Then and Now

Peter Scupham

Garden Life


As they say, “A garden is a lovesome thing”, though I don’t think I’ve ever used the word lovesome in a poem — yet. But since we have had the enormous luck of having a wildish, largish garden this last few months, and have been very conscious of others who have been cooped up without gardens, this is a celebration of having once been a garden child. In my grandparents’ Lincolnshire house the garden was large enough to be a Desert Island, sparsely inhabited by the natives, and I could be its Robinson Crusoe. It would not seem so large now, nor would its cobwebby gaslit house, but to be the same height as the flowers and watch bees and butterflies at eye-level was to live inside a microscope which magnified not only size but intensity of texture and scent. The three intersecting areas made one perfect construct. The lower garden was a network of wandering paths: grass paths and tarmac paths with a tumbledown arbour at its centre: a mesh of junctions, twists and turns to steer a chipped blue truck on castors about and roundabout. From there I remember watching my grandfather, draper, rotarian, mason and his gardener, an ex-gamekeeper, staring with horrified astonishment, buckets and cloths at their feet, poised by the old Vauxhall 14, while the Home Guard dressed in German uniforms, poked their rifles through the hedge and leaped and crawled through that lost domain. Then came a the tall netted fence, where a jolly wooden miller on a post swung his handle, I was sure, to create the wind that drove the sails of his mimic mill. He faced the lawn where the remains of a tennis court foundered at the edges and my panama-hatted grandfather, in his shiny black waistcoat, would point his stick at errant dandelions.

There I played cricket with the maid or her young man, rolled croquet balls from nowhere to nowhere, blew soap bubbles to fly high, carrying my alter ego imprisoned in all the colours of the spectrum up and away into the blue. The world there was bounded by a huge hedge where I searched endlessly for the chipped or mouldering balls which hid there. Beyond the wild wood, they say, lives the wide world. Over that hedge was a large secondary school which erupted in roars, shouts and whistles. I never peeped through to spy on this mysterious country: its waves of sound seemed alien, other, inhuman! And by the lawn lived the playhouse, open and sweet to smell, with its tartan rugs and deep toy chest full of shuttlecocks, broken rackets — and what seems a prodigious assortment of bails for wickets. Behind that playhouse was a patch of earth which I used as a graveyard for broken lead soldiers and dinky toys. They are probably still there, waiting for the resurrection’s bugle-call when England in her hour of need calls for them them again! Another path led to the third garden, where a gardener’s hut, filled with strange implements, dead flies and tobacco-tins crammed with mystery and rust perched on the edge of apple trees, raspberry canes and gooseberry bushed. I can still just catch on my tongue the flavour of a golden-drop gooseberry wrapped in a mint leaf, or a summer raspberry with a fat white grub crawling out of it. And then came the wide world, where, in a sunday-best kind of way I would sometimes walk with my grandfather and the Yorkshire Terrier, Jim, over the cow-patted fields. The walk was known to me as ‘Walview’, but why I shall not ask.

Wagtails on the lawn, trotting and jerking, a wriggling chrysalis warm to the hand, a high mackerel sky, lying full-length on my back tying to track the passage of floaters across my retina, across heaven, across time, plucking over-ripe loganberries from the logan wall or sour but enticing morello cherries, crossing the lawn wet with dew to stuff a rolled up newspaper in a hedge for an unknown neighbour to collect — this was known as “Taking the paper to Mr. Elvis”, watching the gardener turn the grass into immaculate stripes of dark and light with the heavy Ransome mower, lying on the cut grass with my sister, Tiger Tim, and a glass of Kia~Ora — could I have been luckier? Was the enchantment false, because Europe was burning ?


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Plague Journal by Franklin Macrae


We have been doing different things this week. Mum and dad have been redecorating the kitchen. I am so fed up with it because it's taking so long and the house is very messy. My dad is busy working so mum decided she would paint it to help and while she was busy painting it, she gave Marli and I a box of inks, stamps and cards. My mum let us choose the inks and stamps ourselves and we have been making patterns on cards. To my surprise I enjoyed it. Mum has told us we can pick another stamp and ink pad each.

