Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway

Last Wednesday, I attended my first Hageselskapet (Norwegian Gardening Club) meeting at a community/sports center. After registering and paying 100 kr, I was given a raffle ticket and joined a crowd of about 35 women interspersed with 3 elderly men, all seated at one meter-distance from each other, sans masks. The next two hours passed quickly with a two-part lecture on garden planning by a landscape architect from Andalsnes, three hours away, who lives on an old scenic farm by the edge of a fjord backed by mountains. In between, we helped ourselves to coffee and store bought biscuits and cake. Homemade is not allowed in Covid times. About twenty lovely plants and bouquets were handed out as part of a loddtrekning (raffle) which I was told, was typical in Norwegian gatherings. Great fun. I had my eye on a marvellous Kalanchoe, that went to another lucky lady. I bought a little bouquet from the landscape architect composed of dahlias, scabiosa, thalictrum, kale (!), molinia grass and one other plant (arrowed bottom left) that I couldn’t identify. Help please?

Talking about Andalsnes, my county is in the grip of Tom Cruise fever. He has been given special Cruise permission to film here and has rented a luxury lodge next to an acquaintance’s humble hytta. Her 11-year-old grandson is beside himself with excitement and hangs out at weekends in the hope of speaking to the bodyguards and finally managed to chat with Tom’s sister. Tom flies himself in and out in his swish helicopter.  


I have finally managed to draw a plan of the hedges, three fruit trees and a couple of other trees that I need planted by spring next year. The hornbeam hedge is something we have considered for five years but couldn’t afford till we finished the inside of the house. The winds are so strong that some sort of protection is needed before we can even consider sitting out. Margaret, our editor, has been asking for my plan for some time, so I got my ass into gear, so to speak. It’s hardly perfect or finished. The essence is a Scented garden to attract Birds, Bees and Butterflies. 

My garden is a bit like post-Chernobyl needing an injection of Life:  

1) The front garden is “Increase The Curb Appeal” green and white (with red crab Apples) 

3) A restful “Secret Haven” back garden and  

2) “I’m Not Quite Sure” side garden.  


At this point of zero gardening skills, I’m aiming for a minimal on-my-knees with maximal effect garden. Fast growing trees. Time is of the essence. I do love roses, dahlias, foxgloves... but perhaps in 2022. Charlie McCormick I am not. At This Moment. Or Arthur Parkinson. Or Annabel. Or Margaret. Scary Gardeners. But there is always HOPE. Here is my plan.
And, here is my gardening email:  sofussecretgarden@gmail.com

Please post me any comments or even the names of your favourite, hardy plants. Rambling, creeping, shrub roses, Dahlias, grasses, clematis, honeysuckle, sedum, daphne, viburnums......

Just one line.  


Barbara Warsop and I had a long FaceTime chat yesterday. We discussed the looming second lockdown, our personal stories, cleaning secrets and almost solved World Peace. We are also going to exchange apple crumble recipes. Yum! 


There are Huge benefits to occasionally perusing Junk mail.  

I have stared at my Inbox of the sofussecretgarden email in what seemed, in vain, for several weeks till I hit the jackpot with Catherine’s lovely email, mentioned in my last missile. Well, after I had submitted my piece, I went back to staring at my empty Inbox save one and in sheer boredom, thought to flick through the empty Bin and Junk. Lo and behold !!!! An email had been sent by Marie Christine from France the Very Day she had read my piece on the 6th September. And it had gone straight to Junk!!!!  

Merci beaucoup for your thoughtful, heartfelt comments, Marie Christine.  


A big kiss to Barbara, Catherine, Marie-Christine, Dear Margaret and Sweet Annabel - Thank you for your lovely message. A Big hug to you, Readers. We are slowly building community through this journal. We will recognise each other at Margaret and Sheila’s Plague Journal Garden Party.


