My feelings on paper
Barbara Warsop, Sheffield, Yorkshire
When Mary in Norfolk wrote the wonderful story of translating her Fathers diary's for the war museum, it spurred me on to write my own story of my father during the war.
I was born in 1938 just before WW 11
It lasted for 6 years and during that time I didn't have my father to share my Christmases.
He was serving his country in Belgium in the Royal Army Catering Corps.
My mum was left alone with me a young baby and she was terrified that a bomb would drop on the gas tanks or the railway line 200 yards away at the bottom of our road in Sheffield.
So my aunt Doris, mother’s sister and my maternal grandma came to live with us for moral support.
Sheffield blitz occurred on the 12th to the 15th December 1940 and bombs dropped all around us. No houses were left standing at the bottom of our road and as we sheltered in the Anderson shelter our windows were blown out. They were then boarded up for Xmas that year and for a long time after that.
It was another time of stress and fear.
During all those 6 years Father Christmas only came to those children who were lucky.
The presents I received were an Apple and orange, a silver sixpence and may be a doll or a compendium of games in a cardboard box. Plastic at that time did not exist.
So the mountain of plastic waste we have today has built up in 70 years since the 1950s.
Christmas has become too commercialized these days.
You hardly hear about Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the crib.
My father being in the Army in Belgium and his Brother was in the Navy sailing on HMS Viceroy a destroyer supply ship on the north Atlantic run. His 22 year old friend next door to them also in the Navy was sailing on the destroyer ship HMS Lapwing in the arctic convoys to Russia when it was torpedoed and he lost his life.
My Paternal grandma and all the women at home must have been out of their mind with worry during that time.
We also had food rationing so not much food to be had. At Christmas we made paper chains out of old newspaper and hung them from the ceiling and mum had some old glass baubles to hang on a very small artificial Xmas tree. No lights as we didn't have electricity, that was only installed when I was ten years old.
In my mind I try to compare it with the situation now and Covid and the restrictions in Sheffield of being in tier 3 and what will Xmas be like in 2020.
Allright I hear people saying there is no comparison. But I have said before Xmas is just another day. So why not celebrate it next summer when all the family can be together.
No one knows when Jesus was born.
Everyone keeps saying to me that it will all be over by April next year due to the vaccination.
I do hope so but I wont hold my breath.
When my father came home in 1945 I was 7 years old and he was a stranger to me. We never did make that time up, how could we?
My dad never spoke about the war apart from telling us a funny story about being a cook in the army.
One of the Sergeant majors asked for the fish to be served again dad had served the day before. Well it had been buried because it had gone off. But so as not to disappoint the sergeant he dug it up and served it to him again. We had much laughter about it as dad was good at embellishing a story.
At the end of the war my father brought home some black and white photos of Bruges, but we never talked about them. I have looked at these photos for years and wondered about them and the wonderful buildings on them. I said to my daughter Sarah that I would love to see where they were.
So for my 80th birthday after my husband had passed away Sarah and her and family took me to Bruges all the way from Sheffield on the train. It was magic, all the places on dad’s photos still exist today and I couldn’t believe they were all untouched by the war.
As we were travelling through the Belgium countryside I got quite emotional thinking of dad somewhere in the fields we were passing and I started to cry. I was sitting next to a stranger, a chap. I told him I was emotional because I was retracing my father footsteps with him being stationed here during the war. He told me he was Welch and that his mother told him about the war time in Port Talbot in Wales. He was working in Brussels. He also told me that the farmers when plowing in those fields were still plowing up bodies from the war.
No wonder my father didn't want to talk about it.
When we arrived a taxi took us to the door of the house we were staying in, in the center of Bruges. The coincidence was that a picture of a church buildings on one of dads photos was hung on the wall in the house and the first time exploring we passed this church which is now a museum.
We sampled all the wonderful things in Bruges, the chocolate drink and the waffles and wonderful Belgian stew. We had a boat trip around the canals and the weather was perfect. We managed all that before Covid struck. A wonderful holiday that I will remember for the rest of my life.
