Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

Apart from being exceptionally busy with work these last few weeks, I think I have been watching too much television: some good, some rubbish. We enjoyed the re-run of the BBC Two adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall over Easter, starring Mark Rylance and Damian Lewis. And we also listened to Anton Lesser (who played Thomas More in the BBC WH) reading “The Mirror and the Light” on Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime. We haven’t bought the book yet – we’ll wait until it comes out in paperback. Mantel is particularly unsympathetic to Thomas More, perhaps an overdue counterbalance to Robert Bolt’s “A Man for All Seasons”, and something she spoke about in her BBC documentary broadcast in early March, “Return to Wolf Hall”. All three BBC programmes are still available on iPlayer or Sounds, and strongly recommended.


And as for Thomas Cromwell himself, one of my children bought me Diarmid MacCulloch’s biography of him published last year – a healthy 700 pages long - that sits on the shelf reproaching me. It promises to be an interesting counterbalance to Mantel’s fictional telling of his life, but I think it may have to wait until I retire before I get around to reading it. 


My favourite TV programme for many years has been University Challenge. I am often simply amazed at the reaction times and the breadth and depth of knowledge on display. But I always get a thrill when I get a question right, and give myself half a mark if my wrong answer is the same as the wrong answer offered up by a student. The series finale on Monday was disappointingly one-sided. An indulgence is watching Gogglebox. Shockingly Anglo-Saxon in vocabulary, it should be compulsory viewing for all politicians, as an insight into the opinions, habits and perhaps the intelligence of the electorate. And for spy drama nothing beats Homeland, now in its final series, with evermore far-fetched plot lines, but still held together by Clare Danes’ mesmerising performances.


This week I have also been standing in the back garden at night trying to spot the chains of new satellites that are soon going to be filling the night sky. With the clear skies I have managed to see 3 or 4 of them, following one another a few minutes apart. (Are they practicing social distancing?). It is a tremendously exciting project, creating a network of thousands of satellites offering “internet access for all”. It will be transformative for those many areas of the world that don’t have the luxury of telegraph poles or cable ducts running down the road. But I can also understand why astronomers are worried that the sky risks becoming too cluttered for them to study the stars.


My Mother-in-law who has dementia has lived in a care home for the last two years, and we have not been allowed to visit her for weeks. A nurse has just telephoned to tell S that they have their first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the home. Worrying times.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

I seem to have come over all Pepysy this morning...


Much Vexed by Mowles


While taking a turn about the garden, was much vexed to find Mowles have been making merry and do despoil the grass with their heapes. Sent for Master Peagen who is reckoned locally to be able to clear them by means of Charm and ingenious engines below ground, but alas he has a bad back and is quite unable to attend, bending being somewhat neccessary in pursuit. Raked away the heapes amounting to two full barrows and was alarmed to find later in the day that the hens and pheasants and Guineafowl now do dig into the tunnels below and make a form of bath hollow to the same extent that the heape was above, and thus I have gained nothing for my labours but have made things worse, my refilling of the baths with the soil previously removed only goading the fowl into fresh diggings which they do evidently consider great sport. 

For distraction, took carriage to Towne, being in need of a goodly length of woode to make my Potting Shed door-framing, having found to my great disappointment no suitable stuffe in the stores at home. Was troubled a little, this journey being against, or as may be at least be argued against, the edict of Minister Hancoke “not to shoppe for anything but essentials” and buying of woode may be considered not essential no matter what my need may be. There is talk of the Constable levying fines of £30 and upwards with little restraint. Dismayed to find my enterprise, effort and risk to little purpose, there being a closed gate at the Woodyard and a rude message writ on a scrap of plasterborde viz: “Plague terms, not open to the publick, Trade only”. Called to fellow in the Yard who was pretending to be a-sweeping, hoping to get my pieces of woode, him being little employed at that moment, but rec’d saucy reply for my pains. I offered coin if he would assist me in this small matter, but he responded it was not a matter of money. Whereupon I increased my offer, meaning to test his resolve. He approached the gate with his brush in a most threatening manner, but I at my ease, the gate opening outwards and my carriage blocking. Alas, smart fellowe, he did reverse the broom and make to poke me thro’ the wire mesh, albeit in jest, but I to my carriage and off, feeling it prudent. Away and past the King’s Head where I would be pleased to take Greene King ale in happier days, but how sombre to see it shutte on account of The Plague.

Back to my garden and doorway and made to my joy much progress, I finding woode enough in and around my neighbour’s House on the way home and freely available to form the framing sufficiently well. Asked of Rich. my Gardener to help me with the grate Doore that do fit the frame, only to find to my frustration that it is too long for its new position and, it being impossible to deepen the ground, I resolve to cut above an inch from the bottom. We prop the door to one side while I set to with said Rich, making of a form of bench from two barrows when a great and sudden gust of winde does send the door over on to me. Luckily I am bent at the time, and thus my head low but my back and shoulders take a blow. The glass is broke - no great matter, it was cloudy and I wish to see through, so was expecting to buy more, but Lord! how my backe and shoulders do ache now. Cut the inch from the door, and it hangs well, giving a pleasant view of my little apple trees and greater woods etc beyond. 

