THE GREEN DIARY : To Mask or Not to Mask…………………..?

Worzel Gummidge – aka Bojo the Clown – and his Shudder of Ministers, have succeeded in further bewildering us all with the great “Freedom Day” last week which seems only to have sown more confusion, information flying at us from every quarter. Friends, best keep wearing your masks – not material ones apparently – and hope that the massive experiment now being conducted here will really lead to the sunny uplands outlined in Professor Neil Ferguson’s latest communiqués.

Fingers crossed!

It’s all Staycation! Staycation! Staycation! Following the success of the North Norfolk meander, it was touchy-touchy, feely-feely the following week and the blessed relief of actually seeing so many friends and clasping them (in my case) to ample bosoms.

So to London for our first extended stay – a week – in sixteen months. Extraordinary feeling. How small our world has become and how timid it makes us feel.

80th birthdays in Kent; Haute Cuisine at The Ivy City Garden: Yay! Someone else is cooking; at Daquise, our favourite Polish haunt in South Kensington, Golonka & Golubki recommended; moving to Primrose Hill and Lemonia for Greek cuisine and more friends, not visited for years. Parliament Hill Cafè on the Heath for breakfast. 

Golonka & Golubki at Daquise

Daquise is at the bottom of Exhibition Road and we decided to walk off lunch visiting the new Pavilion at the Serpentine and the fascinating James Barnor Photographic exhibition at the Sackler next door.

Lets have a cultural breather : fitting in The Noël Coward Exhibition at The Guildhall Gallery – a must – and the Football Final in front of a vast TV screen in Redcliffe Gardens, Turkish meze Deliveroo’d to the ensemble. I didn’t realise we could be so butch.

How can I make lists more interesting? They’re lovely lists though, signalling a feeling of normality almost forgotten. Best of all are you, Friends!

To Beckett at the British Museum we walked; rather uninspiring we thought, and very pedantically policed, taking forever, as the 69+’s all had to peer in the gloom at every impenetrable icon and cypher. Why do they insist on such poor lighting? Besides, Henry VIII made sure there was not much left of the Saint to show off anyway. We couldn’t wait for Brown’s, and more of you, dear Friends.

And we got you – at Bill’s in Muswell Hill, a duet with Friend Paul (I can mention your name can’t I, Paul? Great to see you.) – then Lennox Gardens for supper in what turned out to be my Grandmother’s flat renovated beyond recognition but, yes, it was the same street number. 

Granny died years ago of course and the coincidence is astonishing. Thanks Laura for a lovely evening. I shall probably get into trouble for mentioning your name but, hey, it’s been so lovely to be in touch and I wish I could mention you all!

Not finished yet by half. Catch-up morning coffees in Tufnell Park; Table Du Marchè in East Finchley for the evening. Such fine food. I never want to cook again. This is so wonderful.

Are you exhausted by this list? We were and staggered home via Hildenborough, Kent, for the aforementioned 80th birthday, where more of you were warm and lovely.

A day on The Green for laundering and repacking thence to Yorkshire, roof down for the sunny, four hour trip, to Thirsk and a week of reconnecting. Thirsk is where my Bridge Club is – also my Bridge Mentor, Cathy. The pandemic encouraged an online membership and I’ve yet to physically meet the other members, and probably never will, though they are still streaming their Tuesday Tournaments for a while longer. Gazing across the green baize in actualitè , real cards trembling in hand, terror-in-heart, has yet to happen, except at Grandson Jabe’s home Cambridgeshire. But that comes later.

Yorkshire is lovely. I’d forgotten. We’ve been there several times in the past : Godchildren at Ampleforth, visiting performances by friends at theatres in York and Scarborough always entailing stays enabling visits to places like Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Castle Howard, famous for its Brideshead Revisited association. I remember a particular journey to Scarborough to see Friend Paul (again) in David Mamet’s Oleanna which was well worth the terrifying, endless drive through cold rainstorms and failing light – long before Google maps and Tom-toms! 

So it’s been a while; it’s unlike East Anglia, especially Essex. Almost like visiting a foreign country; even the people are different.

Thirsk sits in the broad valley separating the Dales in the west and the Moors in the east and some walking and driving took us, with Cathy, our Bridge Mentor and dear friend, to a Dale and a Moor or two.

Starting in Lastingham, from the Church of St. Mary, an 11th Century Norman gem, built on the remains of a much earlier (circa CE 690), Saxon monastery and famous for its crypt with an apsidal chancel, we set out on a three hour circular walk through woodland and over moors to Hutton-le-Hole through Spaunton and Appleton-le-Moors. 

Where are the thousands of sheep?

Bracken and heather; high, blue skies, thousands of black-faced, horned sheep in urgent need of shearing, eating or both! Beef baguettes and beer in the hot sun set a slower pace home via the kilns at Rosedale Chimney Bank. Quite steep there; had to change gears!

Harrogate was a discovery for us. Lovely town. Lunched at Betty’s of course – and understood why we know so many who’d love to live here – in Harrogate not Betty’s! 

Home of The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. Thrillers and all.

To Wharfedale for Bolton Abbey, a beautiful 12th Century Augustinian monastery, also wrecked by Henry VIII but affording a wonderful walk along the river and through the grounds.

Turned south in convoy to Stonely-Kimbolton, Cambs., for a Bridge-fest with Grandson Jabe in hot weather. A weekend of 16 Rubbers and much humiliation for me who succeeded in ending the stay far too full of food and wine and 101 down – the outright loser. Still it was a happy family event and at least it was real; we’d have done no other.

It was so hot – the high pressure hose brought welcome relief!

Back to Mistley via more family in Northampton, Aunt Sally and Tony’s Uncle Trevor, now 93, the week somewhat marred by news from South Africa where rioting, looting and murder have caused paralysis and fear in, particularly, KwaZulu-Natal.

Vasbyt family & friends there, vasbyt! We think of you all the time with hope. Take great care.

OPERATION SHOEBOX FILES!

The pandemic invents new obsessions, don’t you find? Operation Shoebox Files swung into action last week with the delivery of an Epson FastFoto Digitiser and a solution to the storage and display possibilities of thousands of photographs dating back to 1952.

Just throw them into the rubbish? 

When our heirs comb through our goods and chattels after our departure to Hades/Nirvana, they’ll probably do just that! Chuck it all, along with the gigabytes they have been reduced to.

But then there’d be no project for the pandemic would there? 

Michael and I were old enough for adults’ dinner. To this day I remember the name of our steward, Simon Preston and a 27 year old John Prescott was also in attendance, the Union activist and later minister in Tony Blair’s government.

The machine had to be ordered in advance and space made in the calendar for the hire period.

Friends, there was barely enough time! Nor was I prepared for the emotional and psychological impact of a life literally passing before my eyes. There were moments of darkness I have to confess but also light and humour as the relentless schlick-tack, schlick-tack, schlick-tack of the trusty Epson churned out a lifetime. The Gelopetah-Gelopetah machine we came to call it.

What a life. Could it have passed by so quickly? Is there really so little of it left? Terrifying regret passed over me at moments. Had I appreciated it enough? Did I really do all those things? Were we really there? At such and such in such and such a time and place?

And could we have expended so much money on such badly taken photographs! And bothered to store them in those endless rows of albums in that cupboard – little, Instatmatic’d squares of blurred memories, Polaroid’d pleasantries faded to misty memories.

It has been a tense few days. I undertook the project while Tony was isolating in London before having a biopsy at The Macmillan Centre. It had the effect of heightening the experience somewhat; an awareness of mortality I suppose?

