Staying home

Nicky, Vermont, USA

No time to write this week… I took a week long travel sketchbook class with artist Susan Abbott. Assignments included a treasure hunt around the house of various categories, a grid of shoes, and a sketch of a friend or family member. Including pictures… no claims to creating art here, but certainly claims to fun and play.


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Rules by Franklin Lewis Macrae


School has changed so much and I'm finding the new rules quite strange and irritating. The latest is that only people buying a school meal can eat in the canteen. If you have a packed lunch, you are not allowed in there, you have to get outside. We used to be able to eat together. This new rule is to keep the number of students in the canteen down. On Tuesday though, I sneaked in as my friends were eating there and I didn't want to have my packed lunch on my own. My form tutor caught me and told me to get out. It was raining so I told her I though the new rule was unfair. She ordered me outside. But when I got into the corridor, I was carrying my sandwich in one hand and my rucksack with the other and hadn't had a chance to put my mask on. I bumped into the deputy head, who yelled at me for not wearing it in the corridors. I was cross and told her I'd been ordered out of the canteen while eating my sandwich and I hadn't had a chance. This made her yell even more. Then the form tutor came out of the canteen to see what was going on and they both were angry together. I felt it was very unfair. When I got home my mum was furious as they had emailed her. So far, I have not said sorry because I didn't think it was wrong. I did forget my mask on Monday and she got an email then too. So now I have a mask in my blazer, one in my trouser pocket and one in my rucksack.


We're not allowed to be in groups of more than six. We have been told not to hang out after school in groups larger than six or even with people who aren't in your bubble. This doesn't make sense when there are 30 people in the classroom. The teachers are also cross because they said they teach five or six classes a day, totalling about 180 pupils over a day but they can't see their families if there are more than six of them.


I miss not being able to move around the corridors between classes. There are no practical lessons either, so no science experiments. We're not allowed to play football in PE but I don't mind this so much, it was rough and if we played in the playground, I'd always get left out. So far, I've been going into the canteen with my packed lunch to eat with my friends and I buy a carton of orange juice for 10p. They can't throw me out if I buy something. It's a stupid rule.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

We are back home now after spending three glorious weeks on holiday, relaxing and catching up with friends. The South West has been less affected by Covid than other parts of England and our friends in Cornwall didn’t know anyone who had had the virus. This seems strange considering the amount of people who have visited since lockdown eased in July. We returned home to spend four days with our youngest son and partner who had been staying in our house while we were away. We hadn’t seen them since before lockdown so it made a perfect ending to our trip. I feel very lucky to have been able to do all of this especially the way things are going now.


At least six more months of this strange life and over the winter too. I knew there would probably be a second wave but tried to stay positive and hope for a sudden vaccine breakthrough or a successful treatment to make the virus less deadly. Doctors have learnt ways to improve the outcomes for some of the most seriously ill patients but we still have a long way to go. 


Last Sunday I had a panicky night when I was still awake at 4am, convinced that my slight sore throat wasn’t just caused by tiredness and the cough I seemed to be developing wasn’t caused by stress. I spent some time working out how I would self-isolate from the other three people in the house – our son and his partner obviously wouldn’t be able to go home. Eventually I fell asleep and woke up after about four hours feeling absolutely fine… although rather tired. 


On Monday evening we took our visitors to Chesterfield to catch their train back to London. I really didn’t want them to go. I wanted to keep them close and safe although I obviously didn’t say that to them. At the station there was an announcement, “This train is very busy today and it may be difficult to socially distance. You may want to take a later service.” The train arrived with the first three First Class carriages virtually empty. Crazy. As Dan suffers from asthma I wanted them to go and sit in First Class but they didn’t. Nobody had checked their tickets on the way up so there probably wouldn’t have been anyone checking them going back to London. Surely in the present circumstances the First Class carriages should be being used to reduce crowding. Announcements such as:- “Because we have a high number of passengers on this train we would like to offer all senior citizens over the age of 60 a seat in First Class.” “Any passengers travelling with a child under the age of ten years may move to seats in First Class.” Would people who had purchased a first class ticket complain? I expect some would.


