Garden joy

Margaret, Norfolk


All is quiet

Tilly Wonham, Hertfordshire


Easter was quiet. There isn’t much point in thinking too much about the places we should have been or the people we should have been with. Yet I missed the family hugely over the weekend and longed for physical hugs. So, I am hugely grateful that we live in this era of technological advances that have brought the video chat into a new realm. Computer screens can now bring us together. Our eldest daughter who lives in Bristol devised a family quiz. A fabulous idea. 7 screens around the UK, 15 family participants. It worked too. One had dodgy sound quality, but it worked Hoorah!  The questions were fun and there were challenges too when we were given 3 minutes to find the most interesting object beginning with K or to make a mask from a household object – points for the daughter who used a bunch of parsley! We laughed. We were together.


Of course my husband is one who actually remembers general knowledge and we went and won. The forfeit being to come up with and host the next quiz.


Bristol Calling

Simon Davies, Bristol


At the beginning of June Mary’s sister and her husband were due to be with us and we had booked seats at the Bristol Old Vic for “A Monster Calls”. It had been recommended to us by good friends who had seen it in Chichester. We had also booked seats there for a month later to see Mark Rylance in “Semmelweis”.

Of course we are sorry not to see the plays but I am also sorry that we will not be spending another couple of evenings in what must be one of the most stunning interiors in Europe. I started going to pantomimes there probably in the late 1940’s and although the front of the theatre has had two changes since those days and a new stage, the auditorium seems almost exactly the same. The green and gold surfaces are just as I remember them always to have been which is odd because to stay like that they must have been repainted and yet I have never noticed any indication of renewal: it just never seems to have got old. Perhaps there is a model hanging in the flies now grotesquely dilapidated.


We usually try to get seats in the stalls because you can avoid the pillars but recently we had less choice and sat further back. I realised that the great advantage of these seats is that you see so much more of the theatre and as the lights go down, the enchantment of the space and the memories of so many visits is transporting. 


Recently a young friend was staying with us and we were allowed access to the auditorium during the day. She had her phone to use as a camera and I waited for her reaction. Actually what she wanted was a selfie outside Weatherspoons. I can see that not everyone would find it impressive. It does not have the full-breasted balconies of theatres in the West End and their decorative extravagance.


We were watching “The Charge of the Light Brigade ”on television and I was delighted to see it standing in for a nineteenth century London theatre. It also recently appeared in “Poldark.”


My earliest memories there are of a pantomime called “Christmas in Kings Street” written by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds who later collaborated on “Salad Days”. Dorothy Reynolds also played a fairy godmother and had a plaintive song with the refrain “Nobody loves a fairy when she’s forty”. The pantomime was deft and witty and so different from those at the Hippodrome across the Tramway Centre. These were brash extravaganzas: I loved them both.


I remember my father taking me to see “Man and Superman” and with reference to Octavius confiding in me that it was never wise to put a woman on a pedestal. I saw no evidence that he took his own advice. 


The auditorium has never been enlarged yet when it was built it held three times as many people as it does now. Clearly they were less concerned with social distancing. Originaly the theatre had no entrance at all because it had no licence to present plays. You went down a narrow passage and through a back garden. This lasted for several years. In the 1970s I remember that they used an impressive Georgian building, the Coopers Hall, as an entrance and foyer. In the last few years they have developed the site to the side of Coopers Hall which is dramatic and modern using the brickwork of the outside of the auditorium.

Before the war the theatre was used for Variety and was unrecognised for either its theatrical history or its architecture. In 1935 the dramatist and critic, Henry Farjeon, rediscovered it and was hugely impressed. He wanted to buy it but the owners didn’t want to sell and he had no money. He managed to interest the Georgian Group who were equally impressed with the theatre but equally had no money. In 1942 the Georgian Group noted that the theatre was coming up for auction and asked Farjeon to write to The Times. The local press took up the matter and the money was provided anonymously. More funds were needed for the restoration. The chairman of the forerunner of the Arts Council said their money could not be used for building work. A few months later a new chairman reversed that decision and when the money had been spent admitted his error adding that “ The whole happy incident had come about in a happy, haphazard English way”.

In 1946 the Bristol Old Vic company was set up which included Peter O’Toole, Dorothy Tutin, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Timothy West and John Neville.

Although the theatre is over two hundred and fifty years old it occurs to me that I have been enjoying it for well over a fifth of that period.


Dog Days

Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham


A sudden plunge in temperature bringing with it a grey duvet cover of clouds. The news is not great nor will it be for a while to come. Leaked news suggests we are in for at least another 3 weeks of isolation after this week. Writing the word ‘isolation’ made me think of  ‘desolation’ followed swiftly by remembering the song title ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan. I love his songs; I would listen while working in the studio and enjoyed the long mesmerising  ballads. Desolation Row (from Highway Sixty One) is an 11 minute dose of sadness, uncertainty, spiral into chaos experience which brings to my mind as we go into the fourth lockdown week that possibly friends, neighbours and the population are beginning to feel hopeless. Mental health is a concern.