Ends a most turbulent day in lockedowne and so to supper and to bed.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

While doing my good deed for the day by delivering more supplies to the hospital I experienced one of the hidden delights of driving here, the art of undertaking. Now apart from the obvious rich irony of the term it came as a bit of a surprise that road etiquette is so obviously 'relaxed'. Red lights seem to be advisory only and cause at best only a momentary cessation of the onward rush, corners are not always for going round, roundabouts may at times be negotiated the wrong way and undertaking is endemic. I think Robert Frost was a closet undertaker, all that classic indecision as to which lane to take, lack of peripheral vision, and then blind faith that somehow all will come good and no one will notice: The Road Not Undertaken...



Perhaps the moped driver, “Robert Frost”,

Was, after the road diversion, not lost

But seeking a higher truth, the tarmac

Way to a destination, hence the lack 

Of signalling! Because it was grassy

And wanted wear I did not check the hard

Shoulder. It was quite an undertaking.

I saw him just in time; glancing left and 

Right, blissfully unaware of his plight

He cut across in front, indifferent!

Focused on a distant vision? Swerving,

Glad he could not straddle both the lanes

I let him disappear, and with a sigh

Left him to live and write his poetry.


Choose Something Like a Star

Kate, Hitchin

We're all in a time warp, stuck in the middle, between 2025 and 1975. Few planes, empty streets, and people discussing when to plant runner beans while checking their WhatsApp messages. The frontline of the hospital and care work worlds have never felt so far away... the news might as well be coming from another planet, which I'm truly grateful for. Talking of other planets, last night I spent far too long watching youtube videos of universe size comparisons. Some start with the human figure, and end up getting bigger and huger until you're in some distant galaxy. Jupiter is huge!! But not nearly as huge as the sun, which is dwarfed completely by Ganymede, and so on. It's a fantastic thing to see. I guess it's inspiring also because the skies are amazingly clear right now (though recent late night walk with a mate did not provide view of meteor shower, only satellites owned by Elon Musk).

But yeah good news for me today, despite receiving a rather meagre payment of Universal Credit yesterday due to previous employment, I can pay the rent, buy food, and even maybe fill up with petrol while it's cheap. Not that I'm going anywhere yet ! Also I bought a digital print 'canvas' of NYC by night, to paint over. £10 from B&M - a bargain ! And essential.


Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

Here is a very small collage impression of a view Jay and I had while on our dawn hike this morning.


At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

Gloomy today, despite being well into Three Men in a Boat, the witty narrator pleasing me no end with his stories. Each event brings a cascade of memories to him. In the meantime I’ve forgotten the names of the people I went to secondary school with. We were never friends, my classmates and I, anything but. Still, I observed as I scuttled around trying for invisibility. And now I don’t remember much of whom or what I observed. But it makes me lonely now to think of boarding school then. What misery it was, and yet it was home. For several years anyway, until I ran away.  


I woke this morning to two inches of snow and a fierce cold wind that discouraged any thoughts of buying radish and carrot seeds, or bags of compost, though I did walk the dog around the lake that used to be a quarry. The dog and I were avoiding a family walking on the dirt road, avoiding not because of the virus but because the dog goes berserk when he meets another dog, or person, or child, or bicycle, or even a piece of paper blowing in the wind.  Fortunately he’s not a large dog but still, I wasn’t up for the noisy adventure, and if no-one is around I can let him off the leash at the lake and he runs around like a maniac, full of joy, while I enjoy tall grasses and take care not to slip into the lake.  


I go back and forth between wanting to know all the news, and not being able to bear any of it. People demonstrating. One incompetent governor declaring barber shops and massage parlors can open. Like cutting a wound deeper. For the hell of it. For the political expediency. Or…


Meanwhile the dog sleeps all afternoon, B. and I worry and then I sleep too. But tomorrow I pick up a box of vegetables from a local farm that usually sells to New York City restaurants, and we cook a meal for friends in dire circumstances.  


And, a high point of the day, I went into a friend’s house. How sweet it was, the familiar floor and door, her beloved husband stretched out in his chair napping, the cat thinking about clawing my legs.  We’ve been meeting on their porch, six feet apart, but today, being invited inside, that felt like a liberation.



 John Underwood, Norfolk

Curiouser and curiouser


I have been enjoying dipping into the Aubrey “Miscellanies“ that I have been writing about. The book itself is now readable, it has become a useable thing, and it might just be the book that I would take with me to a desert island (should they ask me) or to the retirement home ( more likely). I am going to treat you to some wonderful nonsense today, quoting from the book.


“Arise Evans had a fungous Nose, and said, it was revealed to him, that the King’s Hand would cure him: And at the first coming of King Charles II into St. James’s Park, he Kiss’d the King’s Hand, and rubbed his Nose with it; which disturbed the King, but Cured him. Mr Ashmole told it me.”


