Friday, 6 November 2020

Travel by Proxy, and various sorts of Art.

Well, now we're in lockdown again - sort of.  When it comes to this isolated life we lead, I'm with Jeanie Croope, one of my favourite bloggers.  Jeanie's recent post "Stolen Time" says it all for me, and, judging by the comments, for a lot of other people too.    It's sad to miss all kinds of things, but missing kids growing up is really hard, because that time can't be regained. 

For various reasons T and I haven't spent the night away from home for a while, even when it was allowed, but the twins' parents have been taking them to YHA youth hostels and keeping us in touch with lots of photos, and the twins have also written us postcards which they give to us on their return.   A sort of travelling by proxy, and we do appreciate it very much.  

A couple of weeks ago they went to the New Forest, staying in a land pod in the large grounds of Burley hostel, near Ringwood, We've stayed there in the past, and remember it as right in the middle of all the trees, a gorgeous location.  They saw wild ponies, pigs foraging for acorns, wandering cows, and, as Girl Twin wrote on her card, "wasps and skwirils and baby skwirils."  

(photo: YHA)

And they saw shooting stars, and had a wonderful meal and breakfast at the pub next door, and saw a  tapestry in the church at Lyndhurst showing Alice in Wonderland, who lived in the area after she grew up. They came home and stood on the path telling us all about it, leaping up and down with glee as they did so. 

The week before that, they went to Michelham Priory in Kent, staying in a tent in the grounds of South Downs hostel, near Lewes and Eastbourne - photo below. I think the hostel was once a farm and I recall it had a fine rural location right on the steep downs.   (Love the way the YHA takes its publicity pictures on overcast days or in the rain,  by the way)   

 Nearby Michelham Priory has a historic working watermill and a forge, lots of modern sculptures, a great teashop, and tours by volunteers.  The twins loved their tour, they were intrigued to see a witch bottle and discover how olden days kitchens worked. 

Everyone was so nice to them that they insisted we put Michelham Priory on the list to visit as soon as possible. Historic and unique places like this rely on visitor income and really need people to visit, so that they can keep going for us all. So it's top of our list for a post-Covid visit when we can start doing real life travel with a clear conscience.  
Right now we can't even walk over and visit them in their home, though, so Boy Twin had the good idea of a Zoom Club, so now we zoom sometimes and they think of things we might like to do if we were there with them. In the most recent club meeting they had a pillow fight.  They really did love doing it, and as they whacked each other Girl Twin puffed to us, "Do you wish you were here yet?"  We had to admit we did!  

Our older grandkids, who are now teenagers, live the other side of London but we met about ten days ago near St. Pauls Cathedral.  They are avoiding public transport, and you can't park, so they walked there and back from their home in South London, a 7 mile round trip. (We did not underestimate the sacrifice required of teenagers to get up early on a Saturday and walk 7 miles in the rain to see us.)  

Despite the vile weather, we had fun looking for chewing gum pictures (see last post). Ben Wilson had told T. about his Millennium Bridge trail, which leads directly across the bridge to St. Pauls.  We soon found some of his distinctive images.    Here are my favourites, a homeless man called Mark and his dog Gizmo. The pound coin is to show the scale;  It's about the size of a nickel.....

and here is St. Pauls. 

And we learned that Oldest Grandson is helping at a food bank.   He loves it.  Apparently instead of everyone being depressed or angry, they're all friendly and positive and trying to help the customers, so good vibes all round. (I heard also that they let him eat some of the items the customers never choose, which are generally unusual, expensive and "healthy" things, such as long-life turmeric latte. He's willing to give it all a try).

Ah well, we can't even see them again till early December.  I do think lockdown is vital now that things have been left to get almost out of control. The stricter the better from a medical point of view, though I'm not sure enough is being done to help small businesses. I noticed how quiet and asleep everything seemed even when we cycled to St. Pauls before lockdown began. Many shops and cafes appeared to have closed down, and we had quite a job even finding a coffee stall. Imagine that in a major London tourist area like St. Pauls!  London really shouldn't be that way.  

You'll notice I haven't said anything about the US election.  Right now we're waiting for the result from Georgia, and the whole thing seems scarily close-run. I avoided being on the computer at all the last 2 days, because I didn't want to be spending every minute on tenterhooks. Instead, we used the beautiful weather and went to Hampstead Heath again. I think I have a low boredom threshhold,  so I feel incredibly lucky to live near somewhere so unusually varied, when so far I have not been bored at all. 