There are some wonderfully photographs, and on balance, I am glad we undertook the project but I was relieved when Envio took away the Gelopetah-Gelopetah machine and glad to have neatly consigned all those pictures, removed from their albums, stacked into elastic-banded years from 1952 to 2021, to a box headed for the attic.

A word of warning, Friends: do not undertake anything similar with Wagner in the background! Especially not Tristan und Isolde!

Done and dusted.

THE GREEN DIARY : Swass-aunty-Nerf!

The Green, Mistley, is in the centre of this aerial shot taken by a drone with the Stour Estuary showing low tide. The Adam Swan Basin and Mistley Towers can clearly be seen. The village dates from the early 17th Century and parts of it are Jacobean. Our terrace, right on The Green, was built around 1736 and is early Georgian.

The buttercups, dandelions and cow parsley have given way to profusions of elderflower, poppies, dog-roses, abundant grasses tame and wild and the full, deep green of midsummer; the fields are ripening and the harvest already beckons.

“June just rains and never stops,

Thirty days and spoils the crops!”

On the 21st June, Midsummer, I wrote : 

“……the temperature is 13˚C and it’s raining. In Scotland this morning there was frost on the ground and today we have had to start self-isolating again would you believe? We’ve been in contact with someone who has proved positive and though we have both had Covid, two vaccine jabs and are showing negative with the lateral flow tests, we still have to hang up our hats for ten days – or until the government officially declare exceptions for those of us who have had the jabs. We’ve had to alert one or two friends; cancel a visitor who would have been with us for three days and abort a trip to Yorkshire, part of a small Staycation Itinerary! It’s a bit of a bugger, Friends!”

But on the 30th day, the anniversary of the Night-of-the-Long Knives, the birth of Susan Hayward, Leonard Whiting, Peter Pollock and a host of famous forgotten names, was my own, Swuss-aunty-Nerf birthday, we made it, with Friend H….. to the Blakeney Hotel in Norfolk for three days under an unseasonable blanket of cloud, drizzle and mid-teen temperatures that chilled but did not discourage us from walks along that magical stretch of coast with its tidal wetlands, huge, sandy beaches, high skies and a bird life that helps you for a second or two to forget the drastic stories of extinctions and climate catastrophes. It all looked very normal-for-Norfolk.

Clay-Next-the-Sea. More grasses and another windmill.

On the way there last Monday, we detoured to check out Winterton-on-Sea:

A Hidden Gem

Bounded by a stunning sandy beach on one side and the Norfolk Broads on the other, Winterton-on-Sea is one of Norfolk’s best kept secrets. Away from the brash bright lights of nearby seaside towns, this ancient fishing village is the perfect get-away-from-it-all destination, whether you want a traditional bucket and spade holiday with the children, a romantic break or a chance to see raw beauty and the wonders of nature. Winterton is also one of the dog friendliest villages in Norfolk…year round.

So says their Blog. We were very taken by the Hermanus Roundhouses, an hotel we were convinced had to be owned by South Africans. There we call them Rondavels and Hermanus is a famous beach destination in The Cape. Hermanus. A good Dutch name. But how wrong we were. At the Winebago Coffee Stall on the beach we were told by a local that it has been in a Norfolk family for generations – without the benefit of any South African or Dutch input.

Of course there was a lot of Dutch help centuries ago when they taught us how to drain polders, build dykes and install windmill pumps around The Broads and the flatlands of East Anglia, to control flooding and drain fields. Hermanus may have come from there, who knows?

Once in Blakeney we fitted into a routine started last August when a small window opened in the run up to the Second Wave. Lots of sunshine then but sadly not this time. Wells-next-the-Sea was pleasingly spruced up and the wonderful walk along the Beach Road dyke onto the beach and around the headland onto that wide, white, empty, sandy beach to Holkham and back through the woods, despite some drizzle, was a delight.

The usual pattern of streaming, walking, reading, cooking and other delightful domestic pursuits make it difficult to say more as we approach the final lockdown date. These past eighteen months have certainly encouraged introspection, don’t you find? I have started writing little stories based on amusing events and thought I’d end with one here as I approach the 35th anniversary of my first visit to Positano in July 1986. Have a little look why don’t you, and tell me what you think? It’s completely free and the usual multiple choice exams will soon be coming up and I would expect you all to have researched well and be au fait with everything on The Green! I am thinking of adding oral tests as well, to give a more three dimensional picture and to make it easier for you to tick the correct boxes and pass the exams!

I’ve called it THE BRICK DROPPER

“In July the sun is hot,

Is it shining? No it’s not!”

THE GREEN DIARY : Red, Amber or Green?

We’re green on The Green it would seem. The second May Bank Holiday brought children and grandchildren Staycationing briefly; how lovely it was and with perfect sunny weather bringing relief from the tedium of lockdown. 

Frances Macmillan comes to Tea-on-the-Green in pink. A low key, Amber event!

Frances Macmillan has been our postmistress for thirty years. Now she has closed her little shop with its huge selection of sweets in jars along the shelves behind the counter, the bread, the newspapers and milk so handily available for those emergencies, not to mention other vital victuals, to retire and leave us. Only the red pillar box will remain as a reminder of our sub-post office, though for how long we know not.

And into our Tea-on-the-Green to celebrate our new freedoms, to thank Frances and revel in the weather, who should appear among us on her 20,000 mile walk around the British Isles but Karen Penny, on her way up the Stour from Harwich to Manningtree. Incredible journey raising awareness and money for Alzheimer’s Research; £85,000 of the £100,000 goal reached and still the whole east coast to go to get back to John O’Groats. It fair made our heads spin. If anyone would care to donate click on the link :

https://www.gazette-news.co.uk/news/19330540.karen-penny-walk-essex-coastline-magical/

Terrible sound quality. Hardly any volume – but interesting nonetheless!

I’ve called this entry Red, Amber or Green? because the 21st of June, midsummer, is the date for the masks to be whisked off and normality resumed – it is presumed. Lingering doubts round the Delta variant may change the traffic lights and we are holding our collective breath while Bojo and The Clowns juggle their political acts and the scientists urge caution.

We’ll see.

In the meantime its full speed ahead on duet- quartet- and sestet-dinners at home and abroad in Thorpness, Wivenhoe, Brondesbury Park, Thurston – not forgetting Snape for a picnic, a walk, and some Scriabin, Britten and Schoenberg, John Wilson conducting The Royal Academy of Music Strings; and in “Orlando’s Garden”, Brightlingsea, where rain stopped play and we were moved to All Saints Church and Orlando Jopling’s talented String Quartet and Singers took us through Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Mozart, Purcell and even a twiddle or two of Porter & Hammerstein!

John Wilson conducting at Snape.

Friend and neighbour Sarah – glimpsed here at tea – has donated a fantastic booklet from her rapidly dwindling library (as she prepares to leave us and move north – so sad), Geoff Gostling’s Shotley Peninsula Walks. I have a ‘thing’ about doubling back or backtracking on walks or hikes. Circles or loops are my walking ideal and this booklet is fantastic as it highlights all the circular walks near us, across the Stour in Suffolk on the Shotley Peninsula. So there’s lots there to investigate in our rapidly warming summer.  

The Shotley Peninsula is beautiful. It’s the thin strip of land separating the Orwell & Stour Rivers with Manningtree at the head of the Stour and Ipswich at the top of the Orwell – the rivers meet at Harwich and Felixstowe. 

Low-lying and high-ceilinged, there is much history here. It is reputed that Anne Boleyn’s heart is buried at St. Mary’s Ewarton near Shotley.

