John Underwood, Norfolk
‘Tis the Season to be Jolly careful
This week we learned the full range of restrictions due to be in place over the festive season in the following announcement from the Prime Minister.
“I understand that a great number of people will think that relaxing the regulations about how families can meet up over Christmas is just about the height of folly… er, um er phwah, the er height of holly, mistletoe, and how you may hang your decorations. For the purposes of illumination, and I am not just talking fairy lights and a load of old baubles here, we have introduced a new Christmas Corona Crisis Crunch list for the five days of the er um the er festive er season. On the first day of Christmas, true loves may exchange Partridges in pear trees, but only one per three families gathering in Tier One areas. Thus one person may give a part partridge. Tier Two areas are not allowed Partridge, but Winter Woodcock would be warmly welcomed. In Tier Three parties, pigeon pie is probably permitted. Tier Two areas are allowed Two Turtle Doves on day two, and in Tier Three two too. Tier One gatherings of no more than three French Hens are permitted until January the first only when anything French becomes very foreign and frankly unacceptable. Tier Two areas are not allowed French Hens but may substitute chlorinated chicken, and Tier Three areas it’s Turkey Twizzlers and nuggets to you. One calling bird is permitted in Tier Three on day four, two calling birds permitted in Tier Two, and three in one. A bird in the hand is worth two in er... two bushes, three in three er etc, and four birds are two too many. Four calling birds are only permitted if your bubble is with a single old bird on her own. On the fifth day, five rings may be exchanged but wash your hands before and afterwards whilst singing the appropriate national anthem of the devolved countries of the United Kingdom. We understand that people in the North of England might wish to substitute brass if gold is unavailable er, ‘appen as like. By gum. Drinking responsibly will reduce the risk of being grabbed by your hairy um your hairy um er Aunty under the mistletoe, and wearing a mask for those unable to obtain dental treatment is desirable. Carol Singers should be told to sod off as usual. Crackers may be pulled, and I can honestly state that I have pulled a few crackers in my time and thoroughly enjoyed it. Round Robin Christmas cards may be sent, but our advice is to avoid sending them as nobody has done anything this year anyway. Because of the risk of infection between households, they should be burned upon receipt as usual, except for those from your more whacky relatives which always raise a much needed laugh as I am sure you will agree.
I must stress clench fists bang table oh, er, phwah, er that was in er brackets, I must stress that any relaxation of regulation now, will be have to be paid for by vulnerable people after the festive season, as er, is usual. Santa is permitted in Tier One and Tier Two too, but Santa must be discouraged in Tier Three as no one outside of your family group is allowed to visit your household. I intend to spend Christmas with my er family, er family, families and will be taking great care with er er great care and I urge you to do the same. Please remember. Track, er Trace and er, um er Ping… And baubles, wif-waf and frolics to you all.”
Bumpy landing on the south coast
As I write, a marvellous brush on the end of a looong pole, squirting some special (apparently) sort of water, has appeared from the ether to wash my windows. Money left under the doormat, so it’s all done by invisible hands. Here on the coast the south-facing glass gets salt-spattered pretty quickly, so it’s always a pleasure to look out of freshly washed windows. The pleasure would be enhanced by the odd sunbeam, but never mind.
It seems my information about the school next door’s roll was way out of date: the government entry today notes 1,203. Because it was founded in 2013, the school has been adding classes all along, which poses a growing problem. Let’s say two-thirds of their parents bring and fetch their children by car, that’s some 800 cars, twice a day, stopping, starting, revving, queuing at the (avoidable) bottleneck and driving round our road or doing three-point turns outside my house. Sixteen hundred arrivals, manoeuvres and departures. And boy does it feel like it. Fortunately, there are only 29 pupil places left. When I bought the house, I didn’t imagine it would be this bad. At least an appeal to the headmaster just before half term dramatically reduced the number of masks discarded by the walking children, although that too is creeping up again.
