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From St Just

 Jane G, St Just

After sleeping - or rather not sleeping - horribly, and waking for about the 8th time at 5.40 a.m., I realised that it was May morning, and that in Oxford that would normally mean that I had overslept. So I rather blearily went to see if Magdalen College choir might be up and about virtually - which they were. I opened the window and listened to 'Now is the month of May' and Magdalen bells pealing out over St Just.



Thirty years ago to the minute, with a prized ticket for the tower, I realised I'd overslept, hurtled across college in gown and more-or-less pyjamas, scrabbled up the tower and, tripping on various garments as I negotiated from the topmost ladder through the trap door onto the roof, came to rest rather heavily on Seamus Heaney's feet.


From the black shed

David E, East Norfolk

Are we over the hump?

Its May Day. We should be out singing, dancing, eating cake and doing complicated things with a pole stuck in the ground. The idea of a bank holiday on the following Monday seems to be forgotten which is just as well since the date was changed last summer. My calendar says its a holiday on the 4th May but now we are told there will be a holiday on Friday 8th instead to coincide with the 75th celebration of VE day. We will be hearing the Churchill speech but I hear they have managed to prevent Boris from reciting it! There will also be something rousing from the Queen delivered from that large care home west of London with only two residents. 

There will be no International Labour Day celebrations around the world this year but let’s hope our front line workers aren’t forgotten.


Boris tells us that we have passed the peak of the epidemic but the number of new cases around the country seems to be pretty steady. In our locality the number of hospital cases is down a bit but the NHS is preparing for a further surge. The next concern is all those people nursing health problems at home when they should be accessing care. Our A&E attendances are down by more than half, the  heart and stroke teams are seeing fewer patients and the cancer teams are gearing up for a huge leap in referrals once lock down is lifted. The one possible plus side is that the reduction in air pollution may have reduced the number of asthma attacks as well as the number of strokes and heart attacks. The lack of commuter stress and workplace stress might also be having a positive effect. Its ironic that until this year hospitals were telling people not to come to A&E and now they are calling out for them to attend!


Strange times

Anna Stenborg, Uppsala, Sweden

"The party is cancelled." Last day of april used to mean 150 000 people in the centre of Uppsala, many of them drunk. This year the students were told by the University not to party. It actually seems to have worked so far. There is loud music from one of the windows in our apartment building, though, so the whole party is not cancelled.


At midday I cycled home for "herring lunch" which is one of the many traditional parts of last of april. Our oldest friends Henrik and Ira joined us (even though Henrik doesn´t eat herring). Back at the hospital I spent a few hours at the emergency room for my on call shift. It was reasonably calm. I was impressed by all the food and treats that different companies had provided, and keeps providing every day since the pandemic started. I tasted three of the cakes and they were all tasty.


I talked to M whose brother today hade moved from a regular covid ward to the palliative covid ward. Her brother is 69 years old with diabetes and heart disease. He also has mental retardation and hearing loss and thus gets competely terrified by the masked staff on the ward, and the family members are not allowed in to try to calm him down. M herself is overworked and has difficulty sleeping due to worry. 

One of our wards had to move earlier than planned today. Their previous location was cramped like an airplane, located in a basement, and when they by mistake recently got a covid patient in, both other patients and lots of staff became infected. So far thankfully, no physician or staff at the hospital has died from covid infection contracted at work. 

Now drinking tea and going to bed.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

Looking on the bright side of life [as those doyens of satire, Monty Python would have us do] like many others I have taken to baking, not just as a means to pass the day productively but as a creative process in the midst of the chaos and implosion. Satisfying too that such an ancient recipe should make its come back at such a time requiring as it does time to get the leavening process underway. Uplifting on so many counts.


Sour Dough

Needs must; no yeast but flour, water, time, trust,

So rising to the challenge I ventured

Forth, the bold pilgrim in search of the 

Celestial city of success, blind

To the perils on the way: the slough of 

Collapse, the bowl of Humiliation, 

A crust called Beautiful. Mixing patience 

With desire [hunger too] corners were cut,

I confess it here, not all directions

 Heeded. Lumpen dough, not pliable as

Promised in the golden guided Jamie, 

Led to the Hill of Collapse. Arise again?

Onwards, upwards, delectable mountain

Of joy, the ultimate destination.


Rural Norfolk

Chris Gates, Norfolk UK

The PM himself appeared as promised at the No10 Briefing, and gave a rather up-beat, bravura performance, I thought. No matter what your Politics are or what buffoonery follows him by reputation he has a way of presenting that makes him best man for the job at the moment - he gives the impression of straight-talking, and the last thing we need is anything less than that. So what if it’s all very ‘willing suspension of disbelief’? 


What did we glean? Well, not a lot, really.

That as we approach a tragic 30,0000 confirmed dead, early on they were contemplating a worst case scenario for the UK of 500,000 deaths. Half a mil. I don’t recall hearing that before, they kept that quiet.

That next week he’ll be revealing recovery strategies for a) the Economy, b) Schools, c) Travel - but all against a background of preserving ‘R’ below 1 to avoid exponential growth in confirmed cases, the dreaded second Spike.

That was about it...


Other numbers flying about today:

It looks like Matt Hancock will achieve his 100,000 tests. Phew. Now, will BJ get his 250,000?

5 years since Obama urged preparation for a ‘Spanish Flu’ like pandemic he felt sure would visit us in 5 years...

1,000,000 global recoveries - good news, welcome news.

