

Every week, on YouTube, one can get a new opera, free. Last week it was Haendel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, 2005, conducted by William Christie. Everything was perfect (singers, orchestra, production, choreography ...), Haendel must also be greatly responsible for the beauty and the humor of it - really baroque music at its best. Wonderfully refreshing.

Such a delightful present! I really appreciated it, considering that I will probably never go in real life to Glyndebourne. After my opera Covid craze, I will rank Glyndebourne number one among my opera houses. It's the first time I have seen William Christie conducting, though we have many CDs by him. 



On Met Opera, The Magic Flute was given in English. The Queen of the Night arias in English don't carry nearly so much conviction, strength and fury as in German. Maybe it's just the singer who seems too polite and precious or the translation not convincing (though the words follow perfectly the notes and rhythm). Another strange effect, when a singer begins an aria in translation, I think " I don't recognize the words", even if I don't know German (except for the little I have learned from JS Bach, Mozart and Schubert). I somehow know the words which "should" be sung. After three seconds of surprise I realise that I understand what is being said, and find it must less "magic".  There are some advantages, at least I understand the general situation much better and the balance between the different parts during duos, trios. Mystery of imagining what one doesn't understand against clarity of understanding the situation! Somehow German seems the language of music for me. I remember when the children were small, when Rob was upset with them, he would start talking French to them when he told them off - he felt that French was much more convincing and expressive than English to teach them some discipline.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

We arrived in Totnes in blistering heat and enjoyed one day of sunshine amidst the brambles in the garden. Then came the rain. Every day rain - sometimes just in short bursts but always threatening. I had ordered a canopy/tent for just such weather so that we would be able to see friends and family outside. But ironically it was impossible in the rain to get out to clear enough of the garden to put the shelter up.


Simon made some headway in one early evening dry spell - see before and after photos. He cleared enough that we were able today, when the rain abated and the sun shone, to sit amongst the debris and have coffee with our very good friend, Jill. Our second guest in five months!


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Suffolk

Hello all! 


Happy birthday to Sheila! Hope you have a great day and the weather is good for your weekend party. 


I had a sobering phone call last weekend. Mrs Y rang to find out how we are doing. She is in her 90s. We used to live a few houses away from her and her husband. He died about 30 years ago. They had no children but various nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews and relatives abound. We write to her every few months and have done so for at least twenty years - since we moved away. We also visit occasionally - sometimes around Christmas or her birthday. She is a robust personality and while her physical being is much diminished, she remains a formidable character. 


It was good to hear her voice. She speaks with such authority - an unfailing precision. She enquired about us, how we are coping, what we are thinking and feeling about the situation. She thanked us for the letters we recently sent. Then she revealed that from the outset of March, she saw no one for fourteen weeks - not a single soul. Fourteen weeks. Total isolation. How had she managed this we asked. How? She explained that she left a list outside the front door and a neighbour’s husband bought her food for her. She then paid him by cheque. None of her family rang. She had a few letters and cards but no contact with anyone. She said she watched the postman deliver mail and saw the comings and goings of neighbours and others. She attended to her garden, her housework, watched a little television and read. 


One day she heard a knock at her door. She looked through the window and saw it was a neighbour - but not one that she knew well. She was alarmed and cried out “Go away. It’s not safe. Please go”. The neighbour was persistent and called back “Please open the door. It is safe. I have something for you”. Reluctantly Mrs Y opened the door. The neighbour stood back but was holding a plate with a small cake. Apparently she said something like “we are both on our own - you and me - I thought I’d come and say hello. I made a cake for us”. 


Mrs Y said she was stunned. Speechless. She stood at the door - unable to move but then burst into tears and held out her arm - inviting her neighbour indoors. Inside, they both cried - shared the cake, had tea and chatted for half an hour or so. She said it was like an epiphany. She realised the intensity of her enforced solitude - her loneliness, fear, sadness. Unbearable. She said that this act of kindness made her realise that she could not continue to isolate in this way. She would rather die than endure such isolation again. 


