We got this! This could be cool!

t, Rural Norfolk


We baked flapjack yesterday, but I forgot to take it out of the oven. Like a trooper the teen attempted a slice but I was too worried that emergency dental care would be an imposition in current circumstances. So we will use it as hard core in some garden project, and bake some more.  


The garden handyman came and mowed our lawn, I’ve never owned a mower, I see it as just another appliance to go wrong, let alone store. He phoned ahead to tell me to stay indoors, put the cash in an envelope under a bucket, and not offer him a cup of tea. I think this last fact in particular is worthy of recording for posterity. 


I did as instructed and have been enjoying the tidiness the first Spring cut bestows. Less so the barren patches which mark my path to and from the shed where I go to work. Perhaps that’s where I should throw the broken up flapjack. I have some grass seed somewhere, I have no idea what to do with it, so I’ll throw it around if it looks like rain. I had pondered creating alternative paths by cutting beds in the way of any direct route, instead I keep wellingtons by the door for the muddier days. 


The teen has been celebrating since yesterday’s exam announcements and a very clear message from his sixth form; ‘Stop all coursework’. So, that’s it then, the last opportunity for him to have any autonomy in the grades he receives. The government letter reasoned that any work done at home would be impossible to validate as genuine. I thought that unnecessary, I have had no comprehension of any of his technical subjects since he was 10!

They have also said there will be some system for appeals, but they have no idea how. And an opportunity for re-sits in the Autumn, but there may not be funding for that. For a moment I wondered how on earth I would manage to set up the requisite SEN support, but then decided it won’t come to that, and put aside the flashbacks to my own dismal results at A level. 


Meanwhile, sleep continues to be elusive. I fear I shall come through this lockdown bulked up by home baking, with bags under my eyes like large compost heaps. I’m going to make more flapjack, and attack the garden a while. 


These beauties arrived, just because. I'll take them to the shed for drawing later. I seem to do far better working down there after dark. Somehow being enclosed in my little creative haven with an audiobook and pretty things seems less decadent after the day is done.


Care in the time of Corona

Shirin Jacob, Ålesund, Norway


Last night we watched King Harald and Queen Sonja. Timing is everything. He had addressed us when Norway started to close down and yesterday, both of them addressed us on NRK, the national TV Channel, as we enter one of the most important holiday seasons for Norwegians. They were seated outside their lodge, in front of a fire. Simply dressed, they were our grandparents comforting us during this uncertain time when many have lost jobs, are ill, or mourning loved ones. They reassured us that this too would pass and we have next Easter to look forward to. Besides his timing, he notably gave his wife more screen time than him. Likestilling or Equality in action. Queen Sonja was a commoner and is treasured here, not least for her incredible fitness in her seventies and for being an accomplished artist. Last year, our cousin volunteered to wash dishes in the kitchen of the Alnes lighthouse on the next island, and managed to bag a painting from the Queen’s sold out show at midsommer. 


      At the end of their address, she served “gløgg” to her husband from a flask as they wished us “God Paske” or Happy Easter. The camera panned to Erna Solberg, our prime minister, who was watching fondly from the studio. Hard times clarify the mettle of leadership and Erna’s popularity has soared with her masterful executive decisions and almost daily press conferences to the people. The Norwegians are very much in line with their leaders except for a few who made an illegal break for their skicabins in the hills. We aren't allowed to leave our “kommune” during this period and a lot of the cabins are in neighbouring counties whose hospitals would not have coped with a possible huge influx of sick skiers. They were gently guided back by the police with a threat of huge fines if anybody was caught escaping again. To ski. 

Over and out. 

The speech below is the reason I love our King. This is a speech he gave on 1 September 2016. 

So what is Norway?


Norway is high mountains and deep fjords. It is wide open spaces and rocky coastlines. It is islands and archipelagos. It is lush farmland and rolling moors.


The sea laps Norway’s shores in the north, west and south.

Norway is midnight sun and polar night. It is harsh winters and mild winters. It is hot summers and cold summers.

Norway is a long and sparsely populated country.

But above all, Norway is its people.