On a lighter note I was amused by a story about Dan and his twelve year old niece. While we were away he was woken by an early morning phone call from her sister to say she was freaking out as she had left her schoolbag at our house. Could he take it into school for her? Dan doesn’t like getting up earlier than he has to but agreed to meet her with the bag. The bag was already fairly full but he managed to squeeze in the largest, heaviest book he could find – Monty Don’s The Complete Gardener. He handed it over and made a hasty retreat before she discovered what he had done. She had to carry it around with her all day. I have made quite a few journeys into school with essential items which have been forgotten by one or other of the grandchildren so I didn’t feel much sympathy for her.


I found out last week that the “Factory in the Midlands” is in Corby where I went to secondary school. I had been wondering where it was. My experience of factory life in Corby was working at Golden Wonder crisp factory during the school holidays. The worst line was the one where the washed potatoes came in and you had to pick out the rotten ones. The smell! I lived in a nearby village where my brother still lives. It is interesting reading everyone’s journal entries and feeling connections.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Jobs, Redundancy, Students, Lockdowns, Testing, Winter, Darkness, Infection, Inflation, Shortages, Flu, Carehomes, Hospitality, Entertainment, Brexit...

How are you coping, my Journalistas, my Fellow Travellers, in this Caravanserai of Jollity, this Autumn of the Winter of Discontent?
I hope you’re calm and in a good place.
It’s being so cheerful keeps me going.


View From the Top of the Hill

Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge

I fully intended to avoid World Events and Politics this week as it had all got a bit monotonous but things have moved on which deserve a mention. Firstly, I was rather looking forward to the PM's "circuit breaker". It sounded like a short sharp intervention which would halt the spread of the virus and do the least damage to society. However, this was abandoned in favour of the more arduous 10pm curfew and the threat of six months of measures. This was presumably due to pressure from the scientists, who had previously appeared at a briefing with dire warnings about the infection rates they expect in the coming winter if we don't all knuckle down and obey the rules. These are to be enforced with large fines and the possibility of the military being brought in to support the police. Opinion varies about whether a curfew will halt the infection rate. Someone said the virus doesn't know what time it is. Police were patrolling an eerily empty Soho last night - the pub goers had probably all gone to one another's houses for parties at closing time.


Schools and universities are staying open, despite several outbreaks in halls of residence the minute the students moved in. Students may not be allowed to go home for Christmas, so it's all right to lock them up as long as they're getting an education without the risk of infecting their families. I don't think that will turn out well. There's already a sign in a window of a student accommodation block, in Dundee I think. It says "HELP!"


The new social rules were followed by fiscal measures announced by the Chancellor to "protect jobs", which has met a mixed response from businesses and the public. Apparently, someone somewhere will decide whether someone's job is viable and if it is they can work a third of their usual hours and their employer will pay them for half and the government for a quarter, meaning the worker gets three quarter pay and the employer is out of pocket. No doubt many employers are scratching their heads while they work out if it's worth jumping through all the hoops to claim the cash. There are murmurings about "retraining".


The fatal flaw in this is the definition of viable. People whose work takes place at night, whether musicians, night club hostesses, actors, dancers or bar workers etc will no doubt be classed as non-viable. The night-time economy usually hides in city centres, out of sight, but humming along in its own time, giving essential recreation to the public. What will all these people do now that furlough is being cancelled? Many probably couldn't claim it anyway as they are often self-employed casual workers and are relying on savings, parents and friends to survive. Will dancers be forced to retrain as computer programmers, or musicians as delivery drivers? What about air hostesses, indefinitely grounded, will they become shelf-stackers at Aldi? The media students had better change course and become psychologists, as we will need a lot of counsellors when this is over.


One profession, although apparently essential at the moment, seems to have a surplus. I am talking of course about epidemiologists, of which there appears to be an endless procession across our screens, with an infinite variety of views on the pandemic. One would be enough, if he or she had a perfect World Beating solution to our ills.