The landscape is a darkening green, the Bluebells and May have made way for the Poppies, Buttercups, the smell of mowing, barley and wheat, rapeseed and grasses

At St. Mary’s Shotley, if you tiptoe respectfully through the cemetery, down the steep slope you come upon thirteen German graves, including ein unbekannter Deutscher Soldat. They are the graves of some of the earliest casualties of the Great War of 1914-18, of 13 sailors of the Kaiserliche Marine.

The tragic events unfolded on August 5th 1914, the day after the outbreak of War. HMS Amphion was off Harwich when a German minelayer was spotted. The Royal Navy ship gave chase and sank the minelayer, but took on board 46 survivors. However, in the early hours of August 6th HMS Amphion itself hit one of the mines with the loss of at least 131 personnel. Other ships took off survivors but the hapless Amphion then struck another mine and sank. Some of the burials are here at Shotley.

Across the river in Harwich on another day, we walked family Julie, Zac and Fin through the old town where Henry VIII started the navy in 1543, where the Mayflower was built and launched and captained via Plymouth to America by Christopher Jones whose house still stands opposite our favourite pub, The Alma, in King Street; they’d asked to see it and we walked the pier, through the wilderness where the Redoubt and Beacon Hill Batteries, built in 1657 as reinforcement against the Dutch and French, are overgrown by brambles, cow parsley and wild flowers, the stark, broken concrete of later reinforcements facing out onto the brown North Sea, stubbing our toes.

We found this plaque not realising that the Kindertransport first landed here; thousands of innocent, Jewish children escaping the horrors of Hitler’s Europe, before travelling on toward Liverpool Street Station and unknown futures without their mothers, their fathers, their Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents and tortured elders.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kindertransport

Let’s Never Forget. Such a lot of History here.

THE BUNGEE JUMPERS – A SILLY RED HERRING, FRIENDS :

I don’t know why this story has suddenly popped into my mind. It comes out of nowhere and is entirely irrelevant to traffic lights, lockdowns or clowning prime ministers but ten years ago I went to New Zealand to visit my brother and say hello to my oldest friend in the world, Helena. She and I grew up in Pinelands, Cape Town where we were next-door-neighbours. At two I was playing in her sandpit together with her brother Janek and we have been friends ever since.

Helena lives in Masterton and when I stayed with her, she took me away for the weekend to her retreat at Oreti Village in Pukawa on Lake Taupo.

On one of the days we drove round to Taupo town and among other things visited the Spa Thermal Park where there is the famous Bungee Jumping Platform started by A.J. Hackett as the first commercial venture of its kind in the world. 

It’s terrifying.

The landscape round about is beautiful. The views from the platform high above the Waikato River just below the Haku Falls are breath-taking. 

Into this chasm people pay good money to jump with an elastic band tied around their ankles.

“Do you want to have a go?” Helena said, sipping some coffee.

“Are you crazy? Never in a month of Sundays would I do that,” I replied, peering into the depths.

The place was deserted. Just two German tourists, a young couple, obviously recently married, gazing in trepidation at the gushing river below. A young New Zealander was supervising the jump.

She was already strapped up and ready to go but was having serious second thoughts.

“You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. Take as much time to decide as you like,” said the New Zealander, “no one is forcing you and no one would ever push you!”

“Komm schon Hannah,” the young husband, lets call him Karl, started to coax her, “es its sicher. Haben Sie keine Angst. Alles, was Sie tun müssen, ist aussteigen.”

“Karl! Stress mich nicht. Kann ich das Geld nicht zurückbekommen?” Stop pressuring me, can’t I get the money back etc etc, she wailed, our Hannah!

“Schau Schatz, ich geh dir gleich hinterher und dann haben wir es geschafft! Komm schon, wir können nicht den ganzen Tag dauern!” He’ll follow her, he promises, and they can’t waste time etc etc, he wheedled, our Karl.

“Du versprichst mir?” You promise?

Big mistake!

Helena and I were riveted. Would she jump? It was like watching a thriller, never sure of the outcome. Might he even push her? No, we thought, the New Zealander would never allow that.

Suddenly she jumped.

There were two types of jump: one where the elasticated cord was adjusted to allow the jumper a ducking in the water before spronging up and down dripping wet or another measured to extend just short of the water then spronging dryly up and down.

Hannah had elected the dry jump. She gradually slowed down and was then gently lowered into the arms of two boatmen who uncoupled her , set her upright and rowed her to the shore where a Landrover was waiting to drive her round the hill back to the top to witness Karl’s efforts.

The elasticated rope was being wound up and the supervisor turned to Karl, “Do you want to get ready then?” he asked.

“Nein, I vill…vait fur mein friend…..”

“He’s scared. He’s not going to do it, is he?” said Helena.

The Landy appeared round the corner and an elated Hannah ran onto the platform, “Es is fantastisch! Ich hatte noch nie in meinem Leben solche Angst, aber jetzt habe ich es geschafft!”

Such elation from our Hannah, such a sense of achievement, “Warum sind Sie noch nicht bereit, an der Reihe zu sein?” Why are you not getting ready?

“Nein. Ich will es nicht und ich habe jetzt keine Zeit. Ich denke, wir sollten gehen.” Our Karl bottled out and Hannah was livid, betrayed. The little drama unfolded before us while we sipped our coffee.

“Aber du hast es versprochen. Du hast gesagt, wenn ich springe, würdest du springen. Wie erbärmlich du bist, was für ein Feigling!”

You promised. You are a coward. Why did you put me through this?

A full-scale domestic row blew up.

We finished our coffee and left the Bungee Jumpers to their broken vows.

That was ten years ago.

Snape.

THE GREEN DIARY : towards an amber Solstice?

The daffodils have given way to the bluebells which, in turning, are giving way to the buttercups, dandelions and Queen Anne’s Lace. 

Friends, it is glorious. 

Every year I am overwhelmed by the beauty of Spring and the push towards Summer. The English countryside bursts with growth. The grasses, the wheat, the barley, the oats and even the garish rape – all are a rapture in this landscape of ours.

We have lived in Mistley for twenty years and thought we’d covered, in that time, pretty much all the walks and sights in this East Anglian lowland of muds and estuaries – but yesterday for the first time, we discovered Dodnash Woods and Valley and were astonished that it has taken us so long to go there. Of course we’d heard of it for years and been urged to visit it but never have – until yesterday.

Here is a poor photographic attempt to project the idea. The breathlessness you can hear in my voice on this little video is a residue of Covid from a year ago. I have no “puff” any longer. Rather annoying. We both get very tired all the time too. Age thou art shamed………..

There was in the 11th Century, an Augustine Monastery in this little valley we are told; there is a block of stone remaining attesting to this, with a railing around it to protect it from the sheep; but no notes. It is believed to have been founded in 1128 by Baldwin de Toeni and was in use until Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall in 1525. Whether Henry VIII destroyed it along with so many others no-one seems to know though it is a rather water-meadow’d little valley and could not have been a comfortably dry place to live! 

              to a young child
 
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1884-1889

“Yes yes yes – we are longing to travel about and will defo. try and see you sometime,” said one of you, Friends, “and eating & drinking goes without saying of course.” But I do know what you mean about rather repetitive chats. In fact we find that lapses into complete silence are not uncommon – and rather alarming, for those of us who used once never to stop talking!

This is an owl which Mabel, one of our fast growing Pixies-of-the-Green popped through the door. Soon we will not be able to call them Pixies, time flies by, and their adorable eccentricities, their divine innocences will fade away. (Too sentimental? Cloying? I hope not! They are very special.)

