Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

After driving over to the factory on Tuesday I spent the rest of the week back home in my study, in seemingly endless video and phone calls. Over the last 4 weeks our UK sales have fallen by one third compared to the same period last year, and so we currently have too much stock of finished products and too much spare capacity. Rather than try and scale back our activities we have decided upon a complete shutdown of the factory for a minimum of three weeks. With the exception of good inwards and goods outwards activities, the site will be closed, with effect from Monday 27th April. The affected staff will be placed on furlough, with the company continuing to pay 100% of basic pay, and recovering 80% from HMRC under the government scheme. We prepared all the paperwork on Friday afternoon, including reference to the furlough scheme having a maximum end date of 31st May. At 5pm on Friday the government announced that the scheme would continue until 30th June, so there was a flurry of phone calls as we agreed how to amend the wording of our communications to staff. 


We need to keep the goods inwards warehouse running because suppliers of raw materials and packaging will continue to deliver, in preparation for when we start back up again. And we absolutely have to keep our goods outwards function operational, because we sell our products through a “direct selling” operation. Our several thousand independent sales agents rely on us to supply them so that they can continue to sell to their customers.  If we fail to deliver, our agents’ businesses will fail and their livelihoods suffer, and they will lose their customer base.  And if this were to happen, we would have no business left, and nothing to come back to after the pandemic. 


Meanwhile, I am disturbed by tales of enthusiastic busybodies snitching to the police on their neighbours’ potential breaches of the lockdown rules. I guess the snitches would have been comfortable as collaborators in wartime France, or as Stasi informers. The local council have suspended collection of garden waste, so yesterday afternoon I re-instated my compost heap.


Musings from self isolation

Billy Hearld, York

Yesterday, overcast but dry, myself, my mother, my sister and my father threw ourselves into sorting out the outhouses which, now a nightmarish tangle of spiders webs and old bikes, took almost all day. We swept and dusted, reorganised and cleared, bagged up rubbish and reshelved ancient gardening equipment, finding, along the way, some of the biggest spiders I have ever seen. At the end of it all, covered in dust, cobwebs and oil, I felt a sense of having at least done something productive with the day.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

Unusually in this house, we watched the Marr show this Sunday morning, and what a feast of bullet-point Coronavirus info it provided: 


  • Vaccine - (courtesy of Prof Sarah Gilbert from Oxford Uni) is well under way in development, though there’s fear that Government organisation of full-scale production is so lamentable that they may be stymied, ie a working, tested vaccine by the Autumn but no coherent large-scale manufacture. She says the research is effectively pro-bono - no royalties are being sought, it’ll be for The World, at cost.


  • Lockdown - likely to be renewed in various guises for the forseeable, best estimate (ie guess) is small shops may get released at the next ‘renewal’ (early May), large shops at the end of May, pubs/restaurants mid June - but a ban still on large gatherings. That would suggest more ‘open’ motoring, maybe holidays?


  • Care Home deaths - expected to be more like 4000 than the Gov’t estimate of 1500. Apparently they’re still clinging to the 10% of hospital deaths ‘calculation’ - but why?


  • Boris Johnson - has quickly reverted to bad guy from humble fresh-from-ICU good, enlightened guy, Man of the People guy with the news he skipped 5 early COBRA meetings in January and February when The Scientists were tugging at his sleeve trying to get his attention, being a bit pre-occupied with the mechanics of leaving his wife and kids and introducing us to whassername. Similarly, Matt Hancock though at COBRA meetings, sat on his hands waiting for Boris to return and take decisions. This despite that all through the proceeding Austerity Years, The Scientists were warning a pandemic was due and the NHS in dire need of - you guessed it - ventilators, gowns and masks. Staff too. 

  • Only a suite of vaccines will keep us safe from recurring coronavirus infection in coming years, reinfection being possible with or without whatever the currently successful vaccine turns out to be. Could be a v-e-r-y long haul, more likely when normalcy returns, or the new version of normalcy, it could be living with the virus rather than without.