1 tonne of gravel to be collected for my ongoing project here. Grit and collect.



John Underwood, Norfolk



I have been buying a few books, and surprisingly selling a few in an effort to keep our business going during lockdown. I talked to a few colleagues as well, and no one seems sure about what might happen in the future. How could you socially distance a Book Fair? Our customers are often people who will make their book collecting a financial priority where possible. Other customers are Libraries, Universities  or other Institutions, and although building their libraries is an important part of their function, it is difficult to imagine that any of their budgets will be the same post pandemic, whenever that might be. So I buy books, repair or rebind them if needed, and write formal descriptions of them. This is an interesting process. 


A book arrives on my  table, often without any written description, or a basic one, perhaps a pencil note or an old price. Manuscripts will need researching; a name in an ownership inscription can be looked up online, links can be made, and the relevance or importance of a manuscript can be realised, brought into the light, illuminated for a future owner. I often think what the original owner would make of all this. A clerk perhaps, from around 1760, finally working in paid employment after a seven year apprenticeship. He keeps his accounts, he writes down his travel expenses, a few horse remedies, any loans he has taken or made. He might list his books, or note down a suicide down his neighbours well. He might essay some lines of poetry, or copy an epitaph. He notes an outbreak of fever in the nearby city. If he had a watch he might note the maker, and repair bills. He has a tooth ache cure recommended by someone. He notes down where he buys quill pens and ink. He writes his name inside the cover or on the cover, and he has a page of pen trials. How shocked he would be to think that his memorandum book was being described in detail, and offered for sale for several hundred pounds. If he could walk into my office he might exclaim and demand that I return his book to him. He would tuck it back into his frock coat pocket. I would note that he handled it with familiarity, it fitted his hand, his sweat had moulded the vellum cover to his grasp, and he worked the catch as he had done for many years.


Some two hundred and fifty years pass. A few people have handled the book, but it might have lain unregarded for many years. When I pick it up, it has his ink stains on it, the grubbiness from his pocket, his dried sweat, maybe his DNA. But until now, no one has described this little book, noted down its dimensions, how many pages have entries, and what they entail. A description alters things. It turns an unregarded piece of ephemera tossed into a house clearance auction, into an evocation of a life. Writing a description of the book and owner immortalise it for as long as the technology lasts, and if a large University Library buys it, it will be stored in an archival box, and may be digitised and made available worldwide. As we describe our lives during this pandemic, we are writing a collective memorandum book, and it too will last as long as the medium that holds it.


Mary’s Projects Mostly

Mary Hildyard, Bristol

Of the several projects I am working on, the weaving project is the most complicated and challenging. Yesterday I completed the first half and felt a sense of triumph. By a rather amazing coincidence yesterday we also reached Day 42 of 84 – we are half way through the period of self-isolation suggested for those over seventy – initially for twelve weeks. My “paper chain of days” has a sixth “Red Friday” ring waiting to be attached after today’s walk.  I am not yet ready to accommodate what might be a longer period than twelve weeks so I am allowing myself to be buoyed up at reaching this milestone.

The second half of my weaving project will be somewhat easier to complete because it simply mirrors the first half. But another 42 days of isolation hangs heavily. I am really missing my sons, missing the conviviality of friends – Whats App is novel and helpful but just not enough. I am particularly sorry not to be able to visit my grandchildren. Watching them grow up on camera is no substitution for sitting on the floor making Lego with them or cuddling on the sofa for a story.



Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

I went over to the factory yesterday, now eerily quiet, with all production staff having been furloughed. There is something intensely reassuring about the noise and activity of manufacturing industry: the human endeavour, the technology and ingenuity, the satisfaction of delivering finished output to customers, the wealth creation, and underpinning it all, the dignity of work. I will always remember the month I once spent working at a cotton mill in Lancashire, sitting in an office where, if I placed my hands flat on the desk, I could feel the vibration of the looms in the weaving shed. When they stopped each Friday afternoon for the weekend, it provided the signal to pack up and go home. Those particular looms, manufacturing medical textiles, somewhat inevitably fell silent a few years later. The machines at our factory that are currently silent will all be busy again in a fortnight. 


More concerning than silent factories, are the silent classrooms up and down the country. The impact of the abandonment of formal education for millions of children could have a devastating impact on their futures. I know from 14 years as a governor at the local primary school that the attainment gap between those from better and lesser privileged homes worsens every summer holiday. The setback children are suffering at the moment will be so much greater. Some way must be found, sooner rather than later, to restart schooling, particularly in the formative years of key stages 1 and 2. Perhaps only some year groups at first - allowing split classes to facilitate distancing. But we are going to have to learn to live with this virus, and accept that it will be part of our lives for at least the next 12 to 18 months, and possibly for ever. Is it right to continue sacrificing our young children’s life chances for the sake of “saving our NHS”, when we have now reached the point where the NHS has plenty of spare capacity?


Corona Diary

Annabel, A village in North Norfolk

Been shopping so its Friday.

Nearly run out of time for my diary entry. 

Have been to the shops and our little shop. Took one of the stressed shopkeepers some flowers from the garden and then went to my friends farm and got some asparagus and nicked a bunch of his lilac. So pretty everywhere at the moment and Earnie was so excited to be there. 

Saw a huge bird on the way like an eagle but probably a kite or marsh harrier. Will look it up in a minute.

Colonel Tom has now raised 32 million.


Love Annabel xxx

Pips have gone

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