Reflecting on the effects of the pandemic on our sanity, I have realised that a degree of infantilisation has crept into our lives. The list of nicknames we use has grown ever longer and short cut methods of communication get ever shorter. Passing through kissing-gates is a good example. We learned about them over eighteen months ago from Friend L—–, on a long hike up the Gipping valley from Ipswich to Stowmarket. 

I knew they were called kissing gates of course but not how you traditionally traverse them: the first person passes through the gate, turns round, bangs the gate shut and kisses the second person who passes through the gate, bangs it shut and so on until all are through. Terrible bad luck she told us, not to complete this little tradition at each gate. It then took us twice as long to get to Stowmarket because on that route there are hundreds of these gates. An eighteen miler in eight hours with a lot of kissing!

This tradition during the pandemic and our gradual infantilisation, along with holding hands, has been revived on our walks as an expression of tenderness at a tough time and seems not to have frightened the cows or any passers-by who may or may not have caught us in the clinch!

L—– introduced us to another thing that neither of us had heard of, not for our use naturally, the SheWee. A sensible device though I was shocked to find that in parts of the Islamic world these devices have become vital in maintaining a woman’s dignity where Sharia in its extreme form forbids a woman to crouch for natural purposes. Since many hundreds of thousand of women work the fields, in fundamentalist theocracies, this device has a practical and, almost, life-saving purpose.

You learn something new every day.

Julie’s House by Grayson Perry, Wrabness.

The 17th May brought Friend L…….(another L) , our first visitor for nearly a year, to stay for two nights. It felt extraordinary I must say. We have become institutionalised by the lockdown I think? Don’t you feel? We have to start learning how to be with friends again. How to socialise. Conversations dry up don’t you find, in the absence of anything new to say? In the past ten days since then, we’ve celebrated a birthday in a pub, had another visitor, Friend M……, to stay, are expecting family to join us at the May Bank Holiday weekend coming, played oodles of bridge online, been impressed with Kate Winslet’s Mare of Easttown, riveted by Dominic Cummings’ appearance in Parliament rubbishing Bojo the Clown and some of his minions, notably Matt Hancock. It’s almost as exciting as a BBC Boxset!

June’s calendar is full.

Julie’s House. Love it or hate it!

We are grappling with the notion of Amber? Does anyone have a view on Amber and its actual meaning? Do we Come or Go, Talking of Michelangelo? Do we make up our own rules or not? I ask because unless the Bojo Clowns don’t make it clear, we cannot get our travel deposits back or know whether or not to travel at all. Apparently neither do the airlines nor, really, the government!

Happy Birthday, Mali!

Mind you, a visit to Minsk might not be appropriate at the present time – my travel insurance doesn’t cover state-sponsored terror or the consequences of mid-air kidnappings by Migs!

And so, forward Friends to the sunny uplands, we hope, of midsummer and an amber Solstice. Away with the rain and cold weather : do you remember the Flanders & Swan weather chart song?

Farmers fear unkindly May,
Frost by night and hail by day;
June just rains and never stops,
30 days and spoils the crops!

REHEARSALS FOR FALSTAFF BEGIN!

THE GREEN DIARY : May Bank Holiday 2021

SPRING

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –         

   When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;         

   Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush         

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring         

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

   The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush         

   The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush         

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.         

What is all this juice and all this joy?         

   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,         

   Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,         

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,         

   Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.    

When I lived in Dolphin Square years ago I had a flat that overlooked the extensive courtyard garden complete with water feature and an avenue of trees. It felt very hemmed in there; after all, the building is at least twelve stories high, a sort of luxurious fortress. 

How they got there I do not know, but two Mallard appeared in the pond of a  Spring morning and went through the rituals of courtship. I have heard that female Mallard are serially raped each season but that once a choice has been made, the final couple, if I can call them that, remain steadfast. I have heard it said that this is so among many waterfowl and other animals.

Be that as it may, Mr & Mrs Mallard of Dolphin Square hung around for a few weeks surviving on grubs in the water and the odd crumb thrown into their pond by sentimental, passing residents. The time came for her to lay – but where? The pond was too small and there was not enough privacy for nesting so they had to head out and this is where we all wondered what would happen. How would they become VTOL certified? 

Mr Mallard went on an exploration round the courtyard and finally encouraged Mrs M to follow him; with breath-taking aeronautical skill their formation of two-in-line circled the courtyard, gaining height. Round and round they went, higher and higher they climbed until they finally, after five minutes, cleared the roof of Dolphin Square to disappear into the blue, across the Embankment and onto the Thames.

Several weeks later they re-appeared and stayed for the rest of the summer very happily in the pond disappearing one day in the Autumn, we thought never to be seen again – like the Snow Goose.

But they reappeared the following year; at least I assume they were the same pair; I like to think so at any rate, and the whole cycle was repeated.

Mistley Swannery

Our own nesting Blackbirds here in Mistley two seasons ago reminded me of Mr & Mrs Mallard of Dolphin Square SW1 : they had three chicks and infinite difficulty encouraging their babies firstly to get out of the nest, secondly flap bravely about on the ground while being exhorted to use they flying gear and learn to fly and thirdly, get enough lift to clear the Wisteria and back gate to the big, new world awaiting them. In the end I had to open the gate as the poor little mites didn’t have the featherage to cope. I think the parents were grateful and I remember thinking of my Mallard in Dolphin Square who had to teach their young to swim and fly.

Stour Riverside at Manningtree – an exceptionally high, Spring-tide.

It is a miraculous time of year and nature is in full swing as we have seen on our many walks.

I’ve tried to keep a mini diary and if I don’t write for about 4 days I have no idea what I did. It’s quite scary how there are so few memories and nothing to trigger the few that I have. When will this all be over…….?

So writes one of you, Friends; in fact we seem to be sharing similar experiences.

The past year has been a time for much navel-gazing, I guess. Not a bad thing I suppose, a bit of contemplation might be a good idea though often it can lead to bleaker, darker thoughts. There are certainly longer silences in the company we keep and its been generally agreed that because of the lockdown and the complete domination of Covid, there really is little to talk about beyond pleasantries. There is no news where once no news was considered good news! Now it make one wonder whether we are losing our sociability, forgetting how to engage, getting out of practice with our talents to amuse! The road map is blurring and disappearing.

No amount of zooming and streaming and webinars and binge-watching can make up for actual rather than virtual contact though I find that my anxiety levels go up when I move out of my pandemic-routine comfort zone! 

En route across the rapeseed fields from Stonely to Little Staughton

The May Bank Holiday weekend has come and gone; our duo-bubble duly vaxed to the nines, went up to Stonely-Kimbolton to see the grandchildren also max-vaxed, care-managers and all. Our bubble floated across the fields of Cambridgeshire in on/off weather, racking up the footsteps on our androids and freezing outdoors in local pubs. The Costa-del-Sol it is not! But how lovely to see family again and they were all there to celebrate son Zac’s 49thBirthday. Astonishing that Tony has a son who’s now in his fiftieth year. I just cannot get my head around this! Where has it all gone?

Sobering thought indeed….

The weather? Well, April has been odd. Here on The Green its been a sunny month largely but a cold one. Any thoughts of martini’s and fizzy outside on the lawn in glorious sunshine are discouraged by the pneumonia-inducing northerly breezes off the North Sea and from Siberia!

To London then on Bank Holiday Monday for Medical Maintenance – dentists, audiologists, bloods; pinched nerves, scans and tests; teas, lunches and dinners in back gardens and on freezing patios in West London with some of you, Friends. How lovely it all is despite the situation, to see familiar faces once again not through the zoom-glass darkly. Roll on June for full life support and the actual, physical touch.