Oh yes, the World Beating App has been released at last! However, it doesn't work on all phones and only 10% of people are likely to sign up for it. Even if they do, 80% of people are failing to self isolate when they should, unsurprisingly. We were warned at the start that people would get sick of the restrictions and this seems to be the case. Either that or they have to leave the house to hunt for food.


My 11 year old grandson has recently decided to be a musician, a hazardous occupation at the best of times, requiring years of hard work and enthusiasm. I hope he goes for it, enjoys making music and that he will bring pleasure to many people. I'm still an optimist.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon

This was a week of projects and online courses. Simon and I enjoyed Session Four of the Art History Course in which we examined and identified “Symbols” in paintings of the period, such as the keys held by St Peter. Having been raised a Catholic and taught by Dominican nuns I was familiar with many of these but I hadn’t fully taken in the historical context and how significant and instructive these symbols were for a population where few might be able to read or write.


The second half of the session was taken by the Head of Framing at the National Gallery. Neither Simon nor I expected much of this session - how often do you think about the frame when looking at a painting? - but we were fascinated. His talk was illustrated with slides of frames currently undergoing conservation. There was information about gilding and architectural shapes. He gave a very informative overview, again with numerous examples, of the history of framing, explaining how each era reframed works to their own tastes. 


Earlier in the week Margaret and I “attended” a zoom course in Block Printing given by Louiza Loakes. This was the first of two of her zoom courses that we have booked. In this course we cut and printed with potatoes. The first potato we carved to a design outlined on the screen by Louiza, then we cut one of our own design. I was truly fascinated by the variety of patterns that can be created by one simple block - just by changing the direction of the print. Out of interest I tried a print using half of a lemon as well. I am really looking forward to the next course where we will be cutting out own Lino block for printing. There is so much here to explore.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk


Back from a freezing day in the shop with the door and window open. People were so covered up with wet weather gear and masks and hats and gloves, you’ve no idea who you’re talking to. When I go to the shops in Holt in my mask, hat, anorak etc, everyone says, Hello Annabel. I don’t think I’d make a good bank robber. There is a slight conundrum with hand sanitiser and wooly gloves.


Dreadful storm all day.

Power cut when I got home.

I am sitting in the semi dark with the fluorescent candles alight and the fire lit about to start writing this and hallelujah the electric is back on. Radio 4 starts talking to me and various electrical items bleep and twitter and whoops they all go off again. Silence and then hooray, a few seconds later and it’s all back on after the darkness and silence. Managed to cook supper as the Aga was still warm.

Oops,back in darkness again! 

Had to go on a very circuitous route to get Earnie from Doggy Day care as there was a tree in the road. Trees and branches down everywhere on the lanes. My garden is flattened and all the Virginia creeper has been blown off the house. Its a real mess out there. Had to pull a branch out from under the car.

Telly back on!

Had quite a busy week. A few visits from friends and 2 more hugs! 

The news is fairly depressing. Positive infections today nearly 7,000. The ONS say its probably nearly 10,000 in reality but can’t tell as testing is still not good enough. Hospital admissions start rising.

There’s a weird feeling in the air as to what might happen. People are half expecting another lockdown though Boris hasn’t brought it in yet. People are quite pissed off with Boris and his Churchillian dispatches. Restrictions have been tightened. Loo roll and pasta are being stock piled so the supermarkets have brought in limits. 

I havn’t used all the loo roll from the last time but I did stop at M&S the other day and bought a bottle of good olive oil and stocked up on Ecover washing stuff today in Holt. 

 I think he has lost the trust of the GBP. Rishi has brought in another financial support package for people but much less than the furlough scheme. The national debt is billions and billions and billions, I wonder how any of them are sleeping.

Outbreaks of Covid 19 in over 30 universities after all the gatherings in the last week or two. Hundreds of students have tested positive for Coronavirus and hundreds more are in self isolation in their halls of residence. Glasgow particularly bad with 170 cases. Poor kids locked down with their new housemates who they only just met and told they probably won’t be able to go home for Christmas. They are not having much fun and are feeling slightly conned that they have been encouraged to go to university and pay thousands in fees etc but aren’t allowed out at all so should have stayed at home with mum and dad in the first place.