This time we visited the Pergola, originally built about a century ago by the millionaire Lord Leverhulme.  It was part of the grounds of a mansion which I dimly remember as a public orthopaedic convalescent hospital, but which has now been taken over by someone else who has transformed it into something from the hundred-million-dollar property pages, with high fences and huge notices everywhere saying it is guarded by patrolling dogs so keep out.  Charming.  However, the pergola still has oceans of period charm and faded glory. It's not the the season for its wisteria and roses, but there were plenty of vines with coloured leaves growing up its columns. 

It seems to go on for miles and has lovely views over its surrounding park and gardens as well as the wild heath beyond the fence. We had it almost to ourselves and I couldn't think of anywhere nicer to be on a sunny day with T.   

Before that, we'd decided to do some litter picking on the heath, and had brought with us a long handled picker,  gloves and plastic bags to hold whatever we found.  Litter is cleared daily on the heath, so it is usually clean enough except that a few people obviously feel that if they throw their junk into the bushes, it will mysteriously disappear forever. In fact, it festers there for years, or forever.  We make it our mission to find these bits of indestructible trash and take them to their rightful place - the bin.  

We mostly pick up plastic bottles and food packs,  that brightly coloured wrapping material used for sweet packets and party balloons, plastic party ribbons and, (yuk)  wet wipe tissues which don't biodegrade and ought to be banned. (We're always glad of the gloves, picker and hand sanitiser.)  We braved the brambles and collected a bagful of the usual junk from the bushes, and were just about to walk back to the road and find a bin when all of a sudden there was the crunching noise of something jolting along the muddy track to the glade in which we were standing.

It was a ranger's vehicle, bumping across the leaves and roots, and it stopped on the other side of a big oak. Two men climbed out with huge plastic bags and much more professional looking long handled pickers than ours.  They were the real litterpickers, and so we took the chance to have a bit of a chat. 

Seems they get 110 bags of litter a week from just this tiny section of the heath, but the man in charge loved the job because he felt it was doing something really worthwhile. He didn't have a massively high opinion of the habits of the general public, hardly surprisingly, but he was very pleased with us and thanked us several times for giving him our little hoard of horrors to add to one of his 110 sacks.

So that meant we could carry on looking around without having to carry the bag of rubbish and eventually we set off and left him doing his work. Can you spot him in the picture below, with his big black sack, blending in with the trees?  

 I may have mentioned I was starting a short course at the Royal Drawing School.  I've now done two days of the five, and I'd love to post something I'm proud of but so far all I've done has been aimed at solving problems and it doesn't always look great. (I guess the truth is that I don't usually solve the problems, but I do keep trying.) I've had a lot of fun doing it and it's been an excuse to buy myself some new soft pastels to do some sketching of my own.  I have a box of good quality Rembrandt soft pastels,  but they're almost used up. 

Soft pastels are much smoother in texture than brittle hard pastels which quickly crumble and get dusty, but good ones can be so expensive that I've been balking at buying them new.  Then I spotted a box of 24 by Conte of Paris on eBay, and managed to get them for £15. They're used, but barely, and I don't mind the occasional broken one, so I'm well pleased.    

I've become a big fan of eBay lately. (It's also cheaper than Amazon for books.) My latest eBay purchase is Ronald Blythe's book, "The View in Winter."   The best parts of the book are  where Blythe interviewed villagers in Suffolk in the 1970s, all of them born in the Victorian age. He asked them to describe their lives and their thoughts on living and being old.  I read the book once when I was young, but I just couldn't care much about old peoples' lives then, so not a single thing of it stayed with me.  Now, I find it riveting!   What incredible social history, a glimpse of rural Suffolk nearly gone, and very different views and experiences than now, all in their own words, many of them in dialect.  I felt that this was also a kind of travel by proxy - but this is time travel. 
Ronald Blythe is now 97 and I imagine that doing all those interviews may have helped in his own ageing journey.  I attended a lecture by him about 10 years ago and he seemed to be in good shape. 

Well,  that's me up to date.    I hope the election comes out the way that I (and everyone else I know) wants, and wish you all a good Friday and a good weekend!  