John Mole, St Albans
with necessary caution
after the shrinkage
of your living room
brings a benison
of fresh perspectives
and familiar landmarks
not observed before.
The year lets go
its bright abundance
and the memory
of consoling warmth
but the bitter chill
is still companionable
and each leaf a blessing
as it falls.
View from the Top of the Hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
I decided to make an earlier start this week and got up to see snow on the top of Greenhow Hill on the opposite side of the valley. By the time I'd finished breakfast the snow had arrived here and I'm hoping it won't settle as Sainsbury's might not make it up the hill at lunchtime. It's not much fun if we have to go down and carry it all up by hand and the hill is too long and steep to spread salt.
Only two things in the news at the moment, the vaccine and Brexit. The negotiators are described as being in a “Papal conclave”, as frustrated reporters are unable to find out what's going on. The white smoke they are awaiting is being regularly fuelled by eagerly observed deliveries of food – one night it was “high-end pizza”, then it was a trolley-load of sandwiches, then some kind of environmentally friendly takeaway. Only the best for the hard-working deal-makers. I've noticed that politicians constantly use the description “hard-working”. Suppose some of them aren't really working so hard, will they be sacked?
Obviously we all know what's holding up a Brexit agreement, it will be fishing rights and the Irish border. They could have dispensed with four years of talks and just thrashed it out in the next two days, which is what they're going to do now in any case. Apparently there are going to be delays at the ports, food shortages in Northern Ireland and lorries parked halfway to London. Well, we never saw that coming.
Our eyes and ears in the media are also keen to spot the actual lorries bringing the vaccine into the country, amid rumours of possible planned hijackings. Naturally the precious commodity is being transported in unmarked lorries with high security. This morning it transpires that Britain won't be getting the much fanfared ten million doses by Christmas. It is now going to be “some millions”, due to limitations in manufacturing and transport. Also, despite all the preparation and the promise of vaccinating the most vulnerable people first, particularly those in care homes, it is now “a huge challenge” to get this vaccine into care homes as it can only be moved once when it gets into the country and it needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees in batches of nearly a thousand. We have been saying for weeks they would struggle to get it to the right people. When they talked about mass vaccination centres did they think the aged and infirm were going to drive themselves there? Mostly they can't drive, aren't allowed to get a lift with a friend and can't stand in line.
The lovely Dr Antony Fauci put his foot in it by saying Britain had rushed its clearance of the vaccine and obviously as America has the gold standard health authority they were doing it more carefully to keep Americans safe. A row about who has the gold standard in this field was about to break out but Dr Fauci has apologised. Naturally he wanted Americans to be reassured but had the opposite effect of potentially knocking the British population's confidence in their “world-beating” safety checks. The Education Secretary chimed in, saying that Britain had authorised the vaccine first because “we're the best country,” which was greeted with great derision. Boris had already annoyed the Germans by claiming the vaccine as a British triumph, when it was actually developed by Turkish, German and American scientists. Much political reassurance can be expected over the next few weeks, starting this morning with the unofficial announcement that Father Christmas will be the first to get the vaccine. Hooray, we CAN have Christmas!
I can't possibly leave you without a mention of the present resident of the White House, who has been in meetings about issuing pardons to his political and business associates, friends and relatives, whether they have been charged with crimes or not, on the off chance that they may have committed offences already or may do so in the future, which obviously they deny. He may also pardon himself, although obviously he is completely innocent, which will make for some interesting legal challenges in the near future. If he's pardoned he will be able to kick off his 2024 election campaign by having a super spreader election rally on inauguration day and prevent the incoming president from stealing the limelight, which will serve Biden right for stealing the election, so that will be fair. In the meantime he's hosting many Christmas parties and ignoring his country's soaring death rate.