Think we will go and see her soon. Masks on of course. I feel guilty for my whinging.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

Computer files all transferred from old to new Mac, fairly painlessly in the end, apart from the photos, as mine are all on Picassa which no longer exists. Didn’t get to the coast last week as we were too tired, so went on Monday instead. As predicted the car park at the Spurn Discovery Centre was almost empty when we got there at 10.30.


We can get to the coast in less than half an hour, but this journey takes us well over an hour, which makes it seem more like a holiday. Bought our usual treat of coffee and homebaked Millionnaire’s shortbread from the café, and had it on a bench outside, before heading down to the beach. More of the mud cliffs have fallen each time we go, so access had to be a bit further along the path than last time. As D is still recovering he took a portable chair with him, and spent much of the time reading whilst I did the usual pebble hunt. We were both the sort of children who were quite happy sitting reading books on the beach, or maybe a comic (in his case the Eagle). Hardly anyone around, even in the far distance. It is not the prettiest stretch of the east coast, nothing like the magnificent chalk cliffs at Flamborough further north, but a good mixture of sand with strips of shingle that yield some excellent pebbles, and never crowded.

The following day we had coffee in the garden with some friends one of whom was visiting from London. We hadn’t seen her since they were all staying at Gunton last year when we were also in Norfolk, and where we all had a lovely afternoon at Old Hall with Margaret and Peter. Apart from that it has been the usual Westwood walks etc, and tonight (Thursday) we have a couple of friends coming for supper, including the one recently widowed. There will be four place settings instead of the usual five. 

Happy Birthday, Sheila. Enjoy the party!



John Underwood, Norfolk

Architects of their own downfall.


It is about this time of year that the Underwood clan hold their annual Squirrel race. 


When I was a child, my walk to school could take one of several ways, with variations on each path. A couple of routes took me along a cinder path alongside the railway - the same line that took my father to work in the City of London. This cinder path had several joys for me. It began near enough outside the sweet shop near school, and so if I had any pennies I could buy flying saucers or American Civil War bubble gum which had gruesome cards depicting Civil War scenes, along with fake American dollar notes, which we all collected and traded. If I had no pocket money left, I would look forward to collecting hazel nuts from the trees that overhung the path, and a little later in the year, blackberries. In those days I used to enjoy them red and sour - rather like the sour sweets that children enjoy today I suppose. The hazel nuts were wonderful. I could fill my shorts pockets to bulging, and they would last the whole way home. 


We planted a few Filbert trees when we moved here nine years ago, and they have been producing for a few years now. I still get the same small thrill of finding hazel nuts when out walking, and so having some posh versions growing in the garden was an obvious move. Which, of course, is where the squirrels come in. It has been said before, but I agree with thinking of them as nothing more than rats with a good public relations department. A bit of fluff here, a smarter fur coat, oh, and let’s lose the rather nasty naked tail shall we? Sit up? Better.


The squirrel race begins when we begin to see squirrels scampering from the Filbert trees to vanish up other trees, or into the bushes. This brings me out shouting and flailing about a few times a day, until I am broken, apoplectic and resigned at one and the same time. It is time to race the squirrels to the nut harvest. They, of course are the architects of their own downfall. It is only because I see them rushing to and from the trees that I am alerted to the ripeness of the crop, and the need to get picking. This is a pleasure of a kind. One picks what one can see, and then once you get your eye in, you can begin to see the drooping branch, the curled leaves, the browning tints of the concealed nuts. The crop is always gathered just a little too early, too green, because the squirrels are masters at the race. They are unerring in gathering the ripe nuts, at spotting those that have no kernel, and at knowing the right time to start their harvest. We have to clear the trees before they do. We always leave them sufficient to see them through the Winter. No of course we don’t. They must starve, huddled in their vile little nests. They are rats with attitude, that’s all.


