Seriously isolating

Jean, Melbourne Australia

At a minute to midnight on Tuesday Melbourne's very strict lockdown ended, and we experienced a great sense of relief and pride (I think) that the city had been able to hang on over almost four months in order to bring down the number of new daily infections from 700+ to zero. Thursday was a divinely beautiful spring day and I celebrated by taking a tram into the city in order to buy some new shoes from a shop! The next exciting thing planned is a haircut!


After 112 days of holding a daily press conference, the Premier is taking break tomorrow. Perhaps his deputy will be stepping up! Of course there are still restrictions and you must wear a mask at all times, but shops, restaurants and cafes are opening up, and other businesses are preparing their workplaces for the safe return of staff. You are now allowed a visit per day to one other household, within the 25 km radius of your home. It's complicated, but the atmosphere is definitely lighter.


The US election is now so close. I'm laying in vodka and champagne to cover either outcome, though seriously nothing will ease the pain of T getting in. I'm hoping my sewing project will be an effective distraction and now I have the fabric and paper pattern arrived this morning so I'm ready to go.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

I wouldn’t want you to get the impression my concern re Coronavirus and its impact on Life is entirely skewed towards the frivolous, but those who’ve been on this Journalistic Journey from the beginning may remember my frustration during the original lockdown - before we were finally allowed out for ‘recreational purposes‘ that included the finest of occupations, fishing. 

Well, how about this for an unexpected ‘Modern Life’ consequence: currently there’s a shortage of frozen black lugworm (a prime cod and whiting bait) - at least round here there is. I had accepted that maybe the persistent rough weather had stopped the diggers digging - but no...

Turns out that ‘our’ black lug is in fact Belgian, imported by one enterprising individual supplying Norfolk shops from his weekly trip over there. His business model has been shot by the requirement for 14 days isolation on returning from Belgium - not possible with weekly trips, obvs. The hunt is on for alternative supplies... must get out to the beach while we’re allowed.

Perhaps to compensate, this week will include pampering at my extremities: 

Tuesday sees me in my Barbershop of Choice, ‘Swagger and Jacks‘, Norwich, where my Man, Hugo, gives my beard and moustache an advanced burst of topiary before applying the hot towels, oils, creamy lather and the cut-throat razor to make the naked bits of face as smooth as a smooth thing in a smooth shop.

Then Thursday it’s off to Caister and the Podiatrist to have the toenails reduced. Actually, I’m a recovering toenail-removal patient, but this time it’s just a bit of manicuring.

Threaded between these appointments is my attendance at Acle Hair and Beauty, where I treat myself to short sessions in the tanning booth.

Rather late in life I’ve discovered I like a bit of pampering - it’s not wildly expensive, and like Jennifer Anniston, I’m worth it. Well, I‘ve been told I am if it’s inexpensive. And it’s not as if I’ve got worms to spend the pension on.


Nottingham was due to go into Tier3, but overnight it’s decided all of Nottinghamshire should be placed there, since there’s an inevitability about that extension. With West Yorkshire joining them over the weekend, that means that from next Monday, 11,000,000 will be living under Tier3 in England. To allow for further lockdown nuancing, Scotland introduces a Tier1 ‘nearly normal’ and Tier4 ‘pretty well full lockdown’. N. Ireland is in a Tier4 of its own, and Ireland has gone to a Tier5, the harshest in Europe. Wales is in self-isolation with no-one allowed in or out.


Thursday: If the daily ‘softening-up’ - a regular drip-drip of lockdown gloom - is anything to go by, there’s a need to make a bit of hay while the sun shines, as full ie National disabling lockdown beckons. Boris has a taste for weekend consults and Monday announcements. What’s worse is Matt Hancock saying it isn’t going to happen while there’s wide variation within England - surely the kiss of death.