Florist in lockdown

Jane, Near Manchester, England

The news hit me like a wrecking ball. I just could not believe it. I’d only been chatting to him the other week. He was so young and handsome. I just could not believe it. Helen told me his partner had been in to order funeral flowers. I just could not believe it. I went to buy a pint of milk so we could have a cup of tea (although I felt like I needed a brandy). I couldn’t walk in a straight line. The only reason I know this is because a man walking behind me snarled “Make your fu**#^g mind up!” I didn’t even bother to react, rendered mute by the shocking news.

Working as a florist in a flower shop exposes you to a lot of loss and grief, and 2020 has already been a year of more farewells and disappointments than gatherings and celebrations, it all feels so off balance.

L was a choreographer and dance teacher. S manages a gastro pub in an affluent London suburb, returning to the north at weekends. They always had time for a chat and friendly banter, they became regular customers, often popping in late on a Friday. I just could not believe it. S came in the next day to pay for the funeral flowers, composed and efficient. I asked him how he was then quickly said “Don’t answer that, I already know, I’m coming round to give you a hug, so stop me now if you don’t want me to.” He didn’t stop me, we both had masks on, I couldn’t not hug him. Later when we found out that L had taken his own life the wrecking ball hit me again. I still cannot believe it. He was 44 and liked blue hydrangeas.


Thin Air

John Mole, St Albans



and hold it tight

in expectation


as a thoughtful pause

anticipates release.


When you’re ready

let it go


to travel innocently

through the air.


May it seek out

the sound of laughter


or your music played

to open ears.


May spontaneity

remain a virtue


and your next breatb

be its own reward.


Words from Wood Lane

Susan Neave, Beverley

We had a good visit to Norfolk last week, and enjoyed sitting under the gazebo in the garden at Old Hall on Wednesday morning, chatting with Margaret and Peter. The weather was very strange. Travelling down on Tuesday it was 27 degrees in the sunshine. When we left on Friday it was 9 degrees, heavy rain and strong gusts of wind. Needless to say we had to give the outdoor Anish Kapoor sculpture exhibition at Houghton a miss. It was sunny when we arrived home!


The news from Universities seems to be getting worse. On Sunday my ballet teacher took her daughter to Newcastle for her first term at University. Yesterday 2 of her 5 flatmates tested positive for Covid, and today she and another girl are ill. What a sad start to what should be a much more positive experience.


Last night half the houses in our street had a power cut late afternoon. Feeling smug (our power was still on) we carried on as normal until around 7pm when the lights went out. Spent the evening by candlelight. Three Northern Power vans arrived and the workmen proceeded to dig two large holes in the pavement. Power was restored soon after midnight. This morning the vans arrived again and the digging continued, although the power remained on. They seem to have finished now, but too late for anyone to come and fill in the holes. Tomorrow morning there should be a removal van coming to clear the cottage almost opposite our house. The road is far too narrow for a large vehicle to get down without going on the (currently non-existent pavement) so a frantic day of texts and phone calls to the owners in Suffolk and Cornwall explaining there might be a problem! I am the keyholder. Fortunately completion of the sale is not until next Thursday, so with luck the clearance firm will be able to come early next week instead. Bad timing. It’s been quite a stressful 24 hours. I'll send this now before the power goes off again!


Sheila – that was a very nice photograph of you!


My feelings on paper

Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire

Wednesday 30th September


More restrictions up north.

This sedentary covid 19 life is no good for my figure, it just keeps getting bigger.

I am on a sea food diet 

I see food and eat it. 

Chocolate, biscuits, bread, cheese and  eggs, apple crumble is the best. 

I start the day off very good with fruit, yogurt and fibre. 

Then two eggs on toast for lunch, and walk up the lane to see my little owl.

But still my weight goes up, 5 pounds I have put on since lock down.

I tell myself so long as I can cut my own toe nails and still get in my clothes its OK.

But walking back up my steep hill 

is not good for my breathing still

I just make it with help from my puffer

the inhaler thats a buffer.

for my breathlessness.


I have my painter decorator here painting the outside of my conservatory.

Its ten foot up not your normal on the ground.

While he is here I ask him to paint my dining room floor if it rains and as it rained yesterday I got that painted.   Spiders and cobwebs everywhere in full force when moving the furniture.

Oh dear it was in need of a spruce up.