Norwegians come from North Norway, Central Norway, Southern Norway – and all of the other regions. Norwegians have immigrated from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Poland, from Sweden, Somalia and Syria. My grandparents came here from Denmark and England 110 years ago.


It is not always easy to say where we are from, what nationality we are. Home is where our heart is – and that cannot always be confined within national borders.


Norwegians are young and old, tall and short, able-bodied and wheelchair users. More and more people are over 100 years old. Norwegians are rich, poor and in-between. Norwegians like football and handball, mountain climbing and sailing – while others prefer lounging on the sofa.


Some are self-confident, while others struggle to believe they are good enough as they are.


Norwegians work in shops, in hospitals, on offshore platforms. Norwegians work to keep us safe and secure, to keep our country free of pollution and to find new solutions for a green future. Norwegians farm the land and catch fish. Norwegians do research and teach.

Norwegians are enthusiastic young people - and wise old people. Norwegians are single, divorced, families with children, and old married couples. Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who love boys, and girls and boys who love each other.

Norwegians believe in God, Allah, the Universe and nothing.

Norwegians like Grieg and Kygo, the Hellbillies and Kari Bremnes.


In other words: Norway is you.

Norway is us.

When we sing “Ja, vi elsker dette landet” (‘Yes, we love this country’), we should remember that we are also singing about each other. Because we are this country. Thus, our national anthem is also a declaration of love for the Norwegian people.

My greatest hope for Norway is that we will be able to take care of one another.


That we will continue to build this country – on a foundation of trust, fellowship and generosity of spirit.


That we will feel that we are – despite our differences – one people.

That Norway is one.


Florist in lockdown

 Jane, Near Manchester, England


‘Stay at home’ say the government. ‘Despite the good weather, you must stay at home’. Not said quite forcefully enough, I thought. News of more deaths last night, this time young and old. The thought of so many people dying alone is so upsetting. We have decided to limit our intake of the latest news reports to once a day, maximum. 


In ‘normal life’ we probably would have spent this Sunday meeting up with friends and family at one of the local country pubs, enjoying the beer garden and the ‘home cooked’ food. So figuring we might want to sit outside I spent the morning clearing brambles from the back garden. When I say garden, I mean yard. It’s big enough for a table and chairs and before Christmas I planted several pots with tulip bulbs. With the closure of all the garden centres, I am so glad I did. I discovered several self seeded aquiligias and uncovered a thalictrum and a dicentra that I’d forgotten existed. Happy days! Is this lockdown turning everyone into Mary Berry?? There are no eggs to be found anywhere. I went to three different shops last week and there were none, either everyone is baking or living off egg on toast.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk


Enforced isolation and Voltaire’s entreaty to garden.  


The bamboo in my English garden is a Great Wall of black and green. Loppers and secateurs in hand I approach and set down a tiny stool bought to the sheer delight of a tiny aged Chinese man who had a tea garden towards the bottom of the Eastern Sacred Mountain of Tai Shan, Shendong Province, revered by both Taoists and Buddhists.


I had descended the pilgrim steps and stopped at this, the last teahouse where with thanks I took a tiny cup of fragrant steaming tea and with courage asked if I could buy the tiny stool on which I sat - for gardening, I tried to explain. Our smiles gave of ourselves and our eyes lingered In question as well as answer. We both brimmed with delight at our good fortune.


The stool, like a camping stool, is made from two square frames of rough cut but finished elm which pivot on two worn pieces of iron to form an x-shape. It folds flat. I carried it in my luggage across China. When unfolded it reveals a lattice of faded crisscrossed canvas tape which in one single length is threaded like a shoelace through holes in the frame to form a seat. It is low. It gives rest but rest which insists on stillness - on humility. 


It was perfect then for drinking tea in that holy place. It is perfect now for focusing on the wall of bamboo. From it I examine the shape and visualise its transformation. Then, moving closer, I begin to free its dense winter raggedness creating air and space for each stem to breath. To shape bamboo it is necessary to remove whole stems, cutting them from the base. The low stool has purpose.