Ireland, Wales, France and Germany have gone for it, Scotland’s talking about it, we must be teetering on the edge ourselves and by tempting fate I may just have nudged the rest of us over. If so, I can only apologise to you all:

we have just booked a short stay next week in Aldeburgh. Black lug are to be had at Saxmundham, on the way. My cock is fully hooped. Or my hoop cocked. Whichever.

If BJ can resist making the lockdown announcement until next Friday, I’d be much obliged.


Friday, fate-tempting and the cold hand of Covid reach uncomfortably closer: our son and his partner are self-isolating following contact with three co-workers, now tested positive, earlier in the week. Much relief for everyone close that they show no symptoms. Our last contact with them was before theirs with the colleagues. But suppose the colleagues were unknowingly positive in the week before... 

Next week we will pass their door on the way to Aldeburgh, but shouldn’t stop. Memo to self: start taking the fizzy vitamin C to ward off colds. Wouldn’t want the unwarranted excitement of a Covid symptom or indeed my resistance lowered.


In the sense of ‘what goes round, comes round’ a couple of pics, astonishingly relevant to life today.

One of them’s dated!


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

The dental practice phoned this week. They are gradually catching up with postponed routine appointments. I’m now booked in for January. Also had my first visit to the county archives since lockdown. Documents have to be preordered, and once finished with are put in isolation in the Conservation department for three days before going back into storage. Quite a contrast to shops where any number of people can pick up and put down items they’ve touched. Still in tier 1 here but think that might change soon. When are we going to follow other countries and have another strict lockdown? I’m not even thinking about Christmas.


Speaking of Christmas (or not), I now have on top of the chest of drawers (the one I’m storing for a friend) a magnificent Christmas cactus in full bloom that belongs to other friends who have moved into a small rented apartment until renovation work on their ‘new’ house is finished. One of the flowers has already dropped off. I’m not good with house plants, apart from succulents, and I’m already worried about the scented geranium she gave me that she had grown from a cutting. I’m happier with garden plants, which could do with a good tidy up but, but too wet today, and already too many other things I should have been doing this week. I was diverted from writing by the delivery on Monday of several boxes of old photographs belonging to my late parents that have been stored in the attic of one of my younger sisters. The age gap of nearly 11 years between them (identical twins) and myself is apparent just by looking at the photographs. Those of me and my elder sister are tiny, black and white, and blurred, whereas photographs of the twins (an unexpected addition to the family when Mum was 44!), are generally much larger and in colour. The oldest photographs in the collection are Edwardian, and I can identify most of them, but who on earth is the small boy in a sailor suit holding an enormous dog? If only someone had written on the back. Now we all take many more photographs but print relatively few. How many will be lost as computer software changes?


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

We have just learned that all of Derbyshire is going into Tier 2 on Saturday. I am not surprised as we are surrounded by areas already in Tier 2 and Tier 3 but I hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. Having had our Wales holiday cancelled this week we now cannot have our son and his wife, who live in Hampshire, to visit in November. We are lucky in so many ways and I know I shouldn’t moan but I can still feel sad. They are already isolating and we were planning to do the same for two weeks before they came so we would all be safe and there would be no risk to anyone else either. However if we were to go ahead we would be breaking the law.


Number one son who works in a factory, has for some time been wearing a proximity monitor at work. This bleeps and flashes when he is too close to another member of his team. He is being very careful and had been telling us that he has had to be quite rude to some of his team to make them keep a safe distance. When one of the team members tested positive for Covid 19 everyone in the team, except him, had to self-isolate at home and arrange to get a test. So by following the rules he was left with a very heavy work load. Luckily the rest of the team all tested negative and were back at work in a couple of days. 

This is all sounding rather depressing so let’s think of some positives. Part of today was spent filling three shoe boxes, for the Operation Christmas Child charity, with the three local grandchildren. We have done this every year for many years and it is something we all enjoy. It is surprising how much stuff it takes to fill one shoe box and I collect things over the year to make it easier. This year we are not allowed to include sweets or toothpaste – not sure why. Let’s blame the virus.