Remembering the face, space, hands of course.


My daughter in Oldham is not allowed to come to me but is allowed to mix with 6 and also teach at school. This has been going on for 6 weeks I have not seen her for all that time.

Good job we can speak on face time, but its not the same as a visit.


Today, Thursday its very cold and I have got to have the windows open for the painter. 

The nights are drawing in but I keep getting wonderful sunrises.


View from the Wrong Side of the Pennines

Elle Warsop, Oldham, Greater Manchester

Extremely Random Thoughts this week:

  • Hello? Is anyone there? Can someone come and update Oldham about how well we’ve been doing? We seem to have gone completely out of the top ten list (as of Mon 28th Sept) but we haven’t been able to mix with any other households anywhere since the end of July. Hello? Can anyone hear us? Can we come out now? Hello? Is anyone there?

  • And it’s a massively warm welcome to Leeds, Wigan, Stockport, Blackpool and any other town looking at tighter restrictions, not to mention most of Wales and the North East! Welcome one and all! Welcome to our world! We hope you enjoy your stay. What’s that? A review in two weeks time? I wouldn’t hold your breath - we’re still waiting for ours two months later. Track and trace? In your dreams. 

  • This government obviously think it’s ok for the death rates to go up, as long as it’s not Covid19 that is killing people. Deaths from anything else welcome, especially suicide.

  • LOCKED IN - Manchester Met Uni have locked up the students due to an outbreak in halls. Surely locking students in their accommodation is unlawful? How is that ok? I’m sorry (and you may disagree with me which is your right) but if they had locked my son/daughter up I would have fetched them home straight away. After all the fiasco with exams and school this year, this is how they treat them? Like criminals.

  • Curfews? Ok ok, we’ll leave the pub/restaurant at 10pm… Party in the street anyone? Party back at yours? There is no hope - no one is giving us any hope of an end to it all or even what we might be aiming for. Does anyone actually know what we are aiming for? I’ve been trying religiously to follow the rules up to now and it’s been hard but I have done it. But now? Now? Even I’m starting to think, “What is the point?” I am more than happy to wear a mask and keep 2m apart - that is not an issue, but not visiting/seeing my mum even on the moors is really hurting me now. Yes, we are hopefully saving lives but are we, are we really? In the long run? What about all those lives that will be lost to undiagnosed, untreated cancers, heart disease (because people are not exercising like before and possibly comfort-eating. Mum!), suicide (dread to think how some of those young people LOCKED IN in Manchester Met are feeling), poverty. I could go on and on but I’m moaning again.

  • Stop making sense. None of the rules make sense, at least to me. I have done Speech Bubbles in the school I work in. It was great! Loved it. BUT… no one wears a mask, there is very little social-distancing, even amongst the staff. So I can go there and work with all those people but not meet my family at a safe distance on the moors. I know people keep going on about this but it is because no one has a proper answer… how does it make sense? Anyone?

  • Does anyone wonder whether this plague is so much worse now we have all the modern technology that we live with. TOUCHING stuff is a big thing these days if you think about it. Mobile phones. How many people regularly disinfect their mobile phones? And let’s face it for a lot of young (and not so young. Mother!) people it never leaves their hands (even to go to the toilet for some. Urgh!) Laptops, computer screens and keypads, cash till points, card machines - the list is endless of things we have to and choose to touch. It’s a dream scenario for any plague if you think about it!

  • Boris and that press conference… actually I can’t even be bothered going there. 



So… this week feels like no light at the end of the tunnel… in fact no tunnel - someone seems to have uprooted it to another planet, in a far off galaxy.


Best wishes to all fellow ‘Journallers’. What a journey we are on together!


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

The only good nation is imagination (photo taken in Montpellier)


Blaise Cendrars and Joseph Deltheil


I like both these authors. Blaise did not like Joseph, he found him too "paysan" to be a good author. Joseph was rejected by the surrealists for the same reason, and Joseph himself found the Parisian authors too "bourgeois". I will take revenge on behalf of Joseph, and will put his books by those of Blaise. Non mais! (Not but, as we say in popular French when we make a protest or when we give a definitive judgment about something). 