This afternoon we will be told which countries are to be given green-light status in the Covid Roadmap to travel-bliss; which orange, which red. Its so exciting as the digital eVouchers clunk into the electronic travel folders as any plans bite the dust. It turns out not many are green lighted and there is this anomaly – visit New Zealand for instance as that has a green light, and family & friends, but you’d still have to stopover for two weeks in a government sponsored isolation hotel at vast expense, for two weeks. Who wants that? Staycationing and what the Germans call “Balcony Holidays” are IT!

Cwytching is a new word I learned, a Welsh word, in Wales it means “an affectionate hug”. They are doing it there already; we will have to wait until June to clutch to our hearts content.

And of course the elections yesterday. What to say? Bojo and his Shudder of Clowns have been buoyed up by substantial gains in England while the Nations indicate their distrust and loathing of his mad rule. Will there be a United Kingdom and longer? Will we have a little, mini war with France over Fishing Rights?  I shall have to ask Friend Roger who lives on Guernsey, what his views are and whether he is suffering power cuts!

I haven’t the faintest idea, Friends! Onward to the sunny uplands of Summer and a season in the sun.

Bon Chance, Non Voyage!

THE GREEN DIARY : Easter 2021

At last the children are back at school. So refreshing to see.

The Equinox has been and gone, the clocks gone forward, the daffodils, the hawthorn, narcissi and tulips have all burst forth. It’s Easter and Spring has sprung. Oh the relief. The days grow quickly longer and the sun is warmer. A year has passed in the company of Covid and our lives have changed.

Restrictions are gradually lifting and we have walked, tea’d  and outdoor’d with friends in greening gardens, a strange nervousness underlying all as if some boundary had been crossed into unknown territory with a departure from such tight and familiar routines. Like that feeling of apprehension setting off to school after a long break. Odd.

We have both now had our second jabs of Astra Zeneca and hope the rest of the world can have them all soon; after all – no-one is safe until everyone is safe. Our reactions have varied – not good for either and particularly bad for Tony. They warned us that they who had it may react badly. They were right!

“Cut flowers…….heavens!” my arty Aunt used to jokingly ape her grand- and my great grandmother who regarded such things as decorations for weddings and funerals. Why bring flowers into your home when they look better in the garden! This of course pre-supposes that all people have access to herbaceous borders in walled gardens and vast bucolic vistas across tree-lined greenswards easily viewed from drawing rooms and terraces.

My arty Aunt arranged a good bowl and thought our granny and great-granny a snob!

This is a selfie-in-acrylic by Cousins Sophia & Hugh of Cousins Sophia & Hugh, Peg and the gaminely glamorous Estée Lauder, their ageing Indian Mynah about whom I have often written.   

Artiness runs in that branch. Such talent all round. My wonderful DoP Cousin turned 70 this week! Congratulations Stephen!

 

These are our “cut flowers” and here are Gerard Manly Hopkins’ Binsey Poplars felled in 1879:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
 
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

 There has been much felling in our woods too. Some of it good but much of it ominous. More housing, more roads, more people and their cars; more rubbish for this gentle land with it’s soft, green contours, thrown carelessly down or out to lie indestructibly in ditches and on paths with dog shit in black bags being offensively foremost. But I’ve had this rant before I hear you say, my friends! Enough!

There has been such a lot of time for reflection, hasn’t there?

We have of course, like you, carried on with the endless films and TV programmes that have enlightened, entertained, enraged and moved.

Here are a few since last I blogged. Not all, but a few. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Rebekka Martensen

The Black Messiah

Flare LBGT Festival @ the BFI, Tove and all!

Elizabeth R

The Valhalla Murders

Keeping Faith

Ammonite

Me & My Father (Nick Broomfield’s Homage to his Dad)

Unforgotten

Hinterland

The Father

Ute Lemper on  Marlene Dietrich

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Hungarian)

Line of Duty (of course)

Maggie Smith in Conversation (naturally)

And more webinars, Friends: Blithe Spirit with the Oxford & Cambridge Club and a sweet interlude with the young ladies & gentlemen of the Stukeley Meadows Primary School,  to whom I read  Mitch Johnson’s new book Kick , a touching story of Budi, an enthusiastic  supporter of Real Madrid, from the slums and sweat shops of Jakarta. The children were so appreciative and sent me this beautiful card along with 54 letters! So touching. I’ve never had feedback like that in 45 years!

While on the subject of books, Damon Galgut’s newest book has just been published in the US and the UK. It’s wonderful. Queue for a copy!

Then The Father finished us both off. Achingly sad as anyone who has experienced  any or all of the dementias would surely agree?

“……..What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust…………?”

When we lose our reason, we are nothing.

It’s been It’s a Sin that has most affected me though. It so reached into my memory and what I discovered there was not entirely happy. I know some of you were unimpressed by this series and found it “inauthentic” and “unrealistic” and “unbelievable”. I did not think so. It chimed with my own experiences and I found its essence all too true and sad. It was of course, heightened drama but even so, its points were clear – to me at any rate.

That is another story for another time!

A touching story from Friend Maud in Amsterdam:

“This afternoon I listened to a podcast called ‘Sterk Water’ (Strong Water, by which they usually mean alcohol/jenever in Dutch). 

But this time it was about Terschelling, my favourite island. 

Thirty years ago a boy from Harwich called Peter threw a bottle into the sea with his name in it. The bottle came ashore on Terschelling. 

The man who found it gave it to Coby the girl next door.

Peter was 14 and Coby 15 I think. They started a correspondence. 

Five years later Peter visited Coby on Terschelling for the first time. Love at first sight. They married, started a drugstore on the island and got a daughter. 

In 2010 Peter died. 

I thought what a beautiful story. Since he was from Harwich I had to share this with you.” 

Miraculous. Thanks Maud!

To London for Bloods and Dentistry yesterday! The Gasman did not cometh!

Blow winds, wrack your cheeks………and dine out!

THE GREEN DIARY : towards The Ides of March

The Beast from the East melted away many days ago and temperatures soared into the teens. Everything has turned to mud but the sun has shone forth and we have turned the wintery corner toward Spring.

The snowdrops are out. The daffodils are peeping.

The beginnings of the glorious Bluebell season can be glimpsed as green tufts. Early. We expect them in April/May but with the weather see-sawing who knows?

Along the Stour and at Alton Water

It’s an anniversary.

A year ago we returned from Madeira never for an instant suspecting what awaited us. The map ahead was unclear; now we look back and wonder how much like ours your map has been?

We went to London after we returned from Madeira.

On the 2nd March we went to the Park Theatre to see La Cage Aux Folles.

On the next day the opera house for Fidelio. Only on the 4th did we return to Mistley and watched Parasite at the Curzon in Colchester.

Friends Mandy and Richard came to lunch the day after that.

I see that oven cleaners came on the 6th followed by lunch out on the 7th with friends near Maldon. Could we get more mundane and, no, we don’t have an Aga!

Then to London on the 10th. Do you see where I’m going with this? 

The 10th was the critical day for me I think. I attended the clear ear clinic in Harley street where my audiologist who was Spanish and had just returned from Spain, suctioned my ears; we breathed intimately over each other with not a mask in sight. 

That afternoon, Cyrano de Bergerac at the Crouch End Picture House. Still no masks

No lockdown instructions had yet emanated from the Downing Street Clown Office, nor any sort of plan at this stage. 

The next day, the 11th March, we lunched with Friend Helen in Hammersmith and dined with Friends Oona and Paul in Crouch End – again. They expressed surprise that we had come to see them – already we were starting to become twitchy.

