Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children


An unpleasant stench by Franklin Lewis Macrae


Today it was really hot so instead of doing maths first thing, we went to the Italian Gardens at Hollywell. The gardens are surrounded by an extremely steep hill with a wooden walkway all around the brow. I clambered up it through the undergrowth to the walkway. The cow parsley gave an unpleasant stench  even though it was pretty.  It was a great place to play! There were lots of ferns and Spanish bluebells. I hid under the bridge and pretended to be the troll from the Three Billy Goats Gruff.


After while, we went down to the beach and had our lunch. When we got home we did some maths and then mum gave me a handwriting lesson. She told me to give my letters space and not bunch them up. There is no time to do this at school and I was pleased because  I want to have nice writing. Later, Marli and I made a ladder from sticks for the robins to perch in near the bird feeder.

Bluebells, the differences, By Marli Rose Macrae 


Today it was hot so I put on one of my favourite dresses. The dress is navy blue with sapphire blue, saffron yellow, ruby red and pink flowers on it. It is much nicer than my school uniform. We made sandwiches and got into the car. We parked in road with the most massive, most beautiful houses. They were all of old red brick with attics and eaves but sadly they are mostly flats now.  I wouldn't mind living in one of those houses when I'm an adult but I would want the entire house. We also passed by some cherry blossom trees, blush pink and raspberry ripple pink.

We got to Hollywell and followed a winding path up a mound and at the top was a bench, a jumper and an empty beer can. We took another secret path to the Italian Gardens. The Italian Gardens are a wonderful place. There are tall daisies covering like a blanket and an old stage with pillars. Mummy said they perform Shakespeare there every summer. I practiced my ballet on the stage, spring points.


Franklin went up the hill to the top but we took the stairs and at the top was a walkway and lots of Spanish bluebells. If you don't know the difference between a Spanish and an English bluebell then this is it; a Spanish bluebell grows straight up with the flowers on both sides and no scent. An English bluebell will droop with the flowers only on the drooping side and it does have scent. English bluebells are rarer. I was so glad to be here and not in school.


We had our lunch on the beach. I liked the scent of the air, it was refreshing and there was a swish of salt in the air. At home, it was maths and then we made fizzy orange juice because we are having dinner in the garden and staying up a bit late. 


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York


I went to the post office late this afternoon in my pajamas. I had put them on about an hour before I remembered that I needed to collect our mail, and I just could not be bothered to change. I try to stay positive in our current situation but sometimes it is difficult. So much doesn’t make much difference these days. Ours is a tiny post office and the service window closes at 11am. There is, however, all day access to our mail boxes. I made a calculated guess that I wouldn’t see anyone there late in the afternoon, but, of course, I did. A local man had just pulled up and was going in. The last time I encountered him was at the post office. As I was coming out he was going in. I noticed that the way he had parked his car completely blocked me in, even though he could have parked somewhere else. I asked cheerily if he could move his car a little so I could get out and he replied “@%^*&^(*^&($^#*%^#&% Why don’t you just move over?!!!” or something crazy rude like that. Woa! Today when I saw him, I momentarily thought about blocking him in and then I thought a better option would be to wait in my car in my pajamas till he had gone, but then I thought…”I just don’t care” and went in ….in my pajamas. 


PS To Marli: When I came home from the post office I read your Plague Journal entry for 4/08/20 in which you mentioned that your mother does not like for you to be in your pajamas all day because it makes you sleepy. I think she is right about that.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France


Key words: bookshelves confinement pruning/ Victoria Beckham  

Bonjour les amis,  having put unwanted books in two boxes one french one english, I wanted to see the most "not for me book " I had bought one long past day. 


In english, it is Victoria Beckham, second edition with revision 2007, " That extra half an inch, hair, heels and everything in between" 1.49 GBP probably from a Norfolk charity shop. "Victoria is someone who makes high fashion relevant for everyone", She had to revise it because she had change her mind between 2006 and 2007: "in the last edition of this book, I said that I was wary of tops with horizontal stripes... until recently that is". If you need another final quotation: " high heels elongate your leg because they pull up your calf muscles; kitten heels make you slump". I am definitely on slumpy side of mankind. If Peter wants this book for very cheap (includes mild suggestive photographs) just ask.   