It came with age: I am more and more keen to read 'littérature du terroir"- though Joseph Deltheil is not an "écrivain du terroir", but more universal. Talking about countryside authors, I met at work a Danish patient who recommended to me Claude Michelet - considered the best of such writers. It was because of her taste for his books (probably only one of the reasons) that when she retired, after living in New York, she came to live in our region near a well-known château.

Liberty versus Solidarity


One can read a lot of opinions about Covid restrictions infringing liberty. As a care worker, I feel myself to be a real idiot to have followed for years hygienic prescriptions in order not to expose ill persons to an extra heath risk. This rule was obviously for the few - the carers. We have made the effort, but when it comes to the rest of the society, it appears that many people find it impossible to make the same effort. The most difficult thing for me has been not to wear rings at work. It had been a real pain for me, small but permanent. Continually washing hands has not been too difficult, my skin seems resistant enough. But when these rules of hygiene concern everybody it apparently becomes an infringement of liberty: liberty, that is, to harm the people who are passing by near you. 


I find this very disturbing. And it seems that the majority of no-mask believers are refusing the new rule, so I wonder why should I drive on the correct side of the road when the road is empty or stop at the red traffic light when the crossing is clear, or pay taxes to benefit people I don't know, or respect the decision of a government I did not vote for.


If you follow the rules of the democratic "game", are you less tolerant that the ones who don't? 


What is the consensus on liberty today, tell me? 


The new rule more than ever, in France (as probably in England) is "tout pour ma pomme" (everything for my apple = myself). With age, I feel very silly to have cared for so many people, I should have "cultivated my garden" as Voltaire said as a motto in Candide and followed the rule of "everything for my apple", I would not then feel such a fool today. My tongue is in my cheek in saying this, but not entirely. Luckily, Mozart's operas soften my heart, his music is so generous. 


No journal for me next week, a new week of holidays (I worked all summer). After our previous break two weeks ago in Monts du Cantal, Rodez and Montpellier, we will go to Lille (William Kentridge exhibition, cello concerts and meeting my niece Bénédicte studying there), then Lens (the Louvre extension) and the Baie de la Somme (nothing to do there except enjoy a beautiful marshy landscape, and eat seafood).


I hope that Covid will not disturb that plan too much. Last week, Covidiots, not respecting the basic rules, caused the closure of the Musée Soulages which we wanted to visit in Rodez; only the "café Bras" attached to the museum was open - we had such a meal there! - you are not going to feel sorry for us. Difficult to describe what we ate; it would be like telling you the colors of a painting by Titian, it would not give any idea. Instead of the museum, we had an unexpected organ concert in the cathedral, while an "épisode cévenol" made a fantastic rattle outside - it's a brutal and intense storm inland which lasts between one and three days, something to do with hot and wet air from the Méditerranée hitting cold air from the west and the north, very high in the sky. Hail and thunder were accompanying the music. When we went out, we got wet in no time, I was surprised how big rain drops were. I have never known one of these storms before, though in France you often hear about them on the radio. I am very pleased to have lived through one - without much risk (some people are victims of terrible and sudden floods which they cause).


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

I have received another randomly selected invitation to participate in Covid research. This one, to be conducted over a period of some 12 months, I have decided to decline the reason being the following sentence... ‘they will be trained to take blood’!!! Apparently I, together with any additional member of my household, would be eligible for a potential £325 squids (yes, that’s £325 each!) if we agree to this, but the idea of some unknown person... ‘a study worker’... coming to my house every month brandishing a hypodermic syringe fills me with horror... who are these trained study workers?Needless to say I have had an ear worm all week... Pink Floyd’s  ‘Comfortably numb!’   Hello, hello, hello... is there anybody in there... just a little pin prick... agh... !’ What if they inject novichok instead of extracting my O+. What if the person is one of these loopy multiple murderers??? So, apologies to the UK Government and the Office for National Statistics together with the University of Oxford but no can do.

© 2020 Margaret Steward  Proudly created with Wix.com