Rosemary, Rodborough Common
T'was the first Christmas night during Corona,
and across much of the world
the unfolding nightmare continued.
The beastly virus changed and
mutated a spike protein that it uses
to bind a human receptor.
Nurses and doctors collapsed from exhaustion.
Old folk aware of the dangers
tightly shuttered their windows,
whilst awaiting a call for their vaccination,
an escape route from all the mayhem.
Now as the virus continues to spread,
father gathers his strength,
mother hides her anguish from the children,
but everyone pulls together on this
different Christmas journey.
But keep calm and carry on,
things are looking far brighter in
Apologies for any likeness to Clement Clarke Moore's poem
"T'was the night before Christmas"
Florist in lockdown
Jane, Near Manchester, England
I hope you are all well and safe, this is a very short entry. I have been working flat out at the flower shop. We are so busy, which is great for business, but challenging for Helen and I, as two of the other girls are frightened of being in the shop. I am just so thankful that I have a job, and one that I love! So I am happy to do overtime! I am still travelling by train, goodness knows how they are affording to provide a service because they are practically empty of passengers. Everything feels slightly surreal. The town, normally vibrant and exciting is so quiet at night. Hospitality only open for takeouts. Just wanted to wish you all a happy Christmas and see you next year for a hug fest!!
Also, Bill and Oti on Strictly!! Just fabulous! Or as Craig would say “Fab you lass!”
Keep well everyone xxxxxxxxxxxx
Choose Something Like a Star
Its Tom Bowlands day today, and I was lucky enough to celebrate this old Cornish festival once in Mousehole with the family, though it must be ten years ago now....
Observations from the last few days.
Edinburgh - just managed to fit a visit in before we were back in what's pretty much a lockdown, now in Tier 4. A lovely visit. Sam, my youngest son and his wife Laura live in an amazing part of town which is near the hospitals and their places of work, or will be one day when everything is not online. It's been a mix for them - they are very disappointed they haven't met their teams, they are both doing PhDs in the sciences, and working with many nationalities. All the getting together was of course cancelled, and all the random, serendipitous encounters non existent. They are very happy together, though Laura hasn't seen her Irish family since May, and they have missed and are still missing Laura's first pregnancy and they may not be able to come over here when she has the baby in late January. Laura is part of a strong, loving family and is finding this very hard...
Outside Aldi in Edinburgh, there's just one of the very many homeless people here. She's a gorgeous young girl, amazing hair and eyes, possibly Romanian? I guess she's about twenty. Now everyone is encouraged to use their contactless cards, people - including me - have less cash. Instead I give her some oranges. In town there's many people - ex army and more, with cardboard plaques begging for the money for a b and b that night.
Back here, I need to get the spare tyre done after a puncture. The guy I always go to says that I'm his first customer that day - it's about 2pm - and on Saturday he didn't cover his petrol costs to get to work. Why? Nobody's going anywhere. I ask him if he got the self employment grant, but he said he wouldn't apply for that as he was made homeless last year, and had two boys in temporary accommodation which cost him £350 a week. The bill came to £15,000, which he'd have to start paying out if his small wage, as the grant would take him over the limit of when to pay back.
Last night I went to do a modelling session with J, an autistic boy I've been working with for years. He's a great lad, and an amazing drawer. His parents were there and run an import/export business; they have currently £600,000 worth of computer parts stuck in a lorry in a French queue.
The other girl I've been working with, Lola, is 11 and when I asked her mum if she'd be going back to school in January, she said that all her lessons for her year are online - indefinitely.
My walking buddy has lodgers, two of whom work in care homes. One has just been tested positive, though as yet he has no symptoms - but obviously the whole house is in isolation.
For the third time I've cancelled my driving trip to Cornwall to visit my friend of 87 years who lives alone in a chapel on the beach. It's a spectacular place, and unlike some ladies of that age, she's used to the solitary life and although she was really looking forward to spending new years eve with me... and oh, so was I... there's no choice in the matter. We'll make do with a phone call instead.
Meanwhile I just couldn't count the number of jobs, teaching and life modelling, I've had restarting and cancelled again. On, off, oh maybe on? No sorry, can't take the chance, maybe in a month? Let's see. Put it on hold. Still... I consider myself super lucky as I'm receiving Universal Credit, and the self employment grants - if you get the second one, it gets taken off the first. But it's enough!