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Time, Art and A White Witch

So I didn't post for three weeks or so and then four weeks. And when it got about eight weeks I started feeling that was far too long a time to be away.  And now, it's getting on for five months, and, well, I'm not sure I remember what blogging feels like any more! But of course the best way to re-start blogging is to just do it. So I won't even try to catch up with my life since my last post in May, and I'll tell you instead about a trip we took out into Surrey a few days ago. 

Surrey's a county just south of London, and parts of it still feel surprisingly rural, even though it's incredibly different to how it was 100 years ago. Or 115 years, to be precise..... because, on a visit to Hungerford, Berkshire, we visited my favourite second hand bookshop, which is in The Hungerford Arcade.  There, I picked up a book written in 1906, simply titled "SURREY."  

It has many pretty watercolour plates of Surrey as it was then. 

And when T. looked at the pictures there were lots of places he liked the look of, and we thought how nice it would be to go and visit them. Some, like Betchworth, (above) are recognisable today on Street View, although gardens are tidier now, and the  roads are metalled and have parked cars, instead of chickens roaming about in the dust like in 1905. And of course those picturesque cottages would have been damp and uncomfortable by modern standards... and also it seemed a bit as if we were trying to turn the clock back to 100 years ago. But still, we got in the car and off we went, glad that we weren't in 1905 for the travelling, at any rate.  

The picture that had particularly caught T's eye was of Waverley Abbey, in the valley of the River Mole....shown here as a most picturesque ruin draped in ivy, sitting in the parkland of Waverley House mansion, so the text said.

We knew it wouldn't be draped with creeper now - it looks wonderful but wrecks the old buildings it grows on eventually.  And there was an overall rosy aspect to the watercolours which made us suspect that the artist, Mr Sutton Palmer, might have had his rose tinted specs on. 

Waverley is still very rural, so we parked nearby and walked about ten minutes down a footpath into what was obviously part of the grounds of Waverley House, which still stood across the River Wey to our right...  

Waverley Abbey was a surprisingly large selection of ruins and fragments to our left.

 The building shown in the old watercolour is visible towards the right, and we found that it led into a large vaulted hall which mostly still survives. We found that it had lost its apex since 1905, and the right hand top window had broken still more - so that creeper had obviously done its wicked work.   

We noticed that a system of fortifications had been built at the edges of the abbey site, one of a whole chain across the South of England in anticipation of a Nazi invasion in 1941. They are now swallowed in vegetation, with the tank tank traps (below) now attractively covered in green moss, 

and a large gun emplacement now a wildlife haven but originally intended to make the whole area a battleground. 

A great big gun banging away in their direction would have been the end of the abbey ruins, for sure, but luckily, as we know, that invasion never happened.  

Founded in the 12th century, Waverley Abbey was every bit as imposing as the largest of cathedrals. However, in around 1540, the king of England decided that neither Waverley, nor any other English abbeys, were OK with him.  He didn't see why others should be controlling all that cash when he could have it. He was also sure the people of England wanted an English religion.  By happy coincidence that would also allow him to divorce his wife, who he was very fed up with, since he had his eye on another one.  

So he closed down all the abbeys, kicked out the monks (and the poor and sick who they had looked after) grabbed the money, divorced the wife and converted the country to an English religion with him at the head.  Unfortunately "Good King Hal" as King Henry VIII was known by his fans, went down in history as loveable rogue.  But he established the Church of England and changed the course of history, whether for good or bad we will never know. 

Returning to the car, we spotted a footpath sign about 100 yards down the road. It was still a couple of hours until sunset, so we decided to stroll down the path, which was heavily wooded and overlooked a river to the left and rose up to the right to a small cliff.  We soon passed a wrought iron gate set into the rocks. It led into a cave, padlocked shut.   Outside it, a small sign announced that this was Mother Ludlam's Cave.   

A sign explained that Mother Ludlam was a white witch who lived in the cave in medieval times, and helped the poor by lending them things they needed. It seemed that the poor had to return the borrowed items after two days. One day someone from Waverley Abbey borrowed a cauldron and didn't give it back.  In fact, she flew into such a rage that the thief took sanctuary in the nearest church, which apparently still has the cauldron.  A witch's cauldron is a funny sort of thing for a church to own, so I expect the story has gained a bit in the telling over hundreds of years.  I hope to visit the church and investigate next time I'm in the area - if Mr. A.R. Hope Moncrieff book is to be believed, there's plenty more to see. 