“To hinder the Night Mare, they hang in a String, a Flint with a Hole in it (naturally) by the Manger; but best of all they say, hung about their Necks, and a Flint will do it that hath not a Hole in it. It is to prevent the Night Mare (viz) the Hag from riding the Horses, who will sometimes Sweat all Night. The Flint thus hung does hinder it”


“At the first appearance of the New Moon after New Years Day, go out in the Evening, and stand over the Spars of a Gate or Stile, looking on the Moon and say, 

All Hail to the Moon, all Hail to thee,

I prithee good Moon reveal to me,

This  Night, who my Husband (Wife) must be.”


“...That upon a time, when he was walking abroad in the Fields near to his House, he was suddenly carried away, and found the next day at Paris in the French King’s Cellar with a Silver Cup in his Hand; that being brought into the King’s Presence and Question’d by him, Who he was? And how he came hither? He told his Name, his Country, and the Place of his Residence, and that such a Day of the Month (which proved to be the Day immediately preceding) being in the Fields, he heard the Noise of a Whirl-wind, and of voices crying ‘Horse and Hattock’ (this is the Word which the Fairies are said to use when they remove from any Place) whereupon he cried (Horse and Hattock) also, and was immediately caught up, and transported through the Air, by the Fairies to that Place where after he had drunk heartily he fell asleep, and before he awoke, the rest of the Company were gone, and had left him in the Posture wherein he was found. It’s said, the King gave him the Cup which was found in his Hand, and dismissed him.”


The book was published first in the late C17th, and although Aubrey cannot be described as a reliable witness, it is interesting that he thought it important to gather these snippets together and preserve them, however haphazardly. It was reasonable at the time to write about Fairies transporting you away, and desirable to grab the king’s hand and rub it on your fungous nose (although not apparently for the king...). This not a sentence that I can recall having written before...


I hope that the above has taken you away from your worries about Coronavirus for a few moments and transported you to a different time, where they did things differently. “Horse and Hattock!”


Hello from Eastbourne

Macrae children

Deserts by Franklin Lewis Macrae 


Today we got up at 7am and I started my maths homework from school, I finished it. I then started my geography homework on deserts. We had to use a template of a map and label it with the world's deserts but we couldn't print it. The internet at school is so hard to use and it's very frustrating. In the end, I drew a large map of the world, which was much more interesting. I am researching deserts, hot and cold and making a list of facts about them. The Sahara Desert stretches across 12 countries and Antarctica is the dryest and largest desert on the planet. You would think a hot desert would be dryer but is is in fact Antarctica. The desert I would like to visit is the Turkestan desert because it is the most northern desert. It's in Siberia, I would like to experience extreme cold and I am very interested in the North because I am interested in Boreal forests. I enjoyed Northern Lights by Philip Pullman and the fact that it is set in the north so much. I would love to see the Aurora Borealis too.

I have been a bit upset over the last few days and have argued with Marli. I did say sorry though and yesterday and today I feel better. We can't go outside much and I can't wait until Lockdown is over. I can't see my friends and it's really hard being stuck inside. Quarantine is horrible. We love that den in the park but can't go often so me and my sister are making a den in the garden with bamboo sticks and an old sheet.


As soon as Lockdown is over, my parents said we can celebrate and maybe even go to Wales to climb a mountain. I am really looking forward to going back to school to see my friends and also to seeing my granny and papa.  



When Lockdown is over by Marli Rose Macrae 


I am not going to write a diary today but I am going to write about what I'm going to do after Lockdown. 


I'm looking forward to seeing my friend Asia at school. We write letters to each other so at least we can stay in touch. I am looking forward to going to Lewes with my mummy and my dolly-bunny Betsey. There is a shop there called Wickle and they have a knitted, yellow cotton dress which will fit Betsey perfectly. I will have a cheese toastie in the cafe too.


I would love to see our granny. She is stuck in Spain at the moment. She does live there for half the year then the other half in Oxford but at the moment she can't leave Spain. I am also looking forward to going to Spain on holiday but we might not be able to this year because of the virus.


I am desperate to go for a long walk in the countryside, to Alfriston, the Seven Sisters, the Downs or Friston Forest. A swim in the sea and an ice cream from Fusciardi's would be lovely too. I don't like not being allowed to go outside and I don't like queuing for the supermarket. I do enjoy being able to hear the birds more and we now have a tiny wren sit on our fence each morning. I enjoy mummy teaching us French at home and being able to research any animal we choose. Reading at home is definitely better. I love reading and miss going to Waterstones and the charity shops for books. I have read Mary Poppins by P L Travers and it is an enchanting book. There are such thrilling adventures. Mary Poppins is a tremendously stylish woman but she is also magical. She flies with an umbrella and she has the most peculiar relatives. Her uncle is the man in the moon! The children she looks after, Jane, Michael, John, Barbara and Annabelle are so lucky to have her. When she arrives, Jane and Michael look inside her carpet bag and see that is is empty. But then Mary Poppins pulls out a light, a bottle of medicine and some clothes! She also slides UP the bannisters, up, not down! I would do anything to have one day with her. The other book I read again was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. The illustrations by Lauren Child are wonderful and the new book will be published In September. I am reading The Secret Garden now with mummy.

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