Hours pass and gradually the bamboo starts to sigh more rhythmically.  It starts to dance more lightly playing shadows with sudden gleams of sunlight. Isolated on this beautiful spring day I am entranced. My mind catches the scent of fresh green tea, steam like the smoke of incense  rises from my cup. Never far away whenever I sit on this tiny stool, is the tiny aged Chinese man who smiled.  Today he is sitting on his stool, identical to mine, reflecting - in the way of Taoists and Buddhists - on the meaning of a disease which originated in his country and spread. Just at this moment I know he is wondering If the foreign lady who, a hundred years ago, bought a stool for gardening, is still alive.


Lockdown musings

Messycrafterpam, Lancashire, UK


I realise what a quiet life I am leading these days - like so many other people. My days seem to alternate between optimism for the future (this will come to an end one day) and feeling completely downhearted. I live on my own which normally doesn’t concern me in the slightest, but has been brought in sharp focus by the pandemic. I miss having someone in the house to have a chat and joke with, to cook for and by. Mostly though I just get on with it, and I’m always grateful for conversations with friends and family by phone or on social media.


My chief pleasure at the moment is walking in the beautiful countryside that is on my doorstep, watching spring unfold, and seeing the spring flowers emerging. I visit and feed the ducks daily - a few of them have got so used to me that they don’t jump back into the pond, and continue sitting and preening themselves on the banks of the pond as I walk by. I have braved the supermarket a couple of times - I do have a lot of support from neighbours in my friendly little community, but sometimes I just need to see the outside world! Fortunately Tesco have put very good security measures in place, and I feel relatively safe having short visits to buy essentials. 


I have lots of crafting interests, but I’m going through a phase of not being able to settle to do anything. Hopefully that will soon change and I will get the paint and fabrics out again!  


Take good care of yourselves, everyone.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk


My kitchen table is covered in seed packets. Upstairs every surface under the window is covered in seed trays. The green house is completely full and the floor of the little summer house is covered in last years dahlias which I have potted up. There are still more to do and I am scraping around looking for pots and containers.  


Luckily I bulk purchased Chilterns seeds in January and February. They are not sending out now as every one has gone mad shopping and they are struggling to keep up with orders.


There are some sweet peas ready to plant once I've prepared their beds which will release a few seed trays.. 


I'm not very efficient. I decide on a list of jobs and discover another 10 on the way, there is always so much to do. 

Where are the staff?  


The chickens have been breaking all the social distancing rules and have broken out twice! Yesterday they were in the cutting garden, completely out of bounds, definitely due a £60 fine. 


Earnie and I rounded them up and got them back into their bit of the garden. Earnie blocking off escape routes as I encouraged from a different direction.  


They were in the flower bed outside the kitchen this morning! I don't think I left the gate open last night!  


Yesterday I went to Holt to check the shop and do some shopping for various friends and neighbours. I went out in an empty car, no dog in the back and managed to fill it with big sacks of compost, boxes of veg, bags of fruit, bunches of tulips, chocolate and avocados. Chicken and mince. Lamb chops, pork chops, grapes, slices of salmon and crabs and I think the big excitement for 2 lots of my shopping recipients was that I passed the cheese and pie man in the market square in Aylsham. He had all sorts of pasties and pies and a very good selection of cheese. So everyone was happy. (Apart from me as I can't eat cheese and it looked so delicious and tempting).  


Chocolate for the girls, compost for my poorly friend who I waved to through the window, a crab for her very sick husband who has just turned a corner and seems to be improving now, cheese for down the road, pasties for round the corner. The little shops in Holt are doing a fantastic job and their owners look even more exhausted than they did last week.  

I like shopping for other people. A lot of my jobs have involved spending other peoples money like flower arranging or interior jobs which is all basically shopping and its always been a natural skill mine! Spending somebody else's money is less painful on the generally stressed bank account. 


One client who shall remain nameless though his eye brows have been compared to black birds says I was a duchess in a former life.   


Two nurses died yesterday or was it the day before. They were both young, in their thirties and both with 3 children each. Terribly sad. I wonder if the children will get a special pension or grant to help them through their lives.  