  • OECD warning that though manageable and reversible, we should expect high levels of debt, Government, Corporate and Individual, at the end, whenever that is. 

I can’t leave you chewing on that lot without a sweetener:


Capt Tom now at £26,000,000. I do hope ‘They’ don’t spoil it by bickering over its use.


They’ve invited him to open the Nightingale Hospital in Harrogate. 

That sounds sensible, take a 99 year old out of his safe family home environment in the relatively covid19-untouched rural South and make him spend a day or so in a Northern Metropolitan covid hotspot...


And finally: Rural Norfolk UK back to its sunny self, and forecast to be so for a week. Of course, Nature is unaffected by our Human angst and Springs onwards: Hurrah!


Merrywood Dispatches

Lily Wonham, Bristol

I started this week thinking a lot about loss. To neatly sum up everything I have lost in the last few weeks is an impossible task, let alone what has been collectively lost from our communities. Not only in the sense of lives lost and finances lost, but a way of life, and an innocence (or perhaps a blindness). The shadows we thought we saw in the corners of our eyes have become real. 


Joan Didion said 'there is no real way to deal with everything we lose'. While we experience loss throughout our lives, for everything to so suddenly fall away - my job, my hobbies, my experience of time, my family, my partner, and my friends, sharpens this sensation. There is simply no way of dealing with everything we lose.


And yet. Joan Didion wrote this in 2003. Perhaps she simply had yet to make the happy discovery of video calling.


Earlier in the week I conducted a quiz for my extended family (written about in this Journal by my Mum!). Lots of happy healing laughter was had. I had a video call with my grandparents. My friends from my home town also wrote their own quiz. My housemate and I set up a laptop at the end of our table to conduct a 'crafternoon' with some of our mutual friends here in Bristol, and ended up having peaceful conversation and painting together for a couple of hours. And then on Saturday night, those same friends gathered to play a round of our favourite paper game. We usually play this in person with copious amounts of drinks, yet managed to transfer it successfully online. I can't remember the last time I laughed so hard. We left with our hearts full and satisfied with many future plans - to do a life drawing competition, to play board games online. Slowly but surely my diary is filling up with digital commitments. We will continue to find innovative and creative ways to spend time together.


Now we have arrived at the end of this week, I find myself far more drawn to this Thoreau quote about loss than the Joan Didion. 'Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realise where we are and the infinite extent of our relations'. Indeed, I do feel I have lost the world. And simultaneously have stumbled upon the delightfully infinite extent of my relations.


From St Just

Jane G, St Just

Another feline health scare: the abscess on Smokey's chin seems to be healing quite well, but yesterday I spotted another lump developing on the side of her face. Thankfully the vet this time agreed it was urgent, & lanced what's proving to be the nastiest of these things I've encountered: despite constant bathing poor S looks as if she ought to be in a field hospital and despite liberal spreading of towels a lot of the cushions look as if they've been imported from a murder scene. Almost as disturbing is that the vet insisted that both abscesses are classic bite wounds and couldn't have been caused any other way - but Smokey hasn't been out. This means there is a phantom antagonist in the house, invisible to the human eye and possibly to the feline eye as well - as if by analogy with the virus.


From Rural New York

Sandy Connors, USA

Sundays have always been my favorite day of the week ~ quiet mornings, the Sunday Times, no one rushing about, maybe a Sunday drive into the country, a nap in front of the fire, afternoon tea, a roast for supper, Masterpiece Theater. It is true I forget what day it is now, but Sunday remains a special day which I acknowledge with a certain pleasure ~ ‘Aaah’ ~ it is a Sunday kind of feeling ~ 

Happy Sunday ~


Mary's Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

The 20th of March, a Friday, was the first day of official self isolation in the UK for those over seventy and vulnerable. We were told to expect to isolate for twelve weeks. That is 84 days! I decided to mark those 84 days somehow. Wanting a colourful and tactile version of a prisoner’s markings on the wall of a cell, I began a paper chain of days.