Yesterday afternoon I noticed a lone pupil waiting in the park, presumably for his mum, his loneness amplified by being passed by chattering groups. I didn’t think much of it, but then he had the misfortune to startle me as I was going down the steps towards the more crowded main road, getting jumpy: I whirled round in surprise and before I could stop myself exclaimed: ‘What happened to two metres, sonny?’ He looked mortified, poor mite. As I crossed the road I happened to look back, and saw him standing halfway down the steps, I guess still waiting for his loving and reassuring adult. His face was poignantly sad, and I suddenly saw myself, and my daughter, at that age. I felt stricken for him and deeply sorry I had spoken. It’s this blasted Covid. I wished I could give him the biggest hug.
This sad boy was preceded at the weekend by another: my own HN now cries with real tears. I first saw this when I had to leave him crying for a minute (it was a crying sort of day) to go and put my lunch in the microwave. When I got back his little broken heart had manifested itself in a single teardrop, rolling down his temple. Oh! The guilt! That was just the first time this week I felt like a cruel granny/stranger. It’s so easy to hurt others, as well as be hurt. But at least he got extra hugs afterwards, unlike my poor park boy.
Still, Fate punished me by directing me to sit on my best reading glasses, bending one arm into an impossible angle. So off I trotted yet again to Specsavers, where they kindly and patiently bent it back again, with admonitions to henceforth be careful as the hinge will never be the same again. While I still view myself as a relatively Feisty Young Thing, I suppose they see me as a Silly Old Dear who needs gentle guidance.
I did manage to get in the last of another set of recordings on Monday, by the skin of my teeth; every month I forget that the deadline is fast approaching and that I need to get my skates on. So the last, longest, part, was sent as was, stumbles and all. Oddly, the finished product is one of our better recordings, and my part sounds fine. It’s marvellous what a bit of technological jiggery-pokery can do. It’s all just for our own delectation, anyway. It helps make us feel connected.
Another connector is Zoom talks. I attended one about nursery rhymes, which reminded me to rummage around in my books for something to read to HN. I re-learned that many are based on historical events, often grisly, some couched in Cockney rhyming slang, and were written more for seditious propagation than baby-soothing. Frankly, if children knew the true meaning of what they were being sung they would shudder. Apparently there have been sporadic attempts to modify the language (a ‘black sheep’ was for a while deemed unacceptable) but you can’t change the habits of countless generations. To parent and child, they’re just nice hummable sounds. Later, I found an interesting website on the subject:
Wednesday was my name, or saint’s, day. Or angel’s day, as that saint is supposed to watch over and guard one one’s whole life. All the St Catherines were naturally saintly, but at least one came to a very sticky end. Perhaps that will be my karma. While here in the UK we bung all our saints together on 1 November, in nations touched by Catholicism and Orthodox traditions, such as my other country, one’s own saint provides the opportunity for a second birthday every year – and it is harder for others to claim they didn’t know it was one’s special day. This year, though, even I forgot (although I did, serendipitously, buy a bar of Ugandan black chocolate), and the day has never been noted by anyone else in my family since my mother died. Shame, as the tradition is to be given flowers and sweets, and I have a weakness for the latter. Especially chocolate. Next year, dear friends…
Thoughts from the Suffolk coast
Harris G, Suffolk
The weeks seem to pass very quickly, don’t they? It is Friday again. Lockdown Two will soon be over and we will re-enter the three tier system. Apparently, like most of the country, Suffolk will be in tier two. Hmmm it sounds like something Captain Kirk might have said on the Starship Enterprise... “Warp factor 5, Jim, we are on high alert!”
Has Lockdown Two achieved much? We seem a lot more fed up as a nation and ever more muddled by new rules and regulations. Every evening the television news is taken up with presenters and scientists trying to demystify the changing guidance. Chaos is just a recipe for disaster. Why not simplify things? Why not make some ‘global’ regulations and promote compliance by clear instructions? As for this proposed relaxation of rules at Christmas (but with the threat of harsher restrictions as a consequence) - what on Earth?