Tomorrow, if it ever stops raining, Jeremy is taking our oldest grandchild kite flying and I am making Halloween gingerbread skeletons with the youngest. The middle one is meeting up with a friend in our garden, under a gazebo, to do some craft with slices of wood and sharpie pens. Then in the evening Jeremy and I are going to see the film Harriet which is being shown by Youlgrave cinema club. We all sit socially distanced wearing our masks – except when we are eating our ice creams. So plenty to look forward to and plenty of reasons to stay positive. I hope you have all had a good week. I am looking forward to hearing all about it


“Survival” diary

Susan, Country Victoria, Australia

All my good intentions came unstuck last Friday and I seemed to spend a large part of my day answering text messages, emails and phone calls. All to do with the festival of the ball. My team made it to the Grand final (affectionately known as “The Granny”) and your chums who follow the game, and whose team has failed to get there, do the next best thing and pick a team they want to win and phone a friend who follows them. Hence my day. The great thing about the day was that two Victorian teams were fighting it out. For the first time in its history it wasn’t played in Melbourne, but at least the cup (a splendid thing and made by silversmiths who just live down the road) was coming home. The sheer nastiness that has come from the Commonwealth Government and some of the other states and their local media towards us Vics has been horrid. Happy days, Richmond won. The warm glow is still there, and it has been cold enough to wear my team scarf walking. Cars toot their horns and call out and wave. I waited 35 years for my first premiership and now I have had three in four years. Small joys in a very muddled world. 


Melbournians have done us all proud and the virus numbers are very low. Two days this week they were at zero and numbers of cases under investigation with a mystery source very low. I am pretty confident the tracing system is now up to the task, and the state opposition leader has had his politicisation of the COVID crisis rather backfire on him with his approval ratings taking a further dive. Life is moving towards more normality and we look forward in the next few weeks to the border around Melbourne being lifted and interaction between us all resuming. Regional tourists have been using our little town and it has been lovely seeing our pretty shopping and restaurant street so busy. Masks worn self consciously in the beginning have become the norm and are a gentle reminder not to be complacent. 

It seems like a hundred years ago that our year began with bushfires. The Royal Commission into the crisis reported today. Australia has an appalling history of executing recommendations from any inquiry and since 1939 there have been 18 major inquiries into bushfires with precious little action in the aftermath. The Government were rather going to town today on one recommendation. The ability to declare a state of emergency before a state government has asked for help, and of course withdraw that status when they see fit. This would apply to any disaster... including a pandemic. The commonwealth wanted Victoria to open for business and end the lockdown weeks before our state government was prepared to do so. Lawyers must be rubbing their hands in glee, as it will end up in the High Court. The joys of Federation. 


We are finally seeing some sunshine and warmer days. The garden has responded to the persistent rain and I don’t think I have ever seen it so green, bright and shining. We are loving eating peas and broad beans at the moment. The world seems to have harmony when I cut flowers for the house, and Lily of the valley has been the flower for vases this week. 


I loved all the entries in last weeks journal. Jane’s floral chandelier, David’s theatre performance, Barbara’s Leaves of hope, K.M.H giving me a rev on the value of positivity and Hilary’s observations on the exhilaration of a live performance were some of the highlights for me. Happy Birthday Annabel. 


Please take care and stay well.


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

I’m trying to avoid immediately discussing the looming white elephant in the room. 

Last Friday night, my friend Solveig invited me to an exhibition of Art Deco enamel items donated by a jeweller in Oslo to the Jugendstil museum here. Thirty of us, maskless, but socially distanced listened to several talks on the history of enamel, whilst sipping cava. We split into two groups, one walking through the enamel exhibition whilst the rest listened to a piano recital. The pianist, sweet man, looked like he had just rolled out of bed and grabbed his gardening jacket. It’s the part of Ålesund I love. And no one here asks That question “What do you do?” A very irritating banker habit ubiquitous to Singapore.  So much more elegant to discover the person rather than their profession.  