Greetings from the far south
Mark Waller, Pretoria, South Africa
South Africa and the UK both share the invidious distinction of hosting a new, more infectious variant of Covid-19, seemingly ahead of most other countries. Seemingly because you just can’t tell. But as a result quite a few countries have stopped flights and other forms of transport to or from SA and the UK.
SA has close ties with the UK, closer than with any other European country. Many people in SA have relatives in the UK, there are masses of ex-pat Brits here, myself included, though I came here from Finland, where I lived for many years.
The first big migration of people from England to South Africa took place in 1820, when about 4,000 settlers, mainly from the east end of London, were brought to the far south to help colonise the Cape and outlying settlements and act as a strategic ‘buffer’ against the African population to the east and north. The distinctive South African accent that colours the spoken English of mainly white people here still carries unmistakable Cockney tones, though mixed with various other phonic influences.
It’s likely that the new Covid variant was brought here by someone, or more than one person, who had travelled from the UK, though I suspect that will remain a hypothesis. The new variant has spread so rapidly and widely that it’ll be hard to trace it back to any source the way the first corona infections in SA were, back in March.
The rates of infection and mortality are now increasing apace. The government is reluctant to impose any strict lockdown measures of the kind used earlier this year. The fallout is seen as simply too awful for a country with the sort of fragile social and economic fabric that prevails in SA. In the UK it’s been seen that there is, after all, and despite a lot of Tory rhetoric down the years, a money tree of sorts, and that the country has the wealth, assuming there's the political will, to help communities hit hard by Covid and lockdown. You could only do that here in SA by expropriating the expropriators — an extremely remote prospect.
So, we just have to sit tight and wait for the vaccine to arrive, and hope that before then more people will wake up to the need to stay safe.
Happy holidays, Christmas and New Year everyone. Take care, and let’s hope that by this time next year our lives will be bathed in a far brighter light at the end of this godawful tunnel.
Here's a pic of us - Gracey, Mark, Masana and Leago - here in Pretoria, sending love and best wishes to you all.
David Horovitch, Twickenham
Twickenham is best known for its rugby ground but when I visited it on Saturday it was to be tested for coronavirus. Francis and I had both agreed to be tested and as near to Christmas as possible. If either of us were positive it was a solitary Christmas for us both with quarantine on either side.
A cold coming I had of it. They said Whitton Rd but it was Whitton Grove. They said Gate D but it was Gate 3. Anyway I found it and it had been surprisingly easy to book online. Beyond asking your postcode and whether you had any of the three familiar symptoms there was nothing to it. I am seriously thinking of doing it once a week. It's the nearest I'll get to a holiday this year. It would be what my mother used to call, in her dull old age, an outing. When I finally found the place not a moment too soon it was (you might say) satisfactory. (I can't get The Journey of the Magi out of my head). A few little booths strewn around a muddy car park. A young black man came out of one of these and asked to see the bar code on my mobile. I started to wind down my window and was told not to and he took a picture of it on his mobile. Then he asked whether I'd like a DIY job or would I rather have someone do it for me. I said I'd prefer the latter and he directed me to drive to the left. I was faced with a labyrinth defined by innumerable traffic cones. With great care I negotiated the potholes of this muddy maze and waited for a few minutes while the people in the car in front of me were being tested by a large figure so enveloped in PPE that I could have guessed neither its colour nor gender. When it came to my turn a small blonde woman came out of the booth and asked me to wind down my window. She told me that what was going to happen to me wasn't going to be very pleasant and asked me to face her and open my mouth. I did so but clearly I wasn't doing the right thing. 'No, no.,' she said, 'Imagine your'e at the dentist.' "if I was at the dentist,'I said 'I would be semi- recumbent.' Oh dear, I must have sounded like Noel Coward. She went back into the booth and emerged a moment later with the mound of PPE who I could now see was female and black. She said to me 'Put your head on the headrest.' I did and within seconds the not particularly unpleasant deed was done.