As our only release from confinement is our daily walk I decided to write a brief description of each walk on the paper. And to mark each Friday I have used a shiny red paper; that indicates the number of weeks we have isolated. The very first Friday reads “Botanical Gardens and the Downs”. The fourth red ring, the one for last Friday, reads “Over the Bridge and a long way into Ashton Court!”.  I didn’t mention the rain.


As a light note I marked the first successful Waitrose delivery but this period of isolation has included a number of family birthdays and those are noted also – mine and my son, John’s are marked. Also, the fifth birthday of Sam, my lively grandson. Today’s ring will show my sister’s birthday and tomorrow’s my husband’s. All celebrated in a kind of limbo.


I haven’t decided whether watching the chain grow is a solace or adds to the general sadness that surrounds this hiatus  - this interruption to our normal lives.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Sunday. Garden stunning. House a little untidy. 89 year old Mum in Liverpool frustrated that last year she sent her beloved piano to the Red Cross and now cannot get her sewing machine to work. No, she is not making PPE for the NHS. Husband cooked wonderful lunch of roast chicken, new potatoes and asparagus from the garden and opened nice bottle of chilled rosé. I’m back in the attic sorting through amassed cards, notes, letters, photographs and pamphlets; reading them, culling some, and bundling those which delight, amuse or cause a nostalgic tug. Each is tied with a nice braid or ribbon from my work box and labelled with a pencilled note indicating today’s date as the last time I reviewed them.  All very satisfactory. Our past condensed. Our present controlled. And now fresh space for our future.


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Missed my deadline yesterday due to the lid coming off a carton of slug pellets and going all over the car with Earnie in the back! Came home and hoovered them up.


Went for a walk last night and met the farmer who owns the field where the bridle path runs along one side. 

He was in his car and I in mine and we sat in the middle of the main village road, engines off chatting. My other neighbour on the verge. Me in the middle, saying get back!


He was asking if I had heard from the police re the shooting incident. I said that yes and that he thought it sounded like a rifle but it didn’t fit into the normal pattern of shooting a deer and the farmer said, no he was aiming to shoot your dog!  He looks like a fox and he was taking a pot shot at him, saw you and scarpered. I said have you heard something and he said no but I can’t think of any other reason. Very unnerving. One thing a fluke accident but another if Earnie is a target. Quite put the wind up me. I did worry that he had been hit but he was behind the hedge on my left. He is going to have to wear a high viz jacket saying” “I am a dog not a fox” in flouro pink.

My phone has just pinged to tell me my friend had her baby this morning, a surprise as slightly early but how lovely, a little miracle baby.


Went to the local shop to get the paper and bumped into a dog walking friend outside who had seen two men in black with a silver pick up truck drive into a field at the other end of the track. She grabbed her dog. Then another old friend who also walks that track. There was a bit of an informal socially distanced gathering.


The Sunday Times has a very good piece about the ineptitude of the government. Their slow response to the pandemic and wasting 5 weeks before they got on the case. Hubris and Brexit and BJ’s concentration on personal matters and taking holidays and weekends etc. Very interesting. I was screaming at the government weeks before the lock in saying that we should all be paid a small amount and locked in for three weeks when it seemed like a crazy idea. I listen to the world service in the night and could hear all these reports completely opposing the governments calm response. The weird pneumonia cases from Wuhan had been discussed for months.

Over fifteen thousand people have died now and PPP is running out. 


Back in my world there is a battle here between me and the slugs.

Late night slug watch continues in the green house but I was horrified to see dozens of them in the border and particularly on a lovely salvia I grew from seed last year which is looking like a piece of lace. I am going to order some nematodes first thing in the morning.

Love Annabel xxxxx


Thin air

John Mole, St.Albans



Call it a day

like any other.


Call it the silence

on an empty street.


Call it kindness

come out of its corner.


Call it a gift

left outside the door.


Call it the touch

of forgotten friendship.


Call it assurance

in matters of trust.


Call it patience

that thanks you for holding,


Call it goodnight 

when the clock strikes as always.


Call all to order

then call it a day.

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