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! 





72 comments:

  1. Our politicians are to blame for the opening, not the abatement of sickness or death and there are those for which opening makes no real difference, we must stay in. It is cruelly ironic that all of this takes place as the beauties of Spring continue to amaze and entice.

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    1. You are so right about the politicians. I have just left a comment on your blog regarding your recent difficult experience replacing your fridge. I hope you feel better now.

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  2. Well at least we know that Kee survived!



    It was fascinating seeing your Hampstead Heath seasonal changes. I've missed those this year in my beloved Castle Grounds but I've seen them in my garden (which I haven't noticed properly for a few years) and I'll continue to see them in the Castle Grounds again when all this is over. Have only walked on Hampstead Heath a couple of times many years ago. When I was reading for the Bar I had an acquaintance who lived adjacent to it and I stayed there a few times.

    Like you I usually avoid politics although Cummings upset me so much that I did post about him recently. I've opened the link you gave and shall read it later. When I did my first degree (in public administration) everything was so much simpler - Bagehot and TH Green - and conspiracy theories and false news hadn't appeared (though doubtless existed).

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    1. Sorry for the late reply Graham - I always read messages and appreciate them but lately I have not been writing much to anyone - including people I owe emails to. Yes, Kee used to be a very good television reporter, I remember him when I was a teenager. As for the Heath, we have lived near it for so long but honestly have been most surprised that we are still finding new bits. Not very huge bits, but the fact that it is so varied gives an impression of travelling around to different parts of the country. (So far I haven't discovered a bit like the Scottish isles, though I must admit!)

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  3. Hello Jenny, Where I am in Taiwan, there is not such a marked change between the seasons, and it has been mostly rainy, anyway. However, your essay and photos brought me back to when I was in Ohio, when I looked forward to each new spring with its incremental growth, the panoramic landscapes with their constantly changing greens and colors, and the wildflowers both common and rare, if you knew where to look for them.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Parnassus, I must check your blog. You post rarely but I always find your posts interesting. I really value the changing of the seasons and probably wouldn't be able to settle in a place where the seasons are all similar. This, despite the fact that I have been known to moan about all of them - winter too cold, summer too hot, spring and autumn too windy and unpredictable.... !

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  4. I have lived most of my life these past years in tune with nature and am happy to read how many others are now watching it. If all humans passed from the planet tomorrow, the world would go on with all the plants and animals just fine.

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    1. Or possibly even better without humans. I do sometimes think we have a greatly over estimated idea of our own importance.

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  5. When I lived in London, I often walked round Hampstead Heath and loved that wonderful green oasis in the middle of the teeming metropolis. I loved watching the kite-flying in the summer, and I liked the fact that it had a ladies' bathing pond.

    Re the virus, like many others I think the lockdown is being relaxed far too quickly, when there are still thousands of new cases daily and the track and trace arrangement is still a long way from being fully functional. I fear a second wave is very likely.

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    1. I am afraid of this too Nick. I only wish I knew whether it was just massive incompetence and stupidity on the part of the government, or whether they actually want the country to fall into chaos for some reason - as if Brexit wasn't going to do that. They're going to bankrupt us with the amount of money they are wasting.

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  6. Thanks for a wonderful post! You have obviously made the very best out of this eternal "lockdown" - which has dragged on for three months already. You've chosen some interesting books to read, and I like all the photos. My very favorite is the swan with her eggs - beautiful and amazing!

    This virus ordeal hasn't affected me much at all - - since I live alone in the Tennessee wilderness and seldom see people until I venture into town. Social distancing is still being enforced and many people are wearing masks (I have chosen not to).

    HOPEFULLY life will return to "normal" soon. Take care.

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    1. Wish you were right about life returning to normal Jon. But, it probably won't change much in your corner of Tennessee, which is a plus for you!

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  7. Snowdrops are pretty. I love the fragrance of jasmine flowers.
    Happy new week to you.

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  8. A nice photo essay plus more. Have a good week.

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    1. Thanks, perhaps not as good as your photos though!

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  9. Beautiful pictures! No. Nature does not care. It was a glorious spring here and despite the reason, it was a true gift to be able to see it happen.

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    1. Your photos and descriptions of life usually seem like the perfect rural idyll. I know it can't really be but I've often thought I'd like to be there sitting in your lovely and interesting garden.

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  10. I did enjoy your photographs, marking the progression of spring. How lucky you are to have Hampstead Heath for your exercise.
    I felt so sorry for people cooped up in those wretched flats built to house the masses...I wouldn't keep a dog in one, let alone a family.
    Just keep yourselves safe.

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    1. Considering what a mean old beast Lord Maryon Wilson was I do rather feel like thanking him for the Heath even though it was prised from his unwilling hands, or at least the Deeds were. In his efforts to put people off he has made it an exceptionally interesting place, and it is still full of rare and surprising trees.