Photos of nearby Gouthwaite reservoir mentioned last week, appear below. Readers with Shakespearian interests might like to know that one of the two recorded performances of King Lear before the closing of the theatres by the Puritans in 1642 was given by the Lord Cholmeley's Players at Gowthwaite, the manor house of Sir John and Dame Julyan Yorke in Nidderdale. I have a very interesting book which explores the connections between the play and the activities of the Star Chamber in the North Riding.
It's still snowing but it looks like it's turning to sleet, so Sainsbury's should make it up the hill. Life in Tier Two goes on. Stay safe everyone.
View from the Wrong End of the Cul-de-Sac
Elle Warsop, Oldham
We always knew it’d end in tiers… the old ones are the best. I wonder how many of my fellow Journallers will write that somewhere this week?
So Tier three for us. Yes, nothing changes really, apart from the weather. It’s grim up North. Actually I should say it’s grim on the wrong side of the Pennines as Mum and my sisters in Sheffield always seem to get better weather than us here in Greater Manchester. Although we have had some daylight recently to be fair. I think it was on Wednesday at about ten past ten.
Neither the tiers nor the weather are stopping me going for my walks and checking out the birds, mushrooms and wildlife. That is pretty much all I’m doing. With the odd Drama workshop thrown in online, although the term has now finished until the New Year. Sigh. Where do the days go? Weeks? Months?
Today I had a slight break from this routine. I had to unblock the drain serving the downstairs loo. Oh sh*t! is putting it mildly. Am I allowed to swear on here? Apologies to those offended by such language and those of a nervous disposition might want to look away now. Actually, on second thoughts, though I was going to ‘entertain’ you with how I managed to unblock it and what I pulled out, I’ve remembered that Jane will be trying to enjoy her Earl Grey and honey on toast so I’ll stop there. Let’s just say I fought valiantly, won the war with the blocked toilet drain and went on a mission against the kitchen sink drain which was also overflowing, mainly with leaves. So for Jane’s sake, what happens down the drain stays down the drain. However, that being the first time I have ever tackled such a job, I am feeling rather proud of myself. Now excuse me while I go for a lie down and a long shower, not necessarily in that order.
Going back to the weather, we’ve been promised snow this week. I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. I LOVE snow. But only when I don’t. Which is when I have to drive somewhere. I don’t do driving in the snow. We live on a cul-de-sac, off the top of a very steep hill, have our own micro-climate that always gets thick snow before the rest of Oldham and I have had several bad experiences. Never again. Fortunately (or not, depending on my outlook which currently, for some reason, is rather chipper - don’t you just love that word? Chipper) I have nowhere to be and so do not have to drive anywhere.
NEWSFLASH - it is now Friday and it did indeed snow overnight, so I shall wrap up warm, get my ‘already soaked from yesterday’s rain’ walking boots on and set off to enjoy the muffled magic it creates. Simple pleasures. I suppose if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate even more the simple things. Bitter sweet though. One of the things I miss the most is Mum’s hugs. There is nothing more simple than a hug and nothing more precious. Especially from my mum. I miss just sitting in a room with her and enjoying our endless chat and cups of tea. We talk most days on the computer screen but it is not the same. I miss being in a room with my sisters and the noise the three of us make all talking at once sometimes. The way we might randomly burst into song and laugh and giggle like we were children again. I’m trying not to think of Christmas. Last year was hard as it was our first without Dad. I miss him so much it hurts. There are so many things I still haven’t asked him. And now… this year… Hey ho.
But let’s not end on a sad note. I’m lucky really, my family is all in relatively good health at the minute and we’re doing ok.
Snow is falling again. I’m off to enjoy it. Did I say I love snow? It’s freezing but hopefully my hot flushes will keep me warm… if a little sweaty. Too much information?
Best wishes to you all dear Journal friends. And altogether now, “Oh the weather outside is frightful…”
Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden
This week and the next I am again working at Bollnäs Hospital in the North. Due to increasing Corona cases we have again a Corona ward at the hospital. We don’t have a Corona ICU though, since that would require cessation of all planned surgery, as was done in the spring. So for now all our Corona patients who need intensive care, or are close to needing it, are sent to Gävle or Hudiksvall.