 You could see into the cave easily.  I'm sure it's changed a lot and was probably cosier in 1400, but it certainly had a handy water supply.  

The book has plenty more suggestions of what to see in Surrey so we are looking forward to exploring more.  

We've been getting out on the bike as often as possible too, but I didn't feel energetic the other day and T. took a cycle ride across the top of London through Highgate Woods, along what was once a railway line. There, he came across a man painting something very, very small on the edge of what had once been a disused railway platform. 

He didn't mind being interrupted, and was very friendly. He is called Ben Wilson and he works as an artist. One of his projects is to paint bits of discarded chewing gum. He hates litter and decided that one thing you could do with it was make art with it.  Painting chewing gum needed no gallery, permission or license, since he was not littering himself, but only improving stuff which had already been discarded. 

He was a cheerful man and told T. he began as a sculptor, but has moved more towards the miniature chewing gum paintings in recent years. It can take him a long time to create a picture. To start with, he uses a blow torch to heat the gum and then paints it with three coats of enamel, and finishes it off with lacquer.  T. didn't get a picture of the picture he was painting here, but I found an image on the internet and here it is.  

(Photograph: Ben Wilson)

Ben told T that he makes little "trails" of tiny pictures, so our next project is to seek them out now we have an idea where they are.

We've been spending a lot of this lockdown time walking around Hampstead Heath and getting to know it really well. We literally have not got bored with it at all in all these months.  The other week I spotted some bits of - well,  "found art"  I guess you'd say, in one of the more remote corners of the Heath. First I saw a Dame (Queen) of Spades and thought she must be French - she looks so glamorous.  

But then I found the Jack of Spades, and decided the cards must be German, because the Jack (or Knave) is called the Bube.  

 There was no trace of the König (King) of Spades nor of any of the other cards in the court, and it looked almost as if the virile young Jack and the pretty young Queen had eloped together. This would explain why they were so far from home, in these shadowy evening woods above London, alone beneath the swaying trees. I left them undisturbed, and I hope their story worked out well! 

I've decided to take a 5 day course at the Royal Drawing School.  The subject is Interior and Exterior Space.  I'm hoping I'll learn a bit about drawing interiors from my imagination. But the funny thing is that I'm getting more and more interested in looking at nature, particularly nature on a tiny scale. The closer you zoom into nature, the more detail you see and the more amazing beautiful and harmonious it all is.  

In my semi-lockdown walks, I've been  photographing ordinary looking bits of grassland, woodland floor, patches of wild flowers and so on.  This typical shot shows leaves, dead grass and small bracken plants. It is pretty but walking around a wood you might not even notice it underfoot.  

 I play around with the resulting images in Photoshop with the aim of forgetting about what the things in the picture actually are, and only looking at the forms and shapes and way they are put together. 

Here is the image above, rotated 90 degrees,  and converting into a negative.   

The images I get may be partly or totally abstract, but they seem to me to show the incredible complexity, energy, and movement of Nature.  I feel I can pin any ideas I want on these images. The one below seems almost violent to me, reminding me of some kind of alien creature bursting out of  a torrent or flood.   Really, it's a group of toadstools quietly growing on a log, with bits of horse chestnut case scattered about.  

The picture below was not altered at all. It's just a patch of bracken, and looks as if it was waving in the wind, except that it was standing perfectly still. 

 I am not sure I'll be as interested in the man made interiors when I start my course, but I'm looking forward to it anyway as it is something different from what I have ever done.

I have been visiting all your blogs during the last few months, though not always commenting, and will continue to do that. Thanks for being there, and hope you are enjoying your autumn! 

Sunday, 31 May 2020

In and Out of Lockdown

 Do you even remember how long coronavirus has dominated our lives?    Life before seems a bit like a dream.  So anyway you have experienced it too and you will probably understand when I say that the past few months have been a bit weird for me, with both wonderful and upsetting moments.

The most wonderful parts were right at the beginning.  It was fantastic not to have traffic, incredible to hear the birdsong - no planes, no people, no cars, or almost none, even in the middle of London.  The silence let us hear the birds right from when they began to sing their spring songs. And the sky - such an amazing blue, with so little vehicle or aircraft pollution. 