And speaking of rats being the architects of their own downfall, can you imagine a more fruitful way of alienating current and future voters, than by messing them around as the government has been doing to students recently? I shall simply reprise omnishambles, and I would like to dig up snafu that my father scribbled in the margins of the books about the Burma campaign that he annotated as he read them, and add bollixed and fuckwittery for good measure. Some of the people in power belonged to a club whose members burned fifty pound notes in front of beggars for fun. They lie, u-turn, stab each other in the back, seem to parade their drastic incompetences without any shame and stick two fingers up to us oiks. Why should we expect them to care about our children? Let’s hope all the students remember how they have been treated when it comes to the ballot box. If we still have one in four years time of course.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk



Just had a little lobby lobster from my favourite shop who have boats and lobster pots and sell to the trade. Delicious, my favourite summer snack and one of the joys of living here. There was a devastating moment last year when they closed down. Luckily they have reappeared.

Ate it listening to The Archers. Why? Its so annoying at the moment. Its painful to listen to.

Rushing as have to meet my deadline and am going to meet my friend who had the second of three lockdown babies I know of. 


Yesterday morning I was in the shop keeping an eye on Molly who is going to help out for a bit. I wandered up the road towards a shop that I had heard sold nice dresses. On the way I bumped into a favourite customer who burst into floods of tears when he was telling me how his 93 year old mother had died of Covid 19 in a care home. So sad and traumatic for him and his family. So difficult not hugging people.


I could have bought all the dresses in the shop and came out with three!


Is Boris on holiday again? 


On the news it is still the GCSE and A level results. Seems to be a fiasco.

Glad to see that the Kings College Zoe Covid research app has been given a 2 million pound grant.

The Russians have poisoned an opposition leader on a plane.

I am tired and need a lazy sit down with a bunch of grapes. Always so many things to do. Just can't catch up with myself.

Have masses of figs and am trying to get them before the wasps do who have already eaten all the little red eating apples.

Have been listening to Jane Garvey and Fi Glover's pod cast Fortunately. It is very funny.

Very Happy Birthday to Sheila our co editor. Sorry I am always late. Thankyou for all your hard work and hope you have a lovely lovely day. xxx

Love Annabel x


Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

August 16

Eric and Rasna and Micah arrived first. Then Andy. I consulted about potatoes… he had brought our potato starts at the beginning of the summer. A first time potato grower, I had noticed the plants were dying off, and I wanted to know if it was time to harvest. It was. Joyce brought a bouquet and after the service she introduced me to each of the flowers. Michele arrived late. Ron and Lynn arrived very late. They’d taken a wrong turn. Sara had arrived later than she’d said, but she brought the siddurs. The prayer books. She and Barbara arranged the chairs in a big circle, social distancing but with Barbara and Ruth near her so they could hear. 

It was a short service. A prayer, then the Amidah, then I read a poem. We said kaddish and interestingly, everyone said kaddish. Then Barbara talked about her sister who died on Saturday, and Michele asked her to sing a camp song. She did. Under our masks, we all sang. 

It was such joy outside under the sky, under the trees, twelve of us counting Micah, together, singing, having a service. I didn’t know I had missed it but I had. 


August 17

I had decided we needed a bigger refrigerator, so tried to buy one. None available until October. If then. And I found hard to figure out if a new one would actually have more space anyway. Then I thought I’d buy a small one, they are cheap, like a dorm room one, and that would give overflow space. Perhaps for lettuce, which seems to take up an inordinate amount of room. But we’d have to squat down to use it, which we probably wouldn’t, and mostly the small refrigerators seem designed to chill as many cans of beer as possible. Not exactly what we need. So I thought back to our refrigerator in Ithaca, and why it is bigger. Part of course is that it is actually bigger. A Great Dane is not the same as a Miniature Poodle. Although in the case of refrigerators it’s a matter of inches not feet.   Still, you get the point. But then I thought about why that refrigerator is so much easier to use. In our current refrigerator it’s a challenging three dimension puzzle each time I try to find eggs or milk. And I’m trying to avoid going shopping too often, so I buy more food each time. And it all has to go somewhere.  