Here in Bollnäs we don’t have as severe a shortage of hospital beds as in Uppsala. Patients can get a bed in the corridor of the ward if there is no regular bed. That manouver is not permitted in Uppsala and I think it should be.
Today Bollnäs hospital is full and I shall be on call tonight, so I am a bit worried. After my regular shift today I will distract myself from worry by listening to Barak Obamas new book A promised land, which so far I like a lot.
Care in the time of Corona
Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway
We enjoy watching a debate program on NRK TV hosted by Fredrick Solvang. Last week they invited Norwegians who live in China, Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand and Iceland together with experts from FHI (the Norwegian Health Institute) to examine the main reasons for the success of the anti-Covid programmes in these countries resulting in low death rates. he common thread that ran through these countries was lots of testing, thorough contact tracing, good public education through media, songs, and public announcements and, ultimately, an obedient population. Yes, obedience. Not only in those Asian populations (I’m allowed to state these opinions as a "true blue" Singaporean) like South Korea, China, Vietnam and Taiwan but also, take a deep breath here, New Zealand and Iceland!!!!!!!!!!! Obedience is a word that doesn’t sit well with me. I’m naturally disobedient. To the chagrin of my dear, late mother, the nuns, my teachers, bosses and husbands. But even I comprehend some of the rules. I don’t litter, always picked up my dog’s poop, never spat in public, or disposed of my chewing gum surreptitiously under my seat/ floor/ neighbour’s bag on the Underground, didn’t deal drugs and tried never to fall into a category that merited caning of one’s bottom back home in Singapore. Not A Nincompoop. On the other hand, I am the least passive, subservient, meek, servile, pliable conformist. These words are all synonyms of obedience that I choose not to accept as value systems for myself. But I understand and respect the benefits of discipline, duty, compliance to law and order for the greater good. These are also synonyms for obedience. I don’t feel compromised in the least embracing one set of definitions and rejecting others. The Norwegian population is obedient. They are sooooo careful about following the rules to avoid Covid. Obedience and trust in their government does not take away from their commitment to personal freedom, equality and freedom of speech. They understood the need to follow and obey their government, once the situation was explained to them in the media by frequent briefings. Having said that huggy, kissy, overly social Covid idiots are a worldwide problem.
Death at any age is hard for those who are left behind. Treasure the elderly, for their experience, wisdom and the unconditional love they give our children. Children observe how we treat our parents and one day they will follow the same example. Sometimes it is difficult and uncomfortable to look after sick or senile parents, but there is much learning to be had through duty and dharma.
In the Swedish report on the death of the elderly in their care homes, I cried when we saw pictures of the desolate rooms where they died. Alone. With no means of access to medical care. One third of approximately 900 Swedish nurses interviewed, reported that doctors were seldom or never present. In other cases, doctors often treated patients through telephone consultations with the attending nurses or health assistants. Chinese whispers. Many patients received only end-of-life palliative care with drugs like Morphine instead of life-saving oxygen! It was heartbreaking to read. (Aftenposten, 24th Oct 2020).
I’m sharing my experience to highlight what happens when doctors, nurses and the hospital systems are overstretched. In the nineties, in Singapore, the government hospitals were rammed with patients. Medical staff mean well but function poorly when exhausted. My mother, a devoted public servant, who practiced as the community GP and never missed a day’s work in forty years, died alone in the Tan Tock Seng hospital ICU at the age of 79. She did not get the care she deserved in the end. She had respiratory problems and had been in and out of ICU countless times in the eight months before she died. A once vital woman, she had shrunk. A little, old, shriveled, dark brown woman lying on the bed. She once asked me for pen and paper and wrote a little placard by her bedside. When intubated, she was unable to speak. She wrote on a big A4 paper: “Please speak to me in English. My name is Felicity. I am a doctor. Please warn me before you inject me or aspirate the intubation tube.” My mother with her razor-sharp brain and broken body did not receive much kindness in that ICU by stressed nurses and doctors. I too was exhausted the day she died, a Sunday, with a difficult delivery the night before. No specialists came to see her. She had been managed by junior staff and I felt reluctant to ask the specialist to come in on a Sunday. We had been in ICU so many times before. I went to ICU at 6 pm, where she spoke to me with a very soft voice. I should have known. My antennae were missing. I told mummy that I would go home, nap, shower and come back. She collapsed when I reached home. I dashed back and held her hand whilst they kept her alive with drugs. And kept saying “I love you mummy” whilst she passed and stopped them from CPR on her frail chest. I have never gotten over the guilt of leaving her. How do we live with the knowledge that our parents died without the benefit of necessary care?