Thursday the 12th saw us at Covent Garden for the ballet, Swan Lake – but we noticed a distinct thinning in the audience and started to worry that perhaps things were not right.

All this on tubes and buses and still no masks.

Friday the 13th found us in Camden’s Jamon Jamon tapas-ing with friends Rose and Rob and in the evening we hied us to the brilliant Uncle Vanya at the Harold Pinter. There our friend Jane Balfour cried off and we could find no replacement at all.

Alarm bells now started ringing!

On Saturday the 14th March  we came to Mistley but the Village Quiz in Lindsey with friends Jacqui and Mali we were supposed to attend  was scrubbed as Downing Street at last imposed restrictions; which we now know were too little too late. Impromptu dinner with Friends Ruth and Miranda.

Uncle Vanya was taken off three days later on the 16th March but on The Ides of March, the 15th, our 35th Anniversary, I came down with the virus followed shortly by Tony and we spent the next several weeks getting over what turned out to be a nasty experience.

I would not wish this virus on anyone. 

We have been here ever since.

954+ meals have been planned, prepared and eaten.

Mounds of popcorn too.

100’s of kilometres have been walked.

Many games of BridgeBase Online have been played.

Hours of webinars and zooms and play readings.

Locktails and zoomebrates.

Books, films, mini series, documentaries and endless news – most of it bad.

Multiple Clicking & Collecting.

Deliveries, deliveries and more deliveries of fish, of food and wine.

Notional shares purchased in FedEx, Amazon, UPS as piles of cardboard boxes proliferated to be recycled.

Blogs, blogs and more blogs! (You poor people!)

Then in the summer Bojo and his Shudder of Clowns stupidly lifted restrictions with we know what result – Covid numbers through the roof.

Thank you Bojo for a brief staycation in August 2020.

A short Staycation in Norfolk was squeezed in and a visit to family at August Bank Holiday; dental procedures happened, masseurs briefly visited along with oven cleaners, again, and a plumber. 

One funeral has been zoomed and I have nearly set fire to the kitchen on several occasions and cut most of my fingers during the hours and hours of food preparation! So far no-one had either fallen or been pushed into the cellar!

Swathes of tickets to the theatre were vouchered off or refunded; trips to America, to Canada, to Germany, to South Africa were all cancelled and flights vouchered too, along with a proposed revisit to Madeira.

In another brief moment of madness, Bojo and The Shudder allowed us with special permission, to visit long missed family in Canada at Christmas where we all locked down in quarantine together for three weeks, just squeezing the to-ing and fro-ing between international travel restrictions.

At Heathrow on our return no-one asked to see our test certificates, take our temperature or even enquire where we would be quarantining.

The media have been full of news of these lunacies.

But, miraculously with the year not even out the wonder of science has produced a vaccine which we went to London to receive not three weeks ago!

That is the great and good news.

And Trump has gone!

Other good news has been that after twelve years the village of Mistley has finally won its fight to remove the ugly fence that was installed back in time to ruin the view over the Stour Estuary and cut us off from the river to which access has always been free for many hundreds of years.

Thank you, Misteliers for your hard and patient work. The fetes, the sales, the sponsored walks, dinners-out, cook-ins, quiz evenings, annual calendars and of course even the theatrical talents of some were stretched to their limit to raise the legal fees for this victory.

Our self-styled Burgomeister, Herr Villy “don’t-mention-the-war” Meston, gave us Dame Edme, an unforgettable evening in local theatre history where we witnessed a titanic performance of mirthful malapropisms unintended by the author but very funny nonetheless.

“Big bosomed, bold, becalmed benign,

Stands Dame Edme foursquare on the Mayflower Line! “

The things we did to raise a quid!

SUPREME COURT JUDGEMENT ON MISTLEY QUAY:

The Supreme Court today delivered judgement on the challenge by TW Logistics to the registration by Essex County Council of part of the Port of Mistley as a Town and Village Green. 

The Court upheld the registration as a Town and Village Green of land which inhabitants of Mistley have used for lawful sports and pastimes (the legal definition of a Town or Village Green). The inhabitants of Mistley now have their village green.

The decision stems from the erection of a fence along the edge of Mistley Quay installed 12 years ago which attempted to prevent the use of the Quay by local residents. Ian Tucker, who lived on the Quay, applied for registration of the quay as a village green. Following a ten-day public inquiry Essex County Council registered the relevant part of the Quay as a Town and Village Green. 

TWL challenged registration in the High Court and subsequently, on appeal, in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court on the grounds that the registration was incompatible with commercial use of the port and would criminalise many port activities. The Supreme Court ruling confirms existing law and provides that the public activities on the Town and Village Green may co-exist with those of the landowner. The fence on the edge of the Quay will not be removed as a consequence but it is now an unlawful obstruction on the Village Green and steps can, and will, be taken to remove it.

The long drawn-out battle was won with the support of very many residents of Mistley and the local area who will now be able to continue to enjoy use of the Quay as they, and their forebears, have for many years. Success would not have been possible without the support and determination of Essex County Council.

Simon Bullimore, the Chairman of Free the Quay, said: “We are all delighted with the result after such a long battle. The next stage will be the removal of the fence which is now finally established as an obstruction on the village green. We hope that TW Logistics and Mr Parker, who owns the business, will now change his mind and talk to us about an environmentally and aesthetically acceptable form of safety barrier along the quay edge, allowing traditional use of the village green”.

Nancy Bell, who lives on the quay said: “It is such a relief that the registration of the village green has finally been confirmed. The fence went up when my daughter Daisy was a toddler; she is now 14. She has never known anything else on the quay. I am so happy that we can now look forward to enjoying the restoration of the quay to its historic setting”.

Hints of Spring in the air.

THE GREEN DIARY : towards Valentine’s Day, 2021.

4th February, 2021 : The Vaccination!

Yesterday we drove up to London to receive the first round of our Covid vaccinations. So exciting. Not just the prospect of immunity but the actual jaunt to London itself; we’ve not been there for several months and found the flat dark, dank but surprisingly un-dusty. It was like going on a foreign holiday and checking into a strange Vrbo apartment; like we’d never been there before.

Our vaccinations were delivered by the Caversham Group Practice, where we are registered – and have been for nearly forty years.  The fact of our lockdown in Mistley nearly a year ago was a happy coincidence since we’d not have wanted to be locked down in London. As you all know, dear friends,  from my endless description of walks and hikes, there is far more breathing space here than in the big smoke where, anyway, everything that we love is shut. 

Except friends – who we miss very much; as I am sure, do you.

Caversham Group seem ahead of the game for our cohort. No such luxury has been extended yet down here and won’t until probably the end of this month. So we are lucky.

Lucky too to be in the hands of such an efficient clinic. We were impressed with the whole process from the invitation to receive to the administration of the actual injection itself. Caversham have mustered retiree doctors and young medical students to corral us in orderly fashion and herd us at the right moment into our surgical stables! My doctor was chatty; she explained everything to me; told me when I’d get the second jab – in about twelve weeks – and produced her syringe and the magic elixir, the Oxford AstraZeneca brand, with a flourish – and in it went.

We went back to the flat to spend the night and woke up this morning feeling rather under the weather : aches, sore throat, tiredness;  indeed, many of the symptoms we remember from a year ago when we had the actual virus itself. They warned us there could be side effects and also said that if we had had the virus we were likely to react more than those who haven’t.

The Estuary at Manningtree.

Here we are back again in Mistley, with threats of snow, back into hunker mode, spirits raised by our adventure and the news that today the virus peaked and from now on things can only get better. 

Encouraging not so?

We’ve been back from Canada just over three weeks though I can’t say really that the routines have much altered.