We also made fire starters. I thought it would be boring again but I liked it and I think I made the nicest ones. You have to melt wax in a cake case then add dried things and a pine cone. It makes your fire go whooooosh! We used poppy seed heads too but you can't use conkers as they explode. I would love to see what would happen with a conker but I'm not allowed.  


After a long time of wanting one, mum has got us a cat. She just walked into the room and told us, we were all shocked. We are picking her up on Wednesday. Her name is Sasia and I don't like the name as there was a horrible girl in my old school called Sasia but Marli and mum said we can't change it. She looks very sweet though and I'm hoping she'll want to sleep in my room. She is nine. 


This weekend we are going camping with dad. I go with him every year, it's called 'dads and lads' but this year Marli and a few girls are coming. I love seeing my friends and not going to bed on time.

Lots of exciting stuff by Marli Rose Macrae


We have been at the beach again much of this week. On Sunday daddy came with us to Beastie Cove. We went early in the morning, the Downs were damp and green and the carpet of wildflowers had dried to a golden crisp. We picked some. Mummy told me that they are called everlasting flowers. The tide was far out so we could see the rocks and rock pools. How brightly the sea glittered in the morning sun! The crystal blueness of the water was so beautiful. I hadn't brought my swimming things but I had to get in. Mummy always paddles in the rock pools or the shore line too. There had been a heavy rain a few days before and the cliffs had crumbled again, some rocks that were there a few days before were nowhere to be seen, they had been smashed to pieces. Chalk is very soft and mummy and I could feel it crumbling under our plimsolls. We found some plastic on the beach which daddy put in his pockets to take home. I found another fossil but mummy found the best treasure. A golden, glimmering rock! Daddy said it's known as Fool's Gold. We brought it home and it's in the bathroom with the dinosaur eggs.


I have been working very hard on my Nutcracker scenes. I'm making the World of Sweets scene but I don't have enough sweetie papers. Mummy told me I could open some Caramel Wafers and take the gold and red wrappers as long as I re-wrapped the biscuits in foil. I need to buy a Turkish Delight though as I think the shiny magenta wrapping is magical.


Wonderful news is that we are getting a cat! We really wanted a black one as they are so mysterious. The cat orphanage offered us a little tabby girl though, she is nine and her name is Sasia. We will collect her next week after camping. Daddy is taking us camping today with his friends and their children, to the New Forest. Daddy said there are wild ponies there! My mummy is staying home and I feel sad but it's a trip for dads only. I am having a day out with her next week, we are going to Hastings for coffee and candy floss. I go back to school next Friday and I'm so excited. I told mummy I would bring her back some pine cones for Christmas decorations and fire starters as we made some this week too. A kind lady sent me a book on trees so I've packed that with my magnifying glass and notebook. 


Thoughts from the Top of the Hill

Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire

At the moment it seems to me that everyone we know is doing more than we are. Relatives have been going away on holiday, friends seeing their families and parties being planned. I have to say, as soon as we started seeing people again we found ourselves with sore throats and in Richard's case, full-blown symptoms of the virus. He has done a home test and we await the result, although he is now feeling much better. We have pulled back into our safe little cocoon. My sense of fairness is affronted. I thought I was resigned to all this self restraint but now I have moments when I want to rebel, to just get out and live my life again as others seem to be doing but we see risks everywhere. I'm taking a rain check on my 70th birthday on Monday.


The mask-wearing seems to be going well now that it's mandatory in shops. We are all learning to smile with our eyes and there is a mutual acknowledgement that we're doing it to keep everyone safe. I am extremely proud of the lovely colourful masks Nicky kindly sent me from Vermont!


Boris has announced an overnight U-turn on the wearing of masks in schools, which was unsurprising, considering that there was already WHO guidance that children over 11 spread the virus in much the same way as adults. He also blamed the A-level results fiasco on a "mutant algorithm". We are not fooled, algorithms are written by people who make decisions about what data to include in them. This is just another way for the government to avoid taking any responsibility for their mistakes. Government ministers are still keeping their jobs while sacking civil servants. I just hope that the teachers and local education authorities have sufficient precautions in place for the reopening of schools here next week and they don't all have to close within days due to mass outbreaks. Teachers will no doubt be most at risk, as was seen to an extent in Scotland when schools opened.