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  11. Dear Jenny, it is good to see you back in blogland, and in good heath and good spirits by the sound of it!

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    1. Thanks, Meike. On the whole I am keeping in good spirits despite the undertow of unsettling strangeness in the world. We have to adapt and get our sea legs even though it seems to be rocking about a bit!

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  12. Conspiracy theories or no, every person in politics who has a high place got there with at least a little bit of the smoke and mirrors, or by turning a blind eye to something or other. All of them get to where their first priority is reelection, and it is sad.

    Nature, however, is beautiful to watch in so many ways.

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    1. I am finding myself contributing mainly to charities that help and protect nature at the moment. I had not fully realised how necessary it is for human health and happiness.

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  13. Thank you for the wonderful pictures of spring and now summer. Thank you for being a travel journalist, and any other sort you care to be.

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    1. Thank you Joanne. I think there should be a niche for a totally stay-at-home travel journalist somewhere!

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  14. I love-love-love all your beautiful nature photographs!! Just what I needed.
    It is just insane over here in the US. Chaos. No leadership. Division. Pandemic and now riots. I feel I have gone back in time to the 60s!

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    1. Talking of the sixties, it seemed a time of hope and opening up for us in Britain. It's encouraging to talk to many young people and find they are still full of enthusiasm and plans and hope for the future.

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  15. Good to see you again, Jenny, but that swiftly concealed smile is one of the most unnerving things I've seen during this whole frightening time.

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    1. Thank you Judith, and thanks also for your email to which I am replying. I always love getting comments but have been bad at responding recently. Parkinson's Law, I suspect.

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  16. Your writing and pictures have been missed. Lovely pictures as always.
    Nothing we can do at the moment re the numpties running down the country, we must wait to catch them someday.
    Enjoy the summer, far from people, and enjoy the family.

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    1. Thanks, I've been taking so many pics although since I am not going anywhere they are mainly of the same things!

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  17. am enjoying your blog. thanks for blogging.

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    1. Thanks Richard, I've been enjoying the thought provoking posts on your blog too.

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  18. Lovely to see and read your blog post.
    What a beautiful collection of photographs you've shared.
    I can remember several visits to Hampstead Heath as a child, certainly a nice place to enjoy a walk.

    It doesn't seem possible that we are now in June, I hope the month will be a good one for you and all of us.

    All the best Jan

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    1. Thank you Jan. I hope June was a good month for you - but wow, we are now nearly in August! I didn't really think it would last this long somehow....

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  19. G'day, Jenny. As I always am living a reclusive lifestyle...by choice (and enjoy my choice)...nothing much, if anything, has changed for me...and my two indoor furry mates. I was going to start doing some drawing/sketching again. I bought a couple of new sketch pad and a couple of packs of pencils...and other than a few strokes...that is as far as I've gotten!! :)

    Love the photos you've shared with us.

    Keep taking good care...keep smiling. :)

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    1. Thank you Lee, and I hope you're posting some of your picture. I haven't been checking blogs quite as often as usual lately so I'll head off now and take a look!

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  20. A lovely post, Jenny. I too have been enjoying nature and birdsong as never before. Your photos of the Heath are beautiful.

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    1. Thank you Val, it has meant such a lot to us to be able to go there!

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  21. Thank you for those lovely pictures. I totally agree about Cummings, a nasty piece of work if ever there was one. Just hope he is in for a fall, a really big one! The "numpties" are using the emergence from the lockdown to deflect the pressure about Cummings, not a good idea. I'm sure it's far too soon and will backfire. People are already ignoring social distancing and I'm sure it's thanks to Cummings after all the so called elite are exempt from the rules for the ordinary folk.

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    1. I am really quite concerned about Cummings, and the more I hear the more worried I get. Many people now don't seem to pay much heed to social distancing.

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  22. For me, it really started end of March, when I shifted to working from home.

    Lovely photos. And so cool about the swan and her eggs.

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    1. They're such wonderful looking eggs, too, aren't they? Or at least I think so.

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  23. Every photo, every word is perfection, Jenny. Oh, to see the seasons evolve, one by one. Your photos are glorious and so, too, you words. Our city streets are busier now and though I haven't noticed much change in the skies, I have noticed the noise. And fewer masks. Of course, it will get big and bad again -- all the protests will certainly spike the Covid.

    I read the link. We are living it. It's a very effective strategy, I regret to say.

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    1. Thank you so much Jeanie for your nice comment. I have been so slow in responding to these comments although I always read every one I receive with interest and joy at the time it arrives.

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  24. How lucky for you to be able to walk Hamstead heath through the season. Very beautiful. I agree about the wonderment of lock down (technically