Earnie and I will drive 5 minutes to our walk today as I heard on the news we are not breaking the law. Just had a bag of my special dairy free chocolate buttons out of my stash.  Love Annabel xxx


The Runaway Diaries

Sophie Austin

A Foolish Proposal

On one of our daily walks this week I asked your dad to marry me. 


Here’s some context:

Ever since the Corona Crisis started to take hold, we left pre-lock down London and arrived here in Wales, I’ve been haunted by a line from a play.

I directed Beth Flintoff’s The World We Made last year, it was due to tour this autumn. In the play Kath sees her photo albums floating in the flood water that has invaded her home and says ‘I should have looked more’.


These weeks in isolation are giving me an opportunity to look more: At the natural world we’ve arrived in; at my wise and beautiful Mum zooming in over the ether once a day; at you. 


We had a busy London life juggling work, friends, play dates. I was always looking to the next thing rather than looking at the present. Suddenly spending all day, every day with you, I get to stop and really look at you, I can see you growing in front of my eyes, a small miracle to behold.


And I’m getting to look at your dad. After seven years of being side by side, I’m allowing myself to look into his green eyes for a little bit longer than usual and what I see there is the whole world.


I should have looked more at my friends, I miss them and want to hug them, to hold their hands, to look at them a little longer than usual. 


As the three of us were approaching a pretty steep part of our walk, I stopped for a moment, yes to catch my breath, but I looked at your dad and he caught it. 
I knelt down and asked.


Of course, he laughed, and said something like ‘Only on my death bed!’ 
Not even a Corona crisis induced romantic gesture could challenge his feminist values. That’s why I love him.

Luckily for me it was the 1st of April.
‘April Fool!’ I said. 
And we carried on up the hill.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


Much media imploring - or in the case of Matt Hancock instructing - that we should only leave the house for food or emergency medical reasons, otherwise just have your allowed exercise stroll. They are afeared that with a weekend of warm sunshine on offer, hoards will descend on beaches and beauty spots with a loose interpretation of social distancing. This morning (Saturday) there are early morning reports of cars towing caravans heading for the Norfolk coast, so there may be some justification.  


My own take on it has me abandoning an early morning trip to the Co-op as I can’t face the prospect of being caught out in the pursuit of red wine. I think the odds are low, but as I probably mentioned before, we are at zero risk here and something risk there and as the shopping list consisted entirely of things from the ‘treats’ end of the scale - wine, granola, crisps, nuts - it seems the prudent, if boring thing to do. It raises a moral dilemma: we have the offer of shopping help from within the community, but should I send them into the fray? I needn’t have worried, the very capable Chloe tells me she’s adding to a list from her own needs and at least one other in our village. Ping her a mail and she’ll do her best. She is fully ‘ppe’ (personal protection equipment) savvy, promises she’ll be aware and careful. So, we standby. 


My son and lovely girlfriend will be pleased, their fear is my buccaneering will get me dead. Still wanting to be independent, spent over an hour hanging on to the Nectar helpline as my card isn’t recognised and without it I can’t progress through the Sainsbury’s hoops to get registered for home deliveries. Sheila patiently waited for an online chat down from 144 on the list over much the same time, for the same reason, only to be told ‘We have limited resources. Goodbye’ and a closed screen. I have a feeling that pro-tem all Nectar cards are effectively blocked to slow the tide of home delivery requests. That’s helpful. I’ll remember this ‘on the other side’. If I’m spared...  Last night’s briefing and today’s news shows the shocking ongoing truth of it all: yesterday 5pm 3605 dead, today 2.30pm 4313. Extra ‘Cottage Hospital’ units along the line of smaller Nightingales to cover the NE - Harrogate and SW - Bristol are now on their way, joining larger units at Birmingham and Manchester. Apparently, and rather reassuringly, with the opening of Nightingale London, vacant ‘ventilated’ bed availability this weekend in England is now 6000. 


Old Bill Withers is dead, nothing to do with virus more likely good living. Much is made - rightly - of “Ain't no Sunshine” and particularly “Lean on me” though I always rather liked the edgier “Use me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3hBYTkI-sE

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