All this aside, I am marginally grateful that we have Boris rather than Trump. We are amused and dismayed in equal measure by events across the water. While Boris blunders about making excuses and promises Trump struts the world stage mouthing idiotic falsehoods. He promotes white supremacy against a background of anti racism protests not seen for decades and completely avoids taking any responsibility for his lack of leadership during the pandemic. I just hope that enough American voters see through his smokescreen of lies and he doesn't get a second term. The world needs great leaders to come forward and inspire us, not liars and buffoons.


This week I experienced a heavy sense of dread about the fate of the planet, brought on by the hurricanes and wildfires in the US, together with reports of the hottest ever recorded days on Earth, the 48 trillion tons of melted ice and the heatwave in Siberia. I wondered if we are kidding ourselves when we talk of reversing climate change, whether we can do anything about it at all or whether it's already too late. One thing is obvious, if the US doesn't throw its weight behind the world effort, there will be more mining, more fracking, more oil pipelines, more air travel and more plastic pollution in the name of economic growth. We all need America to heal itself so we can get on with the most important job in the world - saving it.


One positive thought, Sainsbury's have now started delivering shopping without plastic bags, which is a huge relief as I have about a thousand orange bags stored under the stairs, awaiting some golden moment in the future when they say they can recycle them, ever the optimist!


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk UK

Thank you everyone for your kind wishes - and welcome to the club Linzy. I hope your birthday on Monday will be as wonderful as my 70th was. Our, mainly family, party was a roaring success and the weather was extremely kind to us for the entire weekend, especially as it was awful either side of our Friday-Monday celebrations. There were a few nervous guests but I think we respected the rules generally and managed to have a thoroughly happy time. 

The children (mostly from very urban homes) were able to run around and engage freely with each other. No-one, as far as I am aware, has had any negative health issues since. I was far too busy organising, cooking and then socialising to take any pictures but we had a fabulous group photo taken from the top window of an out-building. Great organisation by my eldest nephew who managed to set it up and be in the picture himself.

My extraordinary husband and son organised everything perfectly, it was the best Birthday ever for me, especially in these strangest of times. We are happily very rural and significantly distanced from our neighbours, so our gathering endangered no-one. A completely joyful occasion spent with family and close friends - almost like normal.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Today our weather switched from hot and humid to chilly and rainy ~ I took a nap this afternoon covered with a nice woolen throw ~ hard to imagine the heat of a few days ago as I pull on socks to warm up. But, oh, the lovely flowers in the garden all a bit wild looking & how I love it all!  Especially with that wonderful end-of-summer sound of cicadas and birds song.


We (the pups and I) have been enjoying lovely long drives in the car ~ through all the back roads overlooking the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts up into southern Vermont. It is such gorgeous country with farmland and open fields all surrounded by mountains. The skies are that lovely deep blue of fall with the beginning of goldenrod popping up along the roadsides. We don’t get out, just keep driving and listening to music on the car radio or opening the windows so everyone can get their fill of the scents as we pass by ~ relaxing and rather mindless.


The news on NPR (National Public Radio) is so disheartening, I can’t bear to listen though I know how important it is to keep up with what is going on. My own world seems smaller and smaller though I keep my spirits and mind engaged in the things that sustain and nurture me ~ the garden, the animals, books and music, and of course, friends and family all of which I am most grateful for. 


Sending thanks to all of our contributors as we share our days with one another with all their ups and downs.


Youlgrave lockdown

Dianne, Youlgrave Derbyshire

Driving to Hampshire in pouring rain on our way to catsit number 3 son’s three cats for a week. He and his wife have driven his in-laws back to their house in Portugal and will spend a month there working from home and having a holiday. The cats must be finding life very strange having spent the last five months with their owners on call 24/7. Now they only see someone twice a day for a short visit. At least they have each other. We will try to give them some quality time – hopefully they won’t be too disappointed when we arrive rather than their beloved owners.


We stopped off to visit our nephew whose baby is already a week late. If she doesn’t get a move on she will have to wait a whole extra year before she can start school. At least everyone starting in September is a lot fairer than the system which was in place when I started teaching in Birmingham in the 70’s. The children started school in the term in which they were 5 which meant some children only had one term in reception before they moved up to middle infants. These were usually the children who ended up in the small ‘remedial’ morning class in top Infants to try to help them catch up before they went into the Juniors. Having taught early years for many years I still think we should be more flexible about when children start school, Some of the little boys I taught who were only just four would have been better at home having another year to just be little boys.