Solveig walked home with me for wine and snacks. We had planned to go to the wine bar between the museum and our home but it was rammed. She told us that the butcher was coming to slaughter their two pigs on Sunday. She had bought them new fleece blankets and a new heater to make their last week pleasurable. My heart broke. I try not to eat pigs I’m acquainted with after seeing “Okja.” I refused her offer of pork. 100 Kgs of pork, soon in her freezer. 


Husband and I HAD to drive to the island ‪Saturday afternoon‬ to plant two clematis, two pipeholurt creepers, and two honeysuckles. Presents from my lovely gardener friend. It’s end of season and her gardening center emptied out the unsold plants. I was Very, very grateful. She has so many other people she could have given the plants to. She wants to work for a period in England. I’m going to help her write an application for an unpaid attachment to a great garden or with a good landscape architect. She is so hardworking and knowledgeable and would be an asset. 

Husband’s favourite cousin turned up on Sunday with a yummy apple cake and they stayed for lunch. She had noticed our car and the lights blazing in the house. We took the 820 pm ferry back to the mainland and got home before ‪10pm‬. Tired and happy. 


Cases have increased markedly in Oslo and Bergen and poor Erna, our Prime Minister, is looking so stressed. They are implementing different rules for these two towns regarding masks and gatherings. So very confusing. 


My opinion is five people max, masks, hand disinfection, social distancing, no mass celebrations of weddings, funerals and religious holidays and, certainly, no holidays abroad. Done and dusted. We are at War. Stand together. One rule till we emerge from this tunnel. Thank goodness for the general population that I’m Not The Prime Minister. 



John Underwood, Norfolk

The Guinea Pig Club

One of the collections of manuscript materials that we found last year, was a group of letters from a Polish Spitfire pilot, who had been shot down over France and terribly burned. He was captured, and eventually repatriated, spending years having his face and hands rebuilt as part of Sir Archibald McIndoe’s “Guinea Pig Club”. The letters were written to an English girl, Betty, and amongst other things, he wrote about his postwar treatment by the British Government, and the attitude of people he met. The government wanted to send him back to Poland and people he met tended to shy away from his disfigurements. He felt that nobody was prepared to acknowledge the role played by the Polish pilots who had found their way to England to resist Nazism. He wrote of his endless operations, of new eyelids, of infections, and of loneliness.


I went to a school that had a prep school, boarders, and fee paying parents. I had not been to the prep school, was a day boy, and won a “borough free place”, and as a consequence was bullied a lot and ploughed my ‘O’ level exams, twice. I was brought up in Methodism, and had heard the Rev. Ronald Gibbins preach at my church, and attended a youth group meeting afterwards where he talked about the East End Mission and the work that they undertook in the Stepney community. He ran a Social Studies Centre at the Mission, where one could study ‘A’ level Sociology and R.E., work at the various mission jobs (such as the youth club, soup runs, the women’s hostel etc), and support oneself working part time. I had never been as surprised in my life when my parents asked me if I would like to go to the East End Mission studies centre. I think that they were thoroughly fed up with me (I was turning 17 and already a rebellious and difficult youth) but they also displayed a startling insight into what I needed. Alison and I had met at the Youth Club, and had been going out for a year when this happened - I used to bunk off school an hour early to meet her at the Wimpy Bar near her school. And the link? The Rev. Ron Gibbins, head of the Mission in Stepney was a Guinea Pig Club patient of McIndoes. He had been fearfully burned in 1945 - the talk was that he had helped to rescue people from a hangar that a plane had crashed into, but he himself never talked of it. Two Guinea Pig Club members in my life some fifty years apart. Both of them putting their bodies in harm’s way in defence of democracy.