My week has - as usual - been taken up with gardening and some good walks. Today - a very foggy start with a heavy frost but other days have been milder even if they’ve been overcast. It’s good to see some colour still showing through - with plants like jasmine, the roses and cyclamen blooming nicely.
I took a lovely afternoon walk around the villages of Heveningham and Huntingfield on Tuesday. Heveningham Hall is a fine house and although not open to the public, usually opens its gates for events like a firework display, Christmas market, and vintage car rallies. It looks out across some beautiful countryside.
People say Suffolk is flat but I think it is better described as undulating. The “little hills” certainly tell when I get home and my legs and feet ache! East Anglia has a reputation for wide skies. What it lacks in dramatic landscapes it makes up for with its small towns and pretty villages. Norwich too is a very handsome city. These places are, however, very much under threat. Greedy developers have built massive and often unsympathetic housing estates around lots of the towns. In some instances, a cynical attempt has been made to echo the local vernacular with “Georgian-esque” porches and sash windows - but we are not fooled.
I know we need more housing and we need to plan for our future generations but I don’t see much vision and creativity in what is being churned out of the new building industry. Where are the gardens? The parking spaces? Places for children to play safely? Buildings in which small communities can (eventually anyway) assemble? Roads and transport systems? Recycling and refuse systems? Hospitals? Schools? Ok so there are three en-suites and two pillars at the front door - where do the wheelie-bins go?! Yes, what about the aesthetics? Ecological concerns? Trees? Hedges? And why build all of these out-of-town shopping centres with their ugly warehouse exteriors and leave our traditional high streets to rot? So many empty shops and office buildings?
Hey ho! On that note - time for me to start the day! Porridge and blueberries - purchased from an out-of-town supermarket with its easy (and free) parking!
Take care. Stay safe x
View from the Top of the Hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
I was going to get up early today, go for a walk, maybe take some photos for the journal and write my piece, all by 10am, but I was woken too early by the farmer's JCB, its reversing alarm honking and the bright beams of its headlights sweeping across the room. I had just settled down for another five minutes rest in my lovely bed, still toasty from the electric blanket, when the phone rang. It was Sainsbury's recorded message telling us what time our delivery would be. Cross and ruffled, I got up and went down to make a cup of tea. Should I stay up now? No, freedom I won't, so I went back to my still cosy bed and stayed there until I finished my book at 10.30, so now I'm in a rush but it was worth it.
It's been hard to finish books this year. You'd think with all this self-isolating and locking down you would read a lot more. My reading diary, which I have kept for some years to remind me of all the pages turned, tells a different tale. Only seventeen so far this year and two of those lying unfinished on the dressing table. I was up to fifty-one by this time last year. I ascribe this in part to my second-time around addiction to Sudoku. Marie-Christine, I must thank you for your inspirational advice to kick the habit! I have done about five hundred of them this year, hence the lack of reading. Happily I recently discovered a couple of new techniques for solving the difficult ones and have nearly made it through the “Three Light Bulbs” section to the end. When I finish this Sudoku book I will try to avoid buying another one.
The other thing which has preoccupied me so much this year is of course politics. I've been driven half-mad by the goings on in Westminster and Washington but have been unable to resist staying up to watch late night news, looking for the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I'll rest easier on 20th January when Trump finally vacates the White House and A New Day Dawns across the pond. I'll go back to my early nights with a good book under the covers. There are about fifty books in my pile waiting to be read, so there's plenty of choice.