In french, I discovered that I had 2 copies of Platon, Apologie de Socrate, Criton /Phédon ! The pruned copy will go to Lionel for his very nice and ecletic secondhand shop rue Saint-Lubin. It was the only book I kept and remember from the philosophie course of my baccalauréat year, in 1970-1971 ( that boarding school year had been made shorter in november by extra holidays for the death of Général de Gaulle). I shall give the other book a new read to get a little bit of philosophie which can be useful in present circumstances.   


The MetOpera online of the morning was the very cheerful Verdi's Falstaff, try it you like it. The second one is the beautiful Handel Acis et Galathée by Royal Opera House (I am listening to it for second but not last time). Let's hope that Rob and me will not meet our Giant. Keep safe.


A View from Crazy Town

Chris Dell, Washington, D.C.


Peaks are on everyone's mind. Have we reached the peak of infections yet? Did it pass? Have we delayed its arrival by flattening the curve, condemning ourselves to more weeks of isolation by doing the right thing?


Some reports suggest Washington may have passed its peak on 4 April. Our hospitals seem to be holding up. We haven't had to resort to desperate measures adopted elsewhere, including NYC, such as going outside at 7 p.m. to bang on pots and pans in the hopes of scaring the virus off. However, other projections suggest we won't reach the peak until mid-July. So, besides worrying about whether we might get sick, we now have to worry about how much longer we can live like this. The truth is, no one knows.  


Meanwhile, there was a hopeful sign earlier in the week that we had reached and passed peak crazy. After flying across the Pacific to berate the crew of the CV infested U.S.S. Teddy Roosevelt in a profanity laced address, the Secretary of the Navy abruptly resigned. Seems firing the captain for trying to protect his sailors, flying 7000 miles, at a cost to the taxpayer of at least $243,000 to stage a public meltdown was just a shade too crazy, even for an administration that long ago set a new standard of tolerance for insane. Clearly he made someone more senior unhappy, as he lasted all of 0.1 scaramuccis after this abysmal showing. (For the non-Yanks among you, the scaramucci is a unit of time that measures how long you last after attracting the ire of the Orange One. It's named for the absurd 11 day tenure of this Administration's second director of communications, back in the halcyon days of 2017 when we only had to worry about batshit crazy, not batshit viruses. Good times.) But I digress. Finally, it seemed we'd found a bottom below which we could not sink (I know, I know, I'm mixing peaks and bottoms horribly, but work with me here).   


Alas, our optimism proved wildly exaggerated. The very same day, - in a mere 0.05 scaramuccis - the entire Republican establishment, acting as one, broke out the shovels and started digging. Crazy is alive and well. Voting from the safety of isolation, the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Wisconsin voters could not vote in their state's primary elections from the safety of isolation. Only in person voting would do. To underscore just how safe this was, the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin state Assembly appeared in public, dressed head-to-toe in Ebola-ready PPE, to assure the voters there was no danger (at this point you could be forgiven for thinking you hear "Oliver's Army" in the background - "there's no danger, it's a professional career..."), while the Assembly itself gave effect to his message by reducing the number of polling places in Milwaukee from 108 to five, thereby forcing voters (largely minorities and other vile liberals) to queue together for hours. Back, in Crazy Town, our Dear Leader was questioned about mail-in voting (sorry, that's postal voting to you), saying he opposed it because it was susceptible to fraud. Asked why then he had sent in an absentee ballot by mail/post he replied "because I can."   


There you have it. FINALLY. Even as it's forced us all inside, the virus has brought the truth out in the open, summed up in one pithy little phrase. Because I can. What a long road we've come from the heady days of "Yes We Can!" What a long and winding road lies ahead.


Thoughts from the Suffolk coast

Harris G, Between Aldeburgh and Southwold


9th April: Late to start writing this today.  Tried to break the back of the decorating. And I’d say it’s about 9/10 done! That sounds ridiculously precise but it’s just my way of being cautious. There’s really only the tidying up to do now and then to reassemble the room. But there may be some final touching up of paintwork.  