A few hours later I was crying tears of rage and frustration and shouting expletives at the village idiot on my television who has finally seen sense and called off Christmas. In the last week in London we have been in tiers two, three (for two days) and now the newly formed four. I was in a profound gloom on Sunday, thinking I couldn't see Francis at Christmas but several people have advised me otherwise. Because he's on his own and not in his own bubble he can come for lunch, but he won't, as originally planned, stay the night.
This morning I collected the goose. I got there as soon as the butcher opened at 8am, hoping to avoid the queues but the whole of St Margaret's had had the same idea. I shall do the rest of my shopping at Waitrose at 9pm this evening when I'm told it'll be quiet. Before then a day of solitude stretches ahead of me. I shall wrap presents and read. I'm trying to relish the thought
I do wish all my fellow journalists the best possible Christmas and look forward to seeing you on the other side. xx
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
A very French present to you all.
"C’est en faisant n’importe quoi qu’on devient n’importe qui".
"When doing idiotic things, you become no matter who"
- as you see rather difficult to translate, but it sounds proverbial in French.
The sentence is the motto of Rémi Gaillard - from Montpellier - who has a channel on YouTube. One episode called "Le Pirate" makes me laugh a lot, also one about a "blind" man driving while waving a white stick out of the window. Rémi makes rather silly short videos, a bit vintage, not 100% PC, but good hearted. I used to watch them with my son Benoît when he was in his mid-teens, a happy time together. It's my special present for those among you who feel a bit down. There are no words so you don't need to know French. Try them, I promise you won't get a headache. Maybe too French? Rob doesn't like them - he says that the French laugh mainly at mishaps of other people, specially enjoying the situation when they see misfortune approaching at great speed someone who is not yet aware of the situation.
It has been a very difficult time over four years for European Anglophiles and British expatriates in Europe. As a thirty-six years old Franco-English couple with Franco-English children, we have spent this time walking on eggshells with friends and family members. I don’t know how you have felt with your own family, probably just as divided as our English family. At least it’s a confirmation that representational parliamentary democracy is in flat contradiction with a decision by referendum. An elected parliament can't get out of the trap without denying the result of the referendum (we saw that in France with the referendum about the European constitution, it probably cost Nicolas Sarkozy a second mandate). The question is so simple that it can't make space for any subtle answer. It creates a sharp division and empowers the most extreme people. It's like cutting off a broken leg rather than trying to repair it.
These last years, it has been virtually forbidden to talk about the EU and the referendum. The words were hard and the attitude violent, you were made to feel disloyal if you were in favor of the EU. I will be so relived if this antagonistic situation comes to an end in eight days. In the mean time we both feel betrayed, and that we can't come back to England.
Politics is a touchy subject in France also. Not being able to talk freely is a denial of democracy. It is one reason why people here enjoy talking about food and wine, a subject about which you are allowed to disagree peaceably. You can't express your opinion quietly if you are not in the received trend of the moment, which is also cutting the possibility of an alternative when things go wrong. If you are conservative and economically liberal, you have to keep quiet about it. It's practically the equivalent of being a fascist for your lefty friends - the majority trend in France. "Equality" being far ahead of everything else. But the Orwellian Animal Farm kind of equality: All the animals are equal...
In resuscitation departments in France, doctors have a saying: "c'est quand ça va mal que ça s'aggrave", “it’s when it goes badly that it’s get worse” - cynicism in the French tradition. Four years of Brexit tension, then COVID-19 for a year, then a new COVID-19 virus, then Macron having a headache with COVID-19 and wanting to prevent the English from getting their leeks, broccoli and Brussels sprouts for their festive lunch. In the meantime, keeping lorry-drivers prisoner in the UK, and piling up heavy-vehicles in Kent. An historical revenge for Azincourt, Jeanne d'Arc and Waterloo.
I am very sorry you can't have the Brussels sprouts. Personally I hate them, and if you can't have them, they will be very cheap here. Rob will buy a lot of them, he loves them, and we will have them, boiled or roasted, for weeks. Quel supplice!
Today it seems Macron is feeling a little better, you may have your leeks, broccoli and Brussels sprouts in time and the lorry drivers may be home for Christmas, a good ending to a bad story.
Christmas and New Year card nostalgie.