It's also quite difficult to get motivated to list books for sale when there are no auctions to whet my appetite for new stock but I have some new sources to explore. This weekend I'm going to see part of a large collection from the library of a friend's late father and also another friend's books from her late husband's collection. It always affects me deeply that people's books go on when their owners have passed away, so I always try to find them good homes. One collection I acquired had hundreds of brand new unread volumes bought by a gentleman with a thirst for knowledge and a love of music, who died from cancer before he could read them. I was very glad he had only written his initials in them, so often books are ruined by copious dedications, but he was a lover of calligraphy and his initials are beautifully written! An inscription can also add a personal touch. I bought part of a collection owned by the writer Storm Jameson and happily she had written her name in most of them! (It's all right if you're famous, I suppose). I call each collection by the name of the former owner and learn quite a lot about each of them as I list their books.
The fickle public have stopped buying my books this week, after a record-breaking number of sales last week. I expect they have all gone to Amazon today for Black Friday deals.
The book I finished this morning was “The Enchanted Places”, the autobiography of Christopher Milne. I got off to a slow start with it and put it down half way through but weeks later I suddenly found empathy with his story. I bought it because we had watched the film “Christopher Robin” and I was intrigued by the lives behind Winnie-the-Pooh, the shy man who had to live with the fame which came from his father's stories and refused to live on the profits. He became a book seller, so there's another reason to feel empathy. A customer saw him writing in his office and thought he was writing a book. She was very disappointed that it was an invoice. As he says, “Booksellers don't often write books. They know only too well that there are already far too many. Also they haven't the time”. Too true. I'm glad he found the time to write this one.
So, here we are, going from Lockdown #2 to Tier #2 soon and the hope of a careful family Christmas. We and our little family are planning to self-isolate for two weeks beforehand to make it as safe as possible. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving to our American friends, stay safe and well.
Thanks to Nicky for inspiring me to get out of the house yesterday, here are some photos of Gouthwaite reservoir, just along the valley from Pateley Bridge. I didn't manage to capture the birds in my photo, there was a huge flock flying up and down over the water with the sun catching each one, making a glittering pattern across the sky. Next time we will remember the binoculars.
Chris Gates, Norfolk UK
Started the week with a fresh attempt to get out fishing, and for the first time tried Gorleston. In so far as I do anything to plan, the plan is that if I get fishing out of my system, I’ll settle more readily to shed roofing and other jobs for a while.
It was a splendid afternoon, sea conditions good and pretty well the only signs of life other than an occasional dog-walker were the waves of cormorants that came down - perhaps from the colony at Scroby Sands, where the wind turbines are - and flew inland over me at the very southern end of the beach. There were hundreds of them.
Anyway, I had a charmed few hours in the company of a flask of Mulligatawny soup, caught dabs more or less every cast (all safely returned) and go home via Marks’ Food Hall spiritually content and equipped with a Chinese banquet.
The Test and Trace of Dubious Usefulness has had a budget increase of £6bn to £22 billion for the year.
I’ve done some maths for you: given ”one in eight” have now been tested, that’s an average spend of about £3,400 on each tested person to track their contacts.
I’m not sure if that's a big number or not, but we can probably agree it’s a lot.
Still, mustn’t grumble - here the dreaded ‘r’ is .9 to 1.1, so broadly 1 according to local BBC and the hospital admission trend is on a downward path, according to Independent SAGE.
Matt Hancock manages to alienate himself further from British Workers by making their willingness to go to work even when unwell coupled with a resistance to testing seem unfathomable and antisocial. Since we’re low in the European league when it comes to sick pay - Germany 100% of wages, us 29% - he shouldn’t be surprised folk work if possible and might usefully address that sometime.
Attention has largely switched to the relax from lockdown’s grip and the reimposition of Tiering next week. There’s no end of Media speculation early on following the Ministerial appearance on Monday with more to come on Thursday. What we have learned is that over 5 days around Xmas, three bubbles can get together though it must be the same bubbles every day. Creative bubble creation is not allowed even if, as expected, you have ’spare’ days to bubble in, having done Xmas with the first two bubbles you thought of, regret it and are desperate for a change.