On my walk today I met a local builder. He has worked here in the past so we know each other. I stood to one side of the road and we called across to each other. After the usual pleasantries, he asked “will you be needing any more building work in the future?”. Then he qualified this by adding “only I’m already worrying how we are going to make ends meet”. Rotten, isn’t it? Absolutely rotten.


Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York


There is something quite delightful about the unifying power of community. Even in this, what can only be described as a terrible and frightening time, it is remarkable to hear the sound, at eight o clock on a Thursday, of a myriad of hands clapping in unison, of pans being struck and people whooping and cheering wildly, a show of support for the bravery of the NHS. I feel, as my self and my family stand on our garden path, cheering and clapping along with everyone else, a sense that perhaps, no matter how bleak thing so may seem, the sense of camaraderie and of unity is overwhelming, a bold reminder that each person is in the same boat. And though we may be isolated and may be feeling the pangs of concern for loved ones, one may take some comfort in the fact that we can all come together, though separate in distance, together in mind, to celebrate the incredible work done by the NHS.


Then and Now

Peter Scupham


Food, glorious food? Yes, we are lucky. Margaret has managed to book us up Delivery slots since Lockdown, and I am looking forward to my pasta, canned tomatoes and grated cheese. Interesting to see what they have substituted for unavailable items. Margaret makes our own bread, though the flour and yeast situation is, at present, a tricky one. But when we have wiped clear or clean the plastic packaging and the bottles, we are happy and grateful. But when I look at the bags waiting to be unpacked and put away, with that commodity, wine, which was unknown to me until I was about 17, I am amused to think of the famous food-austerity that rationing in my childhood and youth brought.


I remember being fascinated by the snip and cut books of coupons, or points — and I never felt deprived, though those rations were pretty threadbare. Potatoes, peas cabbages, lettuces, radishes and tomatoes came from the garden, Mr Mackenzie, the Fishman, called once a week in Harston, and my mother set out on a shelf our exact rations of sugar, butter and sweets for a week. It did not look a grand show. Biscuits came in those brown paper bags which I hope will make a welcome return. The biscuits were sold as mixed and broken. I had a passion, which I slowly grew out of for Spam, those pink slices which I carefully cut into the form of a swastika before eating them. If I think of luxury food it is not ortolans, turbot and mock-turtle soup. It is more likely to be spam, a rock-hard baked potato and pickled beetroot. Perhaps with a slice of National Loaf, which was of a greyish colour. At the best, of course, as I grew up, the food was plain and very English. There were, of course, powders: cocoa powder, powdered milk, powdered egg for reconstitution — when the eggs weren’t hiding in buckets pickling in isinglass, whatever that is. This gave birth to the slogan of the time: “Don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eggs, and keep your powder dry !” And, of course, there was a notable absence of oranges and bananas. I quote from my House of Dolls, where our lives have been transposed into the doll’s house life owned by my sister, whose family was made out of pipe-cleaners.

It was scrimp and save from now on for the duration,

The breakfast scraps tacked to the dinner plates,

The children wriggly and skinny as young rats,

The calendar a migraine of blind dates.


After the war, steak and kidney under its scalloped pastry followed by Apple Charlotte, Apple Pie, Stewed Apple. A suet pudding or jam-roll with custard. . . And the luxury on Saturdays was a glass of Bulmer’s cider from the pub’s back door, when I went for the obligatory Twenty Players or Kensitas fags for my parents. If I look at a supermarket’s shelves now, I feel a kind of bewildered horror at the sight of the 99 articles I shall never eat which have pushed my old friends into insignificance — Kia-Ora, Corned Beef, Tinned Salmon, where are you hiding ? 

Scrimp and save ?    

Well, this is no time for “Because you’re worth it” shopping. Neither was then. Meet the virus of the time — the Squander Bug, to keep you from spending the money you hadn’t got anyway ! 

The Squander Bug was the wartime creation of Phillip Boydell, and the image is reproduced by courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.