We just got the first card, let's hope some more will come, they are the swallows of winter coming back to their usual nest, it's means life and friendship are going on for an extra year. With time the number is getting thinner because of e-mails, SMS... also, death of friends and family members. I put the cards on a ribbon in front of the dining room window. Ten years ago, they were on two ribbons now one is more than enough. We are supposed to keep the Christmas's decorations until 6 January - Epiphanie. I prefer to keep the cards on show until Easter, witnessing the presence of friends.
Whales are back, their population is increasing.
I listen to the "Songs of Humpback Whales", incredible sounds of fellow mammals. Very moving.
If I heard them while walking in the woods of the Sologne, I would be absolutely terrified, since they are much more powerful that the bellowing stags. One day Artificial Intelligence will help us to understand what animals are saying to each other.
When the lockdown started, I was still working in Orléans. Driving to work through woods for forty kilometers, I rarely encounter animals on the road - thank God.
But at the time of lockdown, with the road empty, I saw many of them: an extended family of wild boar, many deer, and a pack of ducks walking on the road. Something I had never seen before. I thought they were having parties, probably asking each other " where are all the humans in their cars?"
I hope I will live long enough to know what the whales are saying to each other. And hope that humans won't abuse that discovery.
It's easy for our daughter, she sends a Father (and Mother) Christmas list in September, she is so organized. It's a fairly long one, children always stay children, good for me. Her birthday being in February, the list does for both, and for the rest of the year when I want to give her a present. On the list this year: warm slippers, books of Peter Hopkirk (about the "Great Game")... She likes anything useful, small and light for long walks as she carries her tent and equipment. Small earrings always welcome - not too often, she has minimalist aspirations.
For my sisters (and their nice husbands) this year it will be a parcel from Kerbriant in Douarnenez, an artisan fish cannery. It's always welcome to have tapas, fish soup or nice sardines in store, when the fridge is empty or one comes back home from holidays.
Chocolate and pretty bright orange socks for my father in a care home. Even when the brain gets more incompetent, one always like something tasty and something for cold feet in winter.
For the secretaries at work, a small tin of a nice curry from La Reunion, very mild, they always like the smell of the chicken curry that Rob cooks when I put it in the microwave in the communal dining room of the department.
For nieces and nephews, it's cash, they always need some for projects or debts.
For the friends I give presents to, or the ones I have forgotten, I have a permanent store in a wicker basket, which I glean through the year in artisan's shops or flea markets. I can't remember what's in the basket, but I always find something to perfectly fit the receiver. I can reserve one for myself too if I feel that I need a reward.
As for Rob and me, as every day together is a present in itself (be reassured, we don't live in Lalaland, they are warm days and colder ones, the sum of days being largely positive), we have a special arrangement. Rob gives presents to himself throughout the year, so has no need of an avalanche in mid-December. At Christmas, each of us buys one CD and the other gives it back as a Christmas present. We prefer it like that and we are not disappointed by the present!
Best wishes to you all, and looking forward to the pleasure of reading you next year.
My hero Marie Curie (and Pierre Curie) around 1905 in their lab. No other way out of this virus crisis than science.
And, local wine (vin du coin) for a toast to a long life to Plague20 journal and its friends.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
Last Sunday I woke in such a gloomy mood. During the week my spirits had lifted at the thought of the vaccine. Someone we knew had had the injection. Hurrah! This pandemic could end. In time, normal life might return.
But, by Saturday night my hopes were dashed - maybe only temporarily but so hurtfully. I felt so sorry for those whose plans were disrupted, for all those families kept apart. I was cross. Why had we been allowed to hope?
I was so cast down.
Then, I opened the Journal and began to read this week’s “ Thin Air”:
If in the dumps
start climbing out of them
as it may prove less steep
than you feared...
It helped. I am still climbing, but Thank You, John.
My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
On my last walk before Christmas I pass by the lamp posts where someone has posted a Xmas quiz. When I reach the house before the lane the owners have made a crib all lit up in their garage for everyone's delight.
2020 goodbye the year of Covid 19
Lets hope 2021 brings us a happier New Year.
At 82 I have not yet been called to have the vaccination.
The polluted City of Steel is a shadow of its former self. George Orwell would not recognize it as the dirtiest city he has ever seen when researching his book The Road To Wigan Pier on Parkwood Springs.