Plague Year 2020
K.H.M., an East Kent Village
WAITING FOR COVID
One day a couple of weeks or more ago, which I shall call Day 1, my cleaner, whom I shall call Mary for the ample reason that that it is not her name, last came to the house. Two days later, that is on Day 3, she had a message from her eleven year old son’s school to the effect that a member of his year group had tested positive for Covid and that she and her much older daughter ought to be tested, too.
This was done and while both her children were found on testing that day to be Covid-negative Mary herself tested positive for the virus. She had no idea how she had come to catch this even though she cleans for several other elderly and infirm - and indeed - ill people. She informed the testers of their names and so forth, including mine but since she had last seen me more than 48 hours before the test it was deemed by them that I didn’t need contacting and testing.
Nevertheless, it seemed sensible to me at the age of ninety that I decide on self-isolation as far as possible just to be on the safe side – in any case the whole of Kent was said to be going into Tier 3 any minute now and thus lockdown following the sudden burgeoning of the disease in the northern part of the county.
By Day 5 Mary was feeling very rough – and even more so on Days 6 and 7. But nothing at all stops telephone and email communication these days and so I have received daily bulletins from her. She had lost her sense of taste and smell quite early on but had no cough and still hasn’t. By Day 8 she reported feeling slightly better although more tired than ever before in her life – at a guess she’s about 36 – and wasn’t feeling like doing anything at all except sleeping.
However, the situation had not unnaturally given me pause for thought! Bizarrely, the first thing I found myself doing was putting a post-it note on those Christmas presents that I had already bought but not wrapped with the name of the intended recipient on them, picturing myself completely immobile in a ventilator – if still alive, that is – at Christmas. As it happens I have so far by Day 14 had no symptoms – I have noted though an increased interest on my part in how food tastes and I now welcome smells that I would once have shied away from – but both senses now very reassuring to experience.
Having been brought up in a Scottish medical household that included a father who always held that there was too much hope about, you will have noted how quickly in my case an extreme pessimism has kicked in. I was comforted by the fact that after a rapid review of my testamentary dispositions I found none that needed attention but still felt that my Christmas cards did. It has also caused me to hand over an heirloom, something that I have had it in mind to do for a long time but hadn’t got round to doing it.
Without my cleaner coming I have noticed that my bedroom has reverted to a deplorable teenage condition and that I now linger a very long time over a late breakfast (and the daily paper) every morning with similar teenage indolence.
Now at Day 14 and still without signs or symptoms of the virus I can give thanks to whatever powers that be and stop Waiting for Covid and resume Waiting for Godot.
The Runaway Diaries
Sophie Austin, London
A quick one this, before I head to bed after another long day of juggling. But blimey I am grateful for it, each day of prep for these films, however long and tricky, brings me such happy contentment. I’ve not really known this feeling before. Perhaps 2020 has taught me to trust in the moment.
For the last two weeks I’ve been putting together my crew, developing storyboards, casting, location scouting across London and North Norfolk, finalising scripts and sharing my ideas with my commissioners. I have also been changing nappies, cooking a vast amounts of pancakes (your current favourite food), chasing you round parks, reading at least 15 stories a day – with appropriate accents and actions, singing baa baa black sheep at least 6 times a day, nursing bruised knees, cheeks and heads with magic peas, taking out your toys, putting away your toys, chasing after you on your scooter, pretending to fly rockets, ride horses and, my current favourite game; playing hide and seek for hours.