We have spent as much time as possible in the garden or going out to walk or cycle, at a safe distance from others.   In the early part of lockdown I also did a lot of reading.  Not so much drawing or creative work, none of the projects I had planned. And I read non-fiction, nothing fictional.   These were my top books, which I find a bit strange, looking at them, as they're not usually my kind of books at all.  

The first is a gripping and well written book from the 1940s by Robert Kee, who later became a top television journalist. It tells of his internment and escape during the Second World War.   He was captured early on, and describes not only the everyday horror and fear of war, but also the strange atmosphere in the internment camp where he found himself.   Cooped up 24 hours a day, everyone seemed to manage fine, but enormous arguments would suddenly flare from nothing.  People kept busy, but rumours and fake news abounded, treasured glimmers of hope usually evaporated.  Promises were not fulfilled, hopes did not come to pass, and in the end the only thing to do was hunker down and wait for the chance to escape.

Kee risked his life to escape, and .... well, I won't give away what happened to him, but I was on the edge of my seat. I do recommend this wonderfully well written book, which is pretty easily available in paperback. 

I also read "Strange Harmony " by William G Sewell. I have an old edition published in 1946; not sure it ever was reprinted. Sewell was a Quaker who was interned with his family for 4 years on Hong Kong after the Japanese invasion of 1941. Ironically, the family were only spending an overnight in Hong Kong en route to China, but they ended up on the run with several other adults and a total of eighteen children. They ended up in an internment camp where conditions became steadily less bearable. I found the book descriptive, compassionate and thought provoking as Sewell and his family worked incredibly hard in savage conditions to hold on to their own values and their sense of right and wrong.   Their Christian faith helped them so much, although it's not a particularly religious book. 

For our daily exercise we have been exploring Hampstead Heath, about 800 acres of one of the most varied and interesting bits of land I know, geologically, botanically and historically.  We have watched the seasons slowly change, and it has been marvellous.  I can understand now why people become nature writers!  First, we saw the haze of delicate white blackthorn sprinkling all the browns and greens of the winter trees and evergreens, almost like snow. It's one of the first signs of Spring.

Next, clumps of snowdrops appeared on the wintry banks among dead leaves and new blades of grass. 

And those chilly evening skies reminded us that winter was still only just behind us...

And then the violets appearing...

and the jasmine flowers, and the very first new leaves....

  the deafening birdsong....and suddenly each tree seemed to be a different colour, with all the leaves opening at once. 

Bluebells and forget-me-nots could be seen glimmering beneath the trees...

There was so much apple blossom...

And here is a swan with her ten eggs  waiting to hatch. Nine of them did produce cygnets, and the swan sat patiently for about a week on the final, addled egg before she gave up.  All her cygnets did well. 

Then, the cow parsley and white hawthorn appeared. I love them because they give May its characteristic scent.  And still the birds were singing so loudly. 

And now, all of a sudden, Spring has ended and it is early summer.  I'm thrilled that for the first time ever, I've been out there noticing how steadily nature changes throughout the year.  What a wonderful experience it has been!  I intend to continue to watch closely as the year rolls on. 

But then, two weeks ago the strict lockdown ended. Its simple message: Stay at Home, Save Lives, Protect the NHS, had worked, and at last the virus was on the wane.  Now, of course, people must return to work and normal life as soon as possible.   The slightly unreal fairytale feeling has evaporated, traffic has returned to the roads, the sky is a less vivid blue.  People are out and about more, and, worryingly, are not social distancing as they should. A new and deeply concerning element now overshadowing everything, and that is the erosion of trust in the government's ability to deal with the virus with minimum loss of life.       

I have made a strong effort to avoid following the news, but we'd have to live in Outer Mongolia instead of Britain to be unaware of the gentleman below. He was the architect of the original strategy to stop the very expensive track and tracing which had originally been proposed to get the virus under control, but was abandoned.  Here we see him, glimpsed just a few seconds after he left a grilling by journalists the other day.  It's unusual to see a grin on his face. It lasted less than a second, his hand flew to his mouth, he composed himself, looked serious again, and strode on. 

He had just said something which made him the butt of jokes for several days, but he is a very bright man and had a reputation as a strategist and that "trickster's grin"  struck me.
Now with new rows and increasingly confused messages from the government, with doctors and scientists warning of more problems, I think these few paragraphs on Disorder and Confusion as Political Technique are interesting (at the bottom of the page).  I'm not into conspiracy theories but this is a technique used for discrediting opposition to governments, and the gent above, as I said, has been heavily involved in the government's approach to the virus.