I felt a twinge of sadness myself when I woke up to yet another very quiet morning. Our road, on a one way system out of town is usually busy as people drive to work or are dropping children off at school. To reassure myself that the world hasn’t ended I lean out of the bedroom window and look first one way then the other. No sign of anything. A bird suddenly flies overhead. I silently wished it well thinking of the peregrine falcon that has taken tenancy of the nesting box on top of the square tower of Wymondham Abbey. Sadly for the second year running he has yet to find a mate that will commit. Commitment to an isolation way of life is essential for humans, but the peregrine won’t understand, he needs a mate, and fast. 


I crane my eyes to the end of the road and make out an old lady (no doubt taking advantage of the elderly dedicated shopping time at the Co-op) stooped over, pulling along what looks like a black dog. Hurrah, my first sighting of a dog for a long while! Does it have to be black! Is this an omen? Then I realise it is not a dog after all but her shopping trolley ! Coming behind her are a couple with a large brown dog, a graceful one too, possibly a hunting type of dog, then they disappear from view. A car glides by under our window, I can see clearly in to the driver. Sometimes I have seen nurses, sometimes delivery men but never a carload of people. 

Gracefulness in all its joyous glory can be seen in Pisanello’s drawings of animals particularly hunting dogs, in his case, greyhounds. The other day when I picked up our monograph on Pisanello (c1395-c1455) I was so delighted at seeing these images again. It was just like the first time of seeing them, such was my enjoyment. Sometimes putting things away for a period and then returning is a deep rewarding pleasure - if I could have eaten the images I would! Like all great things, be it music, poetry, or dance it revives one’s sense of being alive and is a reminder of how wonderful life can be.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK


Found this in Pepys last night in his own time of Plague, and so parallel to my existence it was uncanny:  

Up betimes, and having dressed, to the Co-op where it did vex me much to find not bread nor the makings of bread, or fruits or anything nice, but old leekes and carrots in the reduced bin with other stuffe not wanted by anyone. And so to Mr Wilkerson at his shoppe where did join the throng before allowed in for my tap washers, secured to my great satisfaction and so home to stem my spillage. It will, I calculate save me above 1/- per annum, no small thing. Was joyed to find the carter in my absence deliverd a great sakke of sunflower hearts for my bird theatre but on examination it had a great rent where squirrels or other vermin had been feasting while I in Towne a shopping. Did spend the rest of the day breaking of my nuckles with the workings of the taps, cursing and, from time to time, saluting squirrels with my boyhood catapult retrieved from my Great Chest of things precious to me and into which my wife is forbidden to looke, her having not the same appreciation of useful stuffe and inclined to get saucy with me.


I'll go on

Peter Pegnall, Sheringham


Bright Sparks on Doomsday


A felt tip rainbow cock eyed

in Sid and Nancy’s front room,

an arc of hope from faraway,

from a small hand they will see again:

we all promise, although we can’t.


Breathless scurries and shouts

behind a walled garden. A trampoline?

A Grand Prix of toy cars? A game of tag?

A break from cake making, sudoku

and one more bloody poem.

Owen with the guide dog he doesn’t need,

can’t let go after Dorothy’s death.

He is growing hair like a Yak,

mimes his songs of constant sorrow

to an empty high street, at his best.


Two Chinese girls in face masks,

I pretend not to know who they are,

ask if they are burglars, caught on camera?

They giggle and do, indeed, burgle

my hungry heart. Hello. Goodbye. That will do


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk


Phew, only just remembered to report in!

Very little has happened. 

In the big wide world, the talk is of unfolding large death counts in old peoples homes and care homes, lack of PPP everywhere, Trump being Trump, Boris went to his second home to recuperate, huge massive recessions to follow etc etc etc. All quite gloomy.


In my world I have cut the grass, cleaned out the chickens and transplanted seedlings and cut and posted oil cloth. I have eaten all the florentines and one tub of chocolate booja booja ice-cream.


I just stopped at Edgefield Nursery on my way back from a quick visit to the shop and was allowed to rifle through their bins for flower pots which was very exciting.

My major battle though is with the slugs and snails so I am to be found late at night with a torch on patrol. They have had all my beans bar five little plants and every courgette seed was removed form the little pots probably by mice.  They are even after the newly planted sweet peas.

Yesterday on our walk I saw a pair of Egyptian geese. A few years ago there was a pair who used to nest in the hollow at the top of a rotten oak. I expect they are relations. There was also a red kite who thinks I'm a fat mouse as he circled over my head, a flock of curlew and 4 ducks.

Have to go and prick out basil and lime tobacco plants now and maybe later I will make some more florentines.

Bye for now.

Love Annabel xxx

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