Today a policeman was shot in a custody centre Croydon. He was due to retire in a few weeks.

There is more violence in the air.


Other news, a second vaccine has started its round of trials.

Incredibly Navalny is getting better and is out of hospital.

The NHS app has been launched.

Bake off is back on the telly. They all went into a bubble together for weeks to make the programme. Mat Lucas is the new presenter. He does a very good Boris.


Must go to bed. Its very late as I keep falling asleep on the sofa with my lap top on my knee but the lights are still on.

Its going to be a long long winter.

Love Annabel xxx


From the Editor

Margaret, Norfolk

All change, all change. A change of lockdown rules, and a change of weather, as befits the Autumn equinox. High winds, heavy rain, a drop in temperature. At the window cat Bertie, having rushed in from the storm, berates the weather. He howls and curses it as only a Bengal cat can. Then he curls up and goes to sleep in the armchair near the Aga. 


I sit at the kitchen table, reading journal entries as they come in: enjoying the diversity, the connections being made, eager to know how your week has been. Harris reminds me that it’s time again for porridge at breakfast, I’m pleased to hear that Catherine is a grandmother, I enjoy seeing Mary’s potato cut designs ( although I did the course by Zoom with her, I somehow didn’t get to see much on my screen, and my potato cuts were much messier), and I feel sad that Peter and I missed the outside Harvest Festival that other Mary describes. We just forgot the time in a very disorganised way. But I can tell her that it’s not the first service to be held outside our little church. Twenty odd years ago, when the roof of the church was being thatched, the few services we had transferred to our house. Harvest Festival was held in our kitchen, with the odd cat in attendance, other services in our sitting room. A small congregation, no social distancing needed. I can’t remember what we did for music.  In return, the church bought us a tree for the garden, a crab apple, which we still call the Church Crab. It’s very pretty and at present is covered in red fruit.


We’ve had a steady flow of garden visitors to sit under the garden pavilion. Lovely to see fellow journaler ( is that a word?) Susan Neave and her husband David, down from Yorkshire for a few days in Norfolk. Saying goodbye to friends off to New Zealand for seven months. Sheila and Chris for tea. But yesterday afternoon, knowing windy, wet weather was on the way, we took down the pavilion, hoping to re- erect it for a golden, windless October so that we can continue to see friends. While we can.


But, turning back to the journal, I must point out the different ways that our contributors are being creative. There is David Horovitch and his sonnets (do revisit his website as he has added an introduction and occasional commentaries); Sophie’s podcast about Ingrid Bergman is wonderful - I listened to it this afternoon; John Mole has not only written a poem each day during these last few months but, as Sandy points out plays music every lunchtime in his garden - see his Instagram account and watch and listen to him; and today I received my copy of a book published only yesterday: Bloomsbury Stud (a biography of sculptor, Stephen Tomlin) by Susan Fox and Michael Bloch. Susan often writes for the journal from the Hudson Valley. It’s a very handsome book, and it’s my weekend reading! A must for all Bloomsbury devotees.


Meanwhile, Stephanie from Midhurst and Jane from St Just are writing poems as they always do (both published by Bloodaxe), Peter is working on a new book of poems for Carcanet, Sandy is colouring her beautiful engravings that have been accepted for next year’s Society of Wood Engraver’s exhibition, and Susan Neave and her husband, David, are working on a new Shell guide for Yorkshire. And James Oglethorpe treats us to a piece of his fiction every week. And I could go on, as many of the contributors from the earlier days of the journal also continue to keep busy writing and making. 


As we look forward to a Zoom Christmas and a socially distanced New Year, we all need to be creative. So, two fingers to Dominic Cummings who, according to David H, said ‘ballerinas to the back of the queue’ when asked about the future of theatre at the moment. Let’s keep making, writing, gardening, baking, playing music, singing, dancing. Dancing in the dark.


I’ve just been told that our fig tree has been knocked horizontal. I must brave the storm.

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