   Anyway, that's all I am going to say, and if you prefer no politics, please feel free to skip reading the piece.   

Of course Nature does not care about any of that human stuff, and the weather continues warm and sunny, so we carry on being delighted and amazed by the beauty of the Heath. Now, the wild roses, guelder rose and honeysuckle make the air sweet, and the flag irises are blooming on the ponds.  

We'll keep ploughing on, and you do the same. Take care! 

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Strange Times

Oh my, it was a different world at Christmas.  How fast it's all changed.   I'm guessing I won't be able to tell anyone anything they don't already know.   But isn't is so very, very strange to think that even a month ago we were not giving serious thought to all of this?   

I thought I'd look through my photos and see what I'd been doing at the beginning of March.  And this is where I was: 

This is the village of Metfield in Suffolk, and I'd been attending a jumble sale.   You know, one of those village sales raising money for a good cause. We had been packed together in the village hall and I'd got a some interesting-looking books, a booklet of unused decorative craft papers, a brand new colander (to replace my old one which I'd melted by accident) and a brand new liquidiser to replace mine which is on its last legs. (T.'s qualified to check it out for electrical safety, which he's done, and he says it's fine). 

We came out with our trophies, which had cost a total of £3, and the sky was a wonderful blue, and the breeze was blowing some early daffodils about and it suddenly felt like Spring instead of winter.

As it had been both warm and wet, the road that led past the church was one big puddle.  We waded across it and went into that church which has an ancient clock, which dates back to the 17th century.  The clock face is on the bell-tower, but the mechanism is kept on the floor in the tower,  and its loud, steady "tick tock" can be heard all over the church. 

Looking at this little film now I think about all that has happened since the clock was made by Mr. Garrett in 1629.  I believe it will be ticking steadily away in Metfield Church long after everyone has forgotten about Coronavirus. 

Things became more serious, but a couple of weeks ago we were still able to go out into Essex to see the daffodils at Warley Place in Essex. I blogged about this unusual nature reserve ten months ago, and when I got home, I put a note in the diary to go in March 2020. And so we did, and it was all but deserted. What an incredible sight it was, with acres of daffodils. It was all so beautiful that we stayed for many hours, stopping to have a picnic and coffee.   

We decided to explore nature reserves and footpaths near to London after that.  And so, just twelve days ago, we were here (below), in a little-known spot of Hertfordshire countryside, above 3/4 hour drive from our home, watching a shallow wide clear river glittering through a green valley,  and an incredible blue sky above, with hills around and some little gothic cottages. Here's a view from the bottom of the hill.

And here are the cottages, next to the church.

The very next day, though, the government locked down. We were told to stay at home, and of course we have obeyed - there hasn't been any temptation for me to risk contagion, because I know how easily this virus spreads. There's a chart at the end of this post that shows how just one contact can make a whole lot of difference.   But we are allowed to walk or cycle near home, for purposes of exercise, and that's what we're doing. I just hope nobody closes the  open spaces near us.   The blackthorn is now fully out but there are still only a few leaves on the trees.  Thank goodness for wildness. 

It is tragic listening to the news and my thoughts are with those who will be affected, which include me and my own close family.   I don't think anyone can feel complacent.

But what can we do, except the things that are in our power? We cannot possibly alter a global problem, and so, just as with the climate emergency, we can only do - and keep doing - absolutely everything possible not to make things worse and buy time for healing to happen.   If we take care not to spread the virus, we are helping to save lives by postponing infections and spreading them thinner so the medical services can deal with the numbers better.  And, of course, so that scientists can develop vaccines and treatments and manufacturers can produce enough ventilators for those who may need them.

 Thankfully from the back of our house we have a close up view of a large cherry tree which is right now in full bloom. 

So that's me. I'll be checking my favourite blogs and leaving some comments after so long away. Please stay safe everyone and try to help others to stay safe too.  Stay in your home, or your garden, don't go closer than two metres (six feet) to anyone who isn't in your own household. (Even the drainholes around here are warning us of that) 

 I haven't been in Blogland much over the last months and so I'm now going to visit my favourite blogs.  I hope very much that I will find all of you well, and that you'll remain so. 

How are you coping with the strange times we are in?

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