After Hampshire we are camping in Devon for three nights and catching up with Mary and Simon – hope it has stopped raining by then so we can sit outside and chat. It will be strange not to enter their house but so good to see them.


Feeling a bit car sick now. I should have done this yesterday but was busy packing and preparing our house for number 4 son and partner who are going to stay there while we are away. They will be glad to get out of their flat in London and if it ever stops raining will be able to enjoy the garden.


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, New York

8/28/20 Today was the first time in about 6.5 months that I managed to set foot in a store other than a grocery store. I bought six pairs of socks. All my socks had holes in them from all the miles and miles and miles I have hiked since the virus came to town. Its been the best way for me to keep sane. And its been such a good way for my new rescue girl Wren and I to get to know each other better and to have some good healthy adventures in the fresh air together. Anyway, I only ventured as far as a local shop next door to the grocery store for my socks. And I actually found it difficult to make a decision... even though all I needed was some black and gray ankle socks. But somehow it all felt liberating... more so mentally than physically. A minor adventure to bring what was once normal back onto the horizon.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Bank Holiday Weekend


Not really much to report in my world.

A good traditional start to the bank holiday weekend. Blowing a gale, wild, wet and windy. Quite nice really, had to take my frock off in the shop, well not in the shop, in the loo in the shop and put my big grey cashmere jersey on as it was so cold. That’ll be it now till next May. Jeans and a jersey, the beanie, the anorak and the wellies. 

It’s still very busy in Holt and full of people that you wonder who they all are. Big, expensive cars on the roads, lots of Bentleys. Everyone seems to be driving in the middle of the road. Have a near miss with a bus or a tractor or something every day.


It’s hard work being a pandemic shop assistant. Honestly most of our customers are lovely but some people! People barge in and don’t check first if its OK to come in or they have no patience and strop off after a nano second if you say, can you wait please, its only 2 people at a time. 


I want to do some more of my signs: 

“For Fucks Sake, just wait a minute.”

“Yes please use the hand sanitiser.” 

“Just put the f…ing hand sanitiser on.”

“I don’t care if you have just done it.”

“Just use the f...ing hand sanitiser.” Etc. I could go on.


The weeks go by so quickly and it is quite autumnal now. 

Cleaned the house on Sunday. Had an office day on Monday. Had to go to the barn on Tuesday to receive a pair of sofa beds. Got there 1 minute before the delivery van. There was a lot of grunting and moaning about the tight and steep stairs they had to go up. 

Many photos were taken. Its not our job etc etc.

Anyway they succeeded but weren’t very happy. 

Earnie and I went for a walk on the way home with my friend and the baby and several of Earnie’s doggy day care friends. He had a lovely time. Ran and ran and swam in the water. Had to remove a branch out of the road on the way home it was so windy. A lot of casualties in the garden, sunflowers all over the place.

I went to Norwich on Wednesday with my other client. We went in her car which felt very odd indeed. We went to look at kitchen doors and then to the stained glass shop for coloured glass for some French doors. There was a terrific queue down the road for the school uniform shop.


There’s a lot of discussion about opening the schools and getting office workers back into the cities but no one wants to go. The offices are empty so all the surrounding businesses are failing. The countryside is making a comeback. I wonder how long the second homers up here will want to stay here once the summer is over and that bitter wind starts blowing. 


Boris is back from camping.

Trump and Biden slagging it out.

Another shooting of an unarmed black man in USA by the police, shot in the back. More unrest.

Track and trace not on track here but a man was escorted off a flight by men in white suits.


Have had some lovely dahlias. My star dahlia is Otto’s Thrill. It was looking magnificent in the garden and then I brought it in from the gales days ago and it has been making me smile every day and still looks incredible. 

Have had masses of figs and on the suggestion of another diarist I have being roasting some of my vast crop in Masala. Delicious with vanilla booja booja ice cream and quite nice on the rocks too. Think I prefer it to the gin. 

I really want to ask some one round for a sherry. Sounds so 1970’s.

Must go to bed.

Love Annabel x

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