I have loved it all.
Back in March I don’t think I would have predicted that I could experience such happiness during a pandemic. I’m grateful to this journal, to its writers and readers for enabling me to find this perspective, by stopping, thinking, reflecting and writing.
I’ve also immediately bought Jane’s book suggestion last week, any more excellent Christmas present suggestions gratefully received, I’m struggling to find the time to think about all that!
Walking in L.A.
Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA
So today is the day seven years ago when my mother left this life. At the age of 93 she decided that she had had enough; she stopped eating and drinking and departed peacefully at home holding my brother's hand. She told me once that she would never have believed it possible if someone had told her that she would end up in the English countryside, on a farm even, having been born in Rouen, France and raised in Versailles and Paris. Sent to England by her mother at the age of 17 to perfect her English, she boarded with a family in Brighton and fell in love with their son, my future father.
Unfortunately, her mother summoned her back to Paris at the outbreak of World War II and she was stuck there for the duration. She enrolled at a beauty school and then worked in Montmartre, catering mostly to the ladies of the night. She told me that she had to travel to and from the Latin Quarter and that the German soldiers always treated her with politeness and respect, which is apparently more than could be said for the American and Canadian soldiers. My father, meanwhile, signed up with the RAF as ground crew figuring that was one of the safer options. At one point he managed to get a pass to France but was unable to reach my mother in Paris. At the end of the war he was going to be sent to the Far East to finish his stint with the RAF, and it was only when he enrolled the help of a local MP to petition the RAF (to the great ire of his commanding officer) to release him on compassionate grounds that he was able to travel to Paris and marry my mother.
Then followed three children and 63 years of married bliss until my father passed away in 2008. After that my mum lived alone on the farm in Devon that they had bought after my father took early retirement from his job as an electrical engineer for the CEGB. I visited her as often as I could and she would recount to me tales of her unhappy childhood, being raised by an aunt and uncle because her mother had divorced her husband and had to work. One of the saddest things she said that she wished she had known her father. I loved to hear her singing in French; she had a beautiful voice.
My sister and I lit a candle for Mum to commemorate this day to her.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
I have referred many times in these journal entries to my mother-in-law, Nora, her gradual decline in the face of dementia and general old-aged frailty, and the challenges of trying to visit her in the face of Covid restrictions. Well her life finally drew to its conclusion during the evening of Friday 27th November, when she passed away peacefully at her care home in Hampshire. She had just passed her 93 birthday. Nora’s death didn’t come as a surprise to us, and in reality it was a release from what had become a very troubled and difficult existence. Sarah and her brother have been busy making the arrangements for her funeral, and communicating the news to friends and relatives. Sarah spoke today to the Vicar who will conduct the service at Basingstoke crematorium, and they have agreed upon a “middle of the road” Church of England service, including the familiar hymns “The Lord is my shepherd” and “The day thou gavest Lord is ended”, and a reading from John 14, “in my father’s house there are many mansions”.
We will include in the service a few paragraphs taken from a letter of wishes that Nora wrote to her two children back in 2012, to be opened after her death. So today I will let Nora have the last word:
“In closing I think back to my happy childhood and my happy marriage to your Dad, cut short when he died so suddenly. My whole life changed forever on that day. Losing Jane [their first child who only lived four months] was a very sad occasion for us both, but the arrival of you two children made up for all the heartbreak we had felt.
To Thomas, Helen, Ruth and Lorna I wish you all good luck and happiness for the future. I love you all dearly and only wish Grandad Arthur had lived to know you.
To Sarah, Michael, Karen and Mike, thank you for my four lovely grandchildren who have given me so much pleasure – I often look back on the happy holidays I had with you when the children were small and for all the happy times you have given me since and the care you have shown me over the years, all very much appreciated by me. My love to you all and be happy.
From your loving Mom x, Granny x, Nora x”