We love Popcorn. It’s our new snack. I’ve never paid it much attention really until the granddaughters made us promise to sit through the entire Marvel oeuvre.

Friends! Sympathy please!

There are twenty-one of these massive movies filled with incomprehensible plots and so much CGI that you do not know whether you are coming or going! BUT – the best thing was that halfway through each film Libby would disappear and return with freshly made popcorn to which we are now addicted. The salted kind, not the sugary sort. I prefer making them on top of the cooker in a big, non-stick pot with a glass top. Part of the fun is watching it grow from nothing to something in mere minutes. You can’t do that with those microwaveable, brown bags where the action is unseen!

It reminds me of a job I did once in Munich. I was making a series of commercials there being “the IBM man”. It was lovely. Lots of time to explore the city and appreciate all the other privileges of commercials-making in the 1980’s, when we were given such generous schedules.

Popcorn – I was in the studio commissary alone and mind you, having no German (scripts were always learnt parrot fashion!), when an assistant to the third assistant director came in to make coffee and, here is the point, shove a glass bowl containing far too many corn kernels and no lid  into the microwave oven, setting it going and disappearing before I could remonstrate.

The result was a spectacular explosion of white, puff pops that filled the entire oven and then blew off the front door cascading across the commissary in a scene reminiscent of a Laurel & Hardy movie.

There was much sturm und drang I can tell you!

And now a little rant. This time about dog pooh!

Friends, what is it with dog owners and their poo? Can someone please explain to me why -and of course many of you have dogs so you will be able to put me right, I’m sure – why when dogs are taken on walks through our beautiful countryside, their owners, proudly equipped with every luxury known to a dog, from a lead, to tennis ball throwers and black, plastic pooh bags (in Canada some even wear booties to protect their pads from the ice), and the dogs attend to their toilette, the owners unravel these ghastly little black bags and go through the appalling routine of picking the mess up, tying the bag neatly and then – and this is what gets me – hanging the bag on a tree or even leaving it lying in the middle of the path? Why?

These faecal decorations “will be collected on our way back”, say the mendacious dog owners; but they never are. Since the start of the pandemic, the dog population has sky-rocketed – and so have the poop bags!

Why not simply encourage the dogs to crap in the bushes or off the path where their turds can naturally biodegrade? This would obviate the humiliation of collecting the turds by hand and storing them in little, non-biodegradeable (and believe me they are non-biodegradeable), schlocky, skanky blag bags?

To the miserable, selfish and ignorant dog owners who leave their charges’ turds in the middle of the path or outside our front doors along The Green I ask, “Why do you do this? Are you qualified to own a dog at all?”

Can you not see the pooper bins?

But once having tripped over the doggie-doo the walks, though muddy and slippery, continue to be wonderful. We keep on discovering new ones and view our Heimat from different and ever-changing perspectives.

The woods are old. Several of the trees date back nearly a thousand years. Old Knobbly is reputed to be 800 years old and has its own website : https://oldknobbley.com/

Old Knobbly. Not Tony – the tree!

On one walk we came across signs warning us of poisonous snakes. Astonishing. I know there are adders about and have seen them a few times but they are timid and, compared to the snakes of my South African childhood, not very poisonous. Perhaps the signs are to discourage walkers, some farmers would do almost anything to sabotage our rights of way, or perhaps they are to warn horse riders?

Are the farmers putting off the hikers or warning the horse riders?

And the streaming of course continues apace. Several series are occupying us, Your Honor, Spiral, All the Sins, Call My Agent, Traces, The Serpent, to name a few; but without doubt it’s been It’s a Sin that has had quite an impact.

The Guardian reviewed it and says it better than I can and I unashamedly copy some of it here : 

“Russell T Davies’s new drama, It’s a Sin is something of a companion piece, 20 years on, to his groundbreaking masterpiece, Queer as Folk. The latter was the riotous celebration of gay urban life as led by three friends broadly representing different stages of exploration as they embraced life as hot single men. In essence it was a gorgeous fantasy, designed to counteract both the historic worthiness and prejudice surrounding such depictions.

What it did not do was look much at the darkness out of which such freedom had emerged and which still shadowed the lives of its Canal Street party people. It didn’t, in short, deal with the effects of Aids on the gay community.

It’s a Sin does. It follows the lives of three young gay men, Ritchie, Roscoe and Colin who move to London. They evolve into a family (along with Ritchie’s university best friend Jill) as they commit themselves to the enjoyment of every freedom the city has to offer.

But the group arrive in 1981*, just as the first reports of a new disease are making their way across the Atlantic. 

The shadows are starting to gather by the end of the first episode, which is mostly devoted to establishing the characters and their relationships in full measure. It is Davies’s great gift to be able to create real, flawed, entirely credible bundles of humanity and make it clear, without even momentary preachiness, how much they have to lose.

The most hedonistic are Ritchie – who has left a loving, unthinkingly homophobic home in the Isle of Wight to study at university – and Roscoe, who had to flee a deeply religious household set on driving the homosexuality out of him even if they had to return to their native Nigeria. Colin, from the Welsh valleys, is quieter, thrilled by his new job at a tailor’s and befriended by an older colleague, Henry a sweet, gentle man who has been living with his partner, Pablo, for 30 years.

Henry and Pablo both fall ill at the same time with … cancer? Tuberculosis? Pneumonia? No one really knows, but Pablo’s mother forces him home to Portugal and Henry is left brutally isolated in a hospital ward. 

At one point, the doctors think it might be psittacosis, a lung disease contracted from, among other birds, parrots:

“You haven’t got a parrot though, have you?” says Colin. 

“Of course I haven’t got a fucking parrot,” replies his friend.

This all takes on a special resonance, of course, in the time of Covid. We can empathize that bit more with the fear, uncertainty and responses rational and irrational to the emergence of a new disease. Ritchie favours denial. Jill, her slight distance from what was seen by many as “the gay plague” giving her a different perspective, begins to arm herself with knowledge. We can also identify with endless, mindless joys coming to a painful halt, the jostling within oneself of reason and unreason – and perhaps in episodes to come, the wrestling with woefully inadequate and incompetent government responses to a proliferating crisis.

As the series moves through the decade, the subject matter naturally darkens but never loses its funniness or fleetness. It’s possible some will complain that Davies does not treat the subject as sombrely as it deserves. This is nonsense. Fleetness and funniness are the essence of life, and only by making them as central to characters, as Davies does, can you convey the depth of the tragedy about to unfold. It’s a Sin looks set not just to be to Queer as Folk’s companion piece but its companion masterpiece.”

Petshop Boys: It’s a Sin!

*I couldn’t agree more with this review and watching the series has brought so many unexpected and not always pleasant memories of coming out, of loss and of the sometime discomfiture and struggle that being Gay has meant.

And then there was Pygmalion:

The Oxford & Cambridge  Club usually conduct readings and other cultural events live in the club in Pall Mall but because of the dreaded lurgy we are now streaming online instead. Not nearly as smooth or easy as in real life I find, but fun. 

Pygmalion  has been our latest event. I gave my Colonel Pickering, probably one of the least challenging and most boring characters in the whole Shavian oeuvre! He is so ineluctably nice. It’s also nice to be in the company of friends though I am dismayed by how badly I read these days. I seem to have lost the knack somehow and made some faux pas during our webinar last week. Please forgive me, Friends!

I look forward to the next project, Lady Windermere’s Fan.

That was the week that was and it’s Valentine’s Day to end it!