Gone are the Gas tanks and the railway line that the German Luftwaffe couldn't destroy. The Hallamshire Steel and file company closed down. The houses left standing pulled down for slum clearances, all gone by 1970. The gun emplacement covered in grass and gorse.
2021 New beginnings are planned for Sheffield, an inner City Country park on Parkwood Springs. Sheffield City council and local friends groups are hoping to finally achieve this in the new year. With hope of reinstating the ski slope with cafe and facilities and wonderful views. Almost taking it back to its origins of the Duke of Norfolk's hunting ground. The deer have already returned during the lock down as they were free to roam on quiet roads.
There are all ready some wonderful trees, heather and ponds. The wildlife is a joy. There is a mountain Bike trail a football pitch and walks that have become popular during this years troubles of Covid and the need for fresh air.
Happy New Year everyone.
The Journal has become a wonderful escape from being alone.
Thanks to all for their contributions and friends I have made during this time of stress.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
Sunrise is at 10 am and sunset five hours later at 3 pm. Advent stars light up almost all the houses as you drive by the fjord, together with the pyramidal shaped electric advent candles. The latter was first created by a Swede, Oskar Andersson in 1934. The result is a fairytale-like Christmas in Norway.
It is by far my favourite month of the year here.
The news of increasing cases, deaths and lockdowns in Britain is unsettling and I’m not completely in the spirit of celebration.
We bought a mountain spruce, a «fjelledelgran» cut in Måndalen, 91 km away, and sold by a farmer who brings them here in his van. We dragged it home and I started decorating it on Monday the 21st, the winter solstice. My husband would have preferred to start on the 23rd evening according to his family custom but there is too much to do on that day.
I’m feeling strangely subdued and am not in a red, Christmassy mood at all. So, white candles on the tables, a collection of mummy’s old, Norwegian (yes, Indian mother had Norwegian decorations) straw decorations on the trees with some new white flag bunting. No glitz or glamour.
Christmas eve is the main event here. My husband will prepare his traditional fare. We bought pinekjøtt (dried and salted lamb ribs) two weeks ago. There is a huge variety for sale and the butcher in Eurospar was helpful and excited to explain the different varieties and help us choose. It has to be soaked for 24-36 hours prior to steaming it for four hours over birch sticks. We use a metal colander instead, and stick it in the oven to make it crisp. It’s served with a kålrabistappe (kolrabi pureed with butter and cream), potatoes, surkål (sauerkraut), svineribbe (pork ribs) and svinemør (pork sausage from the Møre og Romsdal region). For many years, my husband used to buy it from the butcher on Vigra, the island that his late mother hailed from, and, incidentally, where our airport is located. But for the last two years we’ve supported the lone, surviving butcher in Ålesund. This year, our friend Solveig’s Christmas present will be sausages from the pigs she recently had butchered. Hopefully in a humane fashion. I sound like a vegetarian, which I would technically like to be but don’t have the commitment or discipline to follow through with. Life was never the same after reading Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma 14 years ago.
Back to Christmas.
Jussi Björling, the late Swedish opera singer’s version of Silent Night from 1959 was my late mother-in-law’s favourite carol. It’s played often on every radio station here, mixed with WHAM, Bing, Ella and Dean. Inclusive Norwegians. Silent Night makes me sad. ‘Sleep in heavenly peace’ triggers morose memories. My favourite? ‘Rudolf the red nose reindeer’, the tale of the loner who got called names and couldn’t join the reindeer games till Santa loved him because of his shiny nose. Redemption. Very satisfying.
We shall warm the ‘Kongerøkelse‘ (frankinsence) in an aromatherapy burner, drink mulled wine whilst eating pepperkaker, kransekaker, mazariner. Fat and happy for one week.
I leave you with an image of my little, most unhelpful helper, Sofus, undecorating our tree.
Big, distant, safe hug to all of you. God Jul🎄🧚🏼🌟
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Dearest Journalistas... Thank you ALL for the best weekly entertainment ever! Who would have thought that we should ever meet and in this way.
Margaret and Sheila have done a very great thing combining and encouraging us to recognise that we all have something to say.
It’s been a remarkable conversation. Thank you and happy Christmas.
With love, Hilary