The refrigerator in Ithaca has shelves going all the way across, instead of having them arranged in steps. I thought it would be worth sorting out our refrigerator and seeing if I could arrange it like that. But to take everything out of the refrigerator I’d have to have somewhere to put the contents of the fridge. So I had to clear the counter. But to clear the counter I had to have somewhere to put Barbara’s medicines and vitamins and all the other accumulated things so I had to clear off three shelves above the counter, throw out old nuts, and find somewhere to put the sweet beautiful jugs that were taking up space. Finally I got the counter clear, and put the contents of the refrigerator on the counter and rearranged the shelves, and amazingly enough, when I got everything worth saving back in the refrigerator, (did I mention the food growing old because we couldn’t find it in there that I now could throw out?) and the shelves arranged flat instead of in a zig zag pattern, there was room for everything and we could find everything. But the real gift of the day was the counter, newly revealed from under all the stuff. A huge expanse of blue grey patterned granite with speckles that looks like the milky way, or deep waves. Now  I keep stroking it and looking at it. What a pleasure.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Life has become busier. After spending a few days on the Lincolnshire coast for the first time, a couple of weeks ago, we took three of our grandchildren back there last week. We’d realised it would be a perfect venue for them and wanted to give our daughter-in-law 3 days to organise her classroom ready for starting back in September. She has been working so hard to ensure everything will be in place for a safe return for pupils, staff and parents. Her husband is now back at work so looking after the children and going into school was tricky.


I found a perfect campsite within walking distance of Huttoft beach and we camped in a huge field with plenty of room for Frisbee throwing and only a couple of other campers. The children enjoyed helping set up the tent, organising their belongings and exploring the site. The weather was warm with only occasional drizzle; luckily the spectacular thunderstorm we’d had the night before we left home was not repeated. Our very helpful campsite owner checked the website of the local donkey sanctuary and suggested we went. After a long walk along quiet footpaths and lanes, much to the disappointment of us all, it was closed. We sat on a patch of grass eating our packed lunch and watched cars draw up to the gates, their occupants read the closed sign, smile empathetically at us and drive away. Ice creams soothed us and on the way back we picked blackberries and apples to stew for pudding so everyone was happy. We then spent hours flying kites on a windy, almost empty beach. The cooler weather had obviously put people off beach activities. The wide open spaces and feeling of freedom did us all good. 


On our previous trip we discovered there are weever fish on the Lincolnshire coast. We had thought they were only to be found in the south west. A 6 year old daughter of a friend trod on one. It was incredibly painful and she let us know it. The fish bury themselves in the sand in shallow water with their dorsal spines sticking up. The spines easily penetrate the skin and release a potent toxin.  Luckily we had some knowledge of treatment from a friend in Portugal whose son had a similar experience many years ago and we persuaded the parents to put the affected toe in the only hot liquid they had; copious quantities of Earl Grey tea! The paramedics subsequently said the treatment was spot on. The pain peaks after about 30 minutes and then gradually subsides. The hot liquid speeds the process up. We all made sure we wore shoes to go in the water after that.  


Back home and our neighbour’s 60th birthday celebration. She is really missing music, particularly live performances, so her partner organised a young professional couple, a violinist and a cellist to give a classical concert. Only a small, selected, audience so we could feel safe. It was wonderful. The musicians talked about the pieces of music they were playing with such enthusiasm. They mostly perform at weddings but since most have been cancelled this was their first outing to play since March. Our neighbours are now hoping to organise regular concerts to help support young musicians during this difficult time. 


Happy birthday Sheila.  Have a lovely, hopefully sunny, weekend.

From Sheila:

Thank you all very much for your kind wishes - both private and public messages - for my birthday weekend.

It is now Sunday morning and I am hearing the gentle stirrings of my family outside, gradually waking from their slumbers in the tented camp in our garden. What a wonderful party - such a joy to see my extended family again after all this time. There are calls to repeat the bash next year. I wonder if we shall, and under what circumstances.

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