We got this! This could be cool!

t, Rural Norfolk


Long ago I worked in a role that required me to understand the ways in which supermarkets persuade us to buy things. I don't think that experience has made me any less susceptible than the next person, but I do notice things, and wonder. Yesterday, as I was making my way around the store, the music was noticeably louder, and more upbeat than usual. I figured it was chosen to move us all along briskly, so that queue outside could progress more steadily. But then, in the bizarre mash up of 70s and 80’s pop, I noticed a theme to the lyrics, and laughed out loud. (Yes, I am that odd lady everyone goes that bit farther to avoid.) A selection, surely not accidental. Sing along if you please... 


1) …those cats were fast as lightning, In fact, it was a little bit frightening, But they did it with expert timing… 


2) Don't let your indecision, take you from behind, Trust your inner vision Don't let others change your mind, You gotta speed it up … And my personal favourite… 


3) It's just a jump to the left. And then a step to the right. With your hands on your hips, you bring your knees in tight. But it's the pelvic thrust. That really drives you insane. Lets do the Time Warp again... 


Just me? Maybe someone was having a laugh, or perhaps they really were trying to get us all to jog along. But I shall always remember my disappointment, as I looked up and down the aisle, that there was no-one else poised to leap into their best Rocky Horror moves. 


I am grateful to say the store was well stocked, and there were no restrictions to my shopping list, so we now have a lemon bowl which is overflowing. No eggs though, so I guess I won’t be making cake until I track some down. That can wait until after Easter. We will have chocolate ones on Sunday, as sure as eggs is eggs.



 John Underwood, Norfolk


Flights of fancy

Like thousands of other families, we have had relations stranded abroad, who have struggled to find accommodation when the countries that they were visiting went into lockdown, and who found it difficult to find aeroplanes flying anywhere, with transit countries refusing incoming flights. Our family members had to pay over the odds for their flights, but made it home this week after a lot of worry and additional expense.


If we look ahead a few months to a time when the government exit strategy has been shared with us all (I would say “don’t hold your breath” but that would be an unfortunate turn of phrase) and we can take those first tentative steps outside and emerge, blinking, into the light, will we feel comfortable jetting off round the world ? It seems likely that the rapid spread of the Coronavirus was because of aeroplane travel spreading the virus more quickly than could easily be contained. Cruise ships don’t seem to fare much better, and you would run the risk of being confined to your cabin  just waiting to be infected. 


One of my favourite books from the c17th is Bishop Wilkins “Mathematical Magick”. My copy is dated 1691, the fourth edition. In 1656, Wilkins had married Robina French, née Cromwell, youngest sister of Oliver Cromwell, and consequently became very “well connected”. He was a founder member of the Royal Society and was  elected a fellow  of the Society and one of their two secretaries.


One of my favourite sections of Mathematical Magick is where Wilkins proposes several ways whereby the “Art of flying might be attempted”. He suggests the following methods; “1) By Spirits or Angels. 2) By the help of fowls. 3) By wings fastened immediately to the body. 4) By a flying Chariot.”


He gives  Biblical examples of the help of angels, good and evil “ as our Saviour was carried by the Devil to the top of a high mountain, and to the pinnacle of the Temple”. The fowls employed to assist are “ to be great fowle of a strong lasting flight, and easily tamable ….divers of which may be brought up as to join together in carrying the weight of a man.” Fastening wings to the body  seems “ nearest to the imitation of nature” to Wilkins, and he sites various attempts in history although noting “ the truth is, most of these Artists ( Artists!) did unfortunately miscarry by falling down and breaking their arms or legs, yet that might be imputed to their want of experience, and too much fear, which must needs possess men in such dangerous and strange attempts” Laugh.Out.Loud. A flying Chariot seems “ altogether as probable and much more useful than any of the rest” although doubts are expressed “ whether an engine of such capacity and weight, may be supported by so thin and light a body as the air ?” and “Whether the strength of the persons within, it may be sufficient for the motion of it?”


I will be unlikely, I think, to climb into a flying chariot in the near future. I’m with Greta. It can’t be right, can it?

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