Today, democracy seems to be under threat again. The first step is to diminish the truth, so that it can become negotiable, “your truth is not my truth”. Fake news. Lies on billboards. Muddy the waters so that nobody really understands what is happening. And in chaos, social cohesion begins to fall apart, providing opportunities for enrichment for those holding power. Before long you have police shooting people that they should be protecting, and governments sowing discord, attacking protesters, the judiciary, and the media. This time next week will see democracy under threat in America, as never before. We live in interesting times.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



You find last year

already locked away,


the key become a keepsake

hung about your neck.


As if it were a charm

you finger it


in absent-minded

solitary moments.


Ready for a cautious

gradual return,


not a grand opening

or instant celebration,


it waits to release 



as the gift of recognition

day by day.


Cotswold Perspective

Rosemary, Rodborough Common

How life has changed for everyone of us in such a short space of time. The past suddenly feeling more relevant than the future and I am finding myself glancing backwards. 


When our sons were young, people thought that we were quite an adventuresome family. We visited several Eastern Block countries which were still within the Russian grip. They were untouched by tourism and offered interesting places to visit. If we mentioned that we were travelling to Romania, Bulgaria, or what was then called Yugoslavia, friends and neighbours were often shocked, as they headed off to the Costas or down to Devon and Cornwall. On one flight to Romania, a young honeymoon couple sitting next to me were visibly shocked when I asked them if they had travelled behind the Iron Curtain before? 


When we visited Bulgaria, our eldest son decided that he would like to try his hand at fishing. Frankly fishing was and is a complete mystery to us, however, I tried my best to fulfil his hopes and ambitions. I went down to our local Woolworths store and found him a lovely little fishing rod in its own holder complete with all the necessary tackle. He was delighted, and could hardly wait for us to arrive at our destination. 


The seaside where we stayed had a little wooden jetty, which we headed for as soon as we had settled and unpacked. Arriving at the jetty, we discovered a whole row of elderly local men sitting on little stools whilst busily fishing. They appeared to have a simple bamboo cane with lots of small hooks attached down their fishing line. We watched them for a while pulling in loads of tiny silver fish, before daring to reveal our rod. Eldest son assembled it and began turning the fishing reel which made a delightful metallic click, click, click as the line was lowered down into the sea. As this happened all of the little old men turned their heads towards us and looked on in admiration at our ‘Woolworths best’. However, after a while, we had caught absolutely nothing whatsoever, whilst their buckets were spilling over with fish. Eventually one of the men, with a fine set of gold teeth, came over to offer us some help. It was then that we learnt that every fishing situation requires different hooks and bait, not the simple pop any old bit of bait on the line and hope for the best. The man became extremely excited about the ‘Woolies” rod and indicated that he wished to have it. We kept saying “no” “no” pointing out that we had only just arrived, and that it belonged to our son. We did, however, indicate that he could have the rod at the end of our trip.

The following day we were sitting on the beach, enjoying the sand and ozone, when in the distance we saw a camel being led by a little old man.  As this strange vision came nearer, we suddenly realised that it was our little man with the golden teeth. When he spotted us, he came rushing over with the camel, and starting saying “hey English” and making gesticulations of winding in the fishing line. From then on, we could hardly go anywhere without him suddenly popping up, and grinning at us.

On our final evening, we decided to go to a restaurant hidden deep in the forest that fringed the coast. We had learnt that they had musicians playing both traditional and gypsy folk music and wearing local costumes. We were having a lovely time enjoying the whole atmosphere when we became aware of a person taking photographs, and who should it be, but our man again. He was so excited when he saw us, and insisted on taking our photograph, and checking on what time we were leaving the next day. He said that he would send us the photograph free of charge, so we gave him our address. We did not expect to hear anything from him, but as you can see we were proved wrong.


Next morning he was standing on the steps to our hotel ready to receive the rod. I do hope that he had more luck with it than we did. I had visions of him turning up on the jetty that day, and showing it off to the others.

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