Thursday arrives as Thursdays do and Matt appears in The House, the unlucky man charged with giving the news few want to hear. Frankly, the Tier detail and rationale for Tier choice is too complex for me, and, I suspect, many others but there are two surprises: Liverpool, previously high risk and in Tier3 is moved down to a more sociable Tier2, and poor Kent is catapulted from a previous comfortable life in Tier1 to Tier3 - and consequently effectively shut down through one hotspot. Boris will appear this evening, no doubt trying to put a gloss on all, but 23,000,000 folk in Tier3 may be a tough audience.
Rishi Sunak too has an unwelcome task - he has to deliver the news that the Economy is trashed (worst decline in 300 years, whatever that’s supposed to mean) and that it’ll take years to recover. Luckily we all know that it’s Covid’s fault and the storm he has to endure revolves not around any suggestion of his financial imprudence, but his decision to a) cancel any hope of wage increases in much of the public sector and b) to reduce Foreign Aid from .7% of National Income to .5%, a pledge at Election time and therefore sacred. The choice of sacrificial targets when attempting to stem financial haemorrhage was never easy.
Friday, and deadline day sees the expected backlash to the Tier allocations, the claim being broadly County demarkation is too clumsy and individual MP’s within Counties fight for their own particular constituency circumstances. Some claim they’ll be voting against when it comes before Parliament next week, but it’s thought they can safely posture as it’ll get through anyway in the present form and they will have had a moment of glory. Boris won’t hold it agin.
Thrilled to learn that through the Journal and John Underwood I know someone who has handled items Sam Pepys handled. Wow. And I’ve ordered a couple of bottles of Hendersons, thanks for the intro Barbara.
And so to bed.
Mary’s Projects Mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
In 1967 with the help of two other foreign students, I celebrated my first Thanksgiving abroad at Keele University. We were on exchange from the University of Michigan and we must have been fairly bold as we managed to commandeer a kitchen and dining room in order to entertain twenty fellow students to Thanksgiving supper. We had to substitute chocolate brownies for pumpkin pie but the rest of the meal was traditional. The taste and smell of turkey and cranberries sent me straight back to my childhood and home.
Now, fifty three years on, I am still keen to celebrate this American feast. This year, of course, nothing was normal but there were some delightful if unusual moments. The Book Club members shared Thanksgiving recipes - inventive things to do with cranberries; unusual stuffings and marinades for the turkey. Our only innovation this year was a new pumpkin pie recipe that incorporates pecans. This recipe was supplied not by an American but by my British daughter-in-law by way of her mother who is of Chinese extraction. We cooked the pie in the afternoon. The Aga is not cooperating just now so we had to cook everything in rotation in our little convection oven. As the pie came out the turkey went in; as the turkey came out, the potatoes to roast went in. And so on.
But Thanksgiving is not just about food , but about friends and family and of course we are on our own. So, in the middle of this cooking merry go round we had a What’s App chat with daughter-in-law and grandchildren - full of Lego constructions and laughter. Then, at about 7 pm we shared cocktails by zoom with Margaret and Peter in Norfolk and Jane in Oxford and reminisced about the many Thanksgiving meals we have shared in the past.
We had hoped to talk with both my sons; in normal times we might all be together in Bristol. Unfortunately Tom is working twelve hour days and wasn’t available, but, just before sitting down to eat, we managed a conversation with John. He was still in the lab in London. Because of COVID he only manages two days there so they are very long days.
Dare we hope to meet face to face for my fifty fourth Thanksgiving abroad?
Sheila, Norfolk UK
I've been entirely occupied this week trying to create my 2020 Christmas card. Not so much a card these days but an animated sequence of sorts. For more years than I can remember we made our own proper Christmas cards, (some friends tell me they have saved them all), but a few years ago I realised that the amount I was spending on materials and postage could probably feed a family of 4 for a week. So I decided to send electronic 'animated' cards and donate what we would have spent to charity.