Thank you, dear Friends-all, for your loyal support of my blog. It’s gratifying especially when you respond. What other way is there of keeping close in these strange times? I am flattered when you respond and rather surprised! I am always slightly embarrassed when I post; it’s rather inconsequential when weighed in the scale of contemporary affairs and the appalling suffering of so many. I am lucky anyone reads it at all and grateful that they do.

Much love – Pedro

THE GREEN DIARY : Canadian New Year 2021

Friday, 8th January :

We got here in the nick of time and it looks as though we are going to get out in the nick of time too.

The UK has announced that all international passengers will have to be tested for Covid no later than 72 hours before their departure; but as they have as yet not announced a specific date, in the usual indecisive manner we have come to expect from Bojo and his Shudder of Cabinet Clowns, it looks as though we are home free. 

Ironically, four days ago the Ontario Government announced that anyone from the UK and all those with whom they are in contact must take the test. We, by which I mean our whole Canadian family bubble, six of us, duly attended a clinic, had sticks up our noses and tested negative. It was all efficiently handled, results received online and in printable format to be easily produced for inspection if necessary. 

That test of course expires before we leave on Monday but by now it is too late anyway to have one, get the results and travel. If Grant Schapps suddenly imposes a date by then we are liable for a fine of £500. I shall elect to go to prison rather than pay it! Ho-hum!

It’s -11˚C here this morning; clear sunny skies and crisp, dry air. I was meant to get a massage from John Bain (rhymes with pain), the local sports physio. Having ricked my back and neck rather badly when I fell on the ice the other day. But the results of his obligatory test have not come through yet and he is not allowed to be in touch with anyone until they do. So that was cancelled. 

We have watched, like the rest of you no doubt, the appalling events in Washington unfolding in the past day or two; not to mention the soaring Covid statistics coming from Britain. Apparently our local hospitals in Ipswich and Colchester are now full and the death rate the highest ever. I offer no comment on these dismal turn of events but as we feared, 2021 looks no better than 2020 so far – early days though. As for Brexit? Well let’s see what next the Cabinet Clowns come up with. Will we be able to get tomatoes & lettuce let alone Camembert & Frisee at the Co-op? Shock horror!

Ivan & Libby & Sarah & Grandpa Tony & Anna – a New Year’s day – Canada 2021!

For us the two pieces of really good news is that we were able to be with our family at this special time and that the forces of reaction in Washington were repelled. Rejoice! Rejoice! 

Saturday, 9th January :

And so this morning our test clearances allowed me to meet John Bain (rhymes with pain!) at his clinic for an hour of a massage of the sports variety. No pampering here as he melted those knotted muscles. Such relief.

Spontaneous rinks

Another sunny, icy day. Some of the family went skating at Beaverbrooke. Apparently the crisp white covering will now stay until spring so there is less ice to kill yourself on!

Still no specific news from Mr Shapps and his friends so we are now passed the possible deadline of 72 hours and may well appear in London on Tueasday with no valid, negative test certificate. Ho-hum. Do not pass GO, do not collect £200, go straight to JAIL.

One journey – and for once only please – has been traversing the cosmos with all twenty-one of the Marvel epic Avengers, a Disney odyssey of quite spectacular destruction ending in half the universe being killed off by a dour, large-looking man called Thanos (I think). CGI has never had it so good; but very diverting especially while we have another set of real avengers busy trying to destroy American democracy just south of us here!

While on the subject, we’ve finished The Flight Attendant, a rather whimsical comedy thriller and the latest, brilliant Bryan Cranston series, Your Honor.

Sunday, 10th January :

Overcast today, our last day – and still no news  from Mr. Shapps. 

The massage yesterday has proved wonderful. Today, hooray, no  pain-in-the-neck and upper back! I wish I could have another massage soon but our lovely Paul Carey in Manningtree I guess, will not be able to come out for a while.

We have to go into immediate quarantine again when we get back. Friend Willie Meston has laid in emergency stocks and Tesco’s comes with a big order the day after we arrive. Other than that there is nothing in the Calendar for the whole of 2021. Our Madeira visit is cancelled, sadly, and the Voucher Folder is now overflowing with pretty useless airline vouchers none of which can be amalgamated into a nice, single, handy amount nor converted into cash. Hey Ho, Friends. 

Wake me when it’s over!

Narnia!

Home to Covia Brexitannia.

A gentle song from the sirens of Mistley:

THE GREEN DIARY : Canadian Christmas 2020.

Thursday 17th to Tuesday, 29th December :

We got here in the nick of time. Soon after we left,  a travel ban was imposed on the UK by pretty much everyone and all flights to and from Canada suspended for three days. This has now been extended to the 6th January ’21; we are meant to be returning on the 11th but with the new virus strain threatening everyone, who knows whether we will be returning at all!

Canadian Christmas

Yesterday the Ontario Government extended its lockdown regulations until the 9th January so, while Tony and I come out of quarantine in four days time with the whole family, we are all still in lockdown with everyone so our status doesn’t really change much. 

ArriveCAN is an App we have to use to report our temperatures daily and receive and send any Covid communications necessary. From time to time either a virtual or actual telephone call will come in to check on us. So far there have been no personal visits though these apparently do happen as well.

In the end this journey will be one, long quarantine but as we came here to be with the Canadian family anyway, it does not matter a jot. It’s just a pleasure to be so welcomed by them and they have gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare for the siege. We lack for nothing. Entertainment, media & meal menus have been meticulously prepared and all my hopes of a thinner New Year have been kicked into touch!

With Gin, Jigsaws, Netflix, Bridge- virtual and actual – games and books aplenty, we have been royally looked after. We have even played Bridge-online with friends at home and both our Canadian and English families joined transatlantically in a web game called Codenames. Technology is astonishing.

One piece is missing. We think it’s in the dog!

Best of all is just to be here after all the months of cancellations and nail-biting moments as plan after plan went south. Its been over eighteen months since we were last together.

We are allowed to walk outside. The joy of this is Nala, the youngest edition to the family. She is a seven month old Bernerdoodle with the sweetest, kindest nature and adored by all, needing lots of exercise in the freezing cold to work off her enthusiasm! She has us all wrapped round her paws and seems not to feel the cold at all.

Temperatures have ranged between -15 and +8˚C with some light falls of snow and rain on the warmer days. Today it was –9˚C with clear skies and sunshine – and no wind.

We are of course riveted by the Brexmas developments at home, the sad slide into the new coronavirus variant and the casting off of HMS Britannia, finally slipping her moorings and leaving the European quayside to journey we know not where.

See amid the winter snow………….

We come out of Quarantine tomorrow, the 30th December straight into an Ontario lockdown similar to Tier 4 at home. Apparently the new British Covid Variant has arrived here now. It remains to be seen what the new developments mean for our flights home on the 11th January. Air Canada have not cancelled us yet but we are expecting they might. This is certainly a spontaneous, flexible journey, who knows what 2021 will bring.

In the meantime yet another jigsaw puzzle bites the dust as Schloss Neuschwanstein, that 19th Century vanity project to honour Wagner by Mad King Ludwig II comes together. This time with all the pieces.

It’s -15˚C (chill factor) this morning. Yesterday we played transatlantic bridge with Friends Edward & Jane, our third stab at transatlantic gamesmanship. It snowed in the morning, rained at midday; during our bridge the snow melted completely; after bridge we walked Nala and Granddaughter Libby into a blizzard and over the day the temperatures ranged from 3˚ to -9˚C (wind chill -11˚C). Astonishing swings. It was my first blizzard. A small one but quickly re-covering the ground in white.

I was going to run this until New Year but think I’ll close 2020 here.

A very Happy New Year to all our dear Friends everywhere – may it be Vaccine-filled, healthy and safe.

See you all in 2021!