Well this year we will give money as usual to our local notable, Valerie Knights MBE no less, who at over 90 runs the local old people's club in Acle. Chris always goes round to see her just before Christmas and hands over the donation on the strict understanding that she spends it on Christmas Sherry for them. In addition, my neighbour and I are donating stuff to our local food banks who are making up Christmas parcels for those less fortunate than ourselves. I am so pleased that I can do something to help. We've tried in the past to volunteer on Christmas Day but apparently they are well staffed for that.
My lovely family bought me an iPad Pro, with pencil, for my Birthday this year and I have been learning the drawing software. So I decided to 'draw' our Christmas card this year on my iPad.
It has taken me a couple of weeks to 'animate' the card and it will be this that I send out to family and friends just before Christmas. I can't include the animation here because the file is too large and I don't know how to compress it. However, I've shown here the original illustration I did just to give you an idea.
After trawling through Apple Music I found a delightful track to accompany the animation and I share that with you.
Not a recording or artists I've ever heard of before but it's a new gentle favourite now added to my Christmas playlist.
Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
The season to be jolly careful
Lockdown continues. Trump is still fighting his corner but has nearly conceded in as much he has said of course he will leave the building but then grumped on from a tiny desk crying fraud. Just heard on the news that 13 million people have Covid 19 in America. A sick making Thanksgiving speech from Mr and Mrs Biden.
Cases going down a bit here. R number has fallen below 1.
Norfolk is to be in tier 2 so you can go to the pub if you have dinner and our shop can open next week. Most of England is in T2 or T3 which means you can’t go into peoples houses but 6 can meet outside but I don’t think they can come into the garden.
I bumped into my postman outside the front door in the drive this morning. He said you haven’t got any post, I’ve just come in for a pea in your outside khazi. Oh, the public conveniences I said and off he went into the garden. It’s a favourite spot with postmen and couriers.
Its quite complicated knowing what you can do with whom really. There’s been an outcry to the new restrictions coming in next week. Everyone is going on about Christmas which is really going to be a non event. You can go and see family between the 23rd and the 27th December. Can you just imagine what the traffic is going to be like! It can take me between 6.5 and 10 hours to get to my mum on a normal year before Christmas. Can’t imagine how long it will take this year, may as well leave the airbed in the back of the car. By the time I get there, I'll have to turn round and come back again. Should I even go at all. Unless you are absolutely sure you are clear of coronavirus it would be a risk to my mum who is nearly 90 and I will have been in the shop with the GBP even with my strict hygeine rules.
Just watched the end of a film with Hugh Grant and Sandra Bullock where they end up snogging in the street. So last year!
Havn’t got much to report. Been trying to sort my self out after London. House is a tip, studio is a tip. Have tidied up a bit. Have been ordering more stuff for the shop and getting ready for next week which is either going to be manic or a disaster.
Louisa and I had a meet up in the garden the other day. It started off sunny but it got colder and colder and then started raining. We were freezing. Had to come into the kitchen in the end with our masks on and all the doors open. It really was so cold. Christmas lunches are going to be fun!
Earnie and I have had some lovely walks this week. The skies have been amazing but its been freezing, must get some gloves. On two consecutive days flights of swans flew over me.
Take care everybody, hope you are all safe and well.
Earnie's just brought me a pair of pants.
All for now.
Love Annabel xxx
Then and Now
Yes, they say, how the days draw in,
how all our summers gutter down
until the light can hardly lift itself
to find life crouching in its nest of fur,
the late fruit shrivelled, the charred wick
twisting away from the ghost of flame.
Darker still, where a dead house
puts bricks of broken cloud together,
and children you can no longer name
share loneliness with twigs and birds,
the dry abrasions of a missing gate
awkwardly swung between then and now.
Step into the night beyond the kitchen door,
let rooms decked with heat and laughter
greet the cold, astonished air,
as your breath feathers you out and further
than those bleak reaches hope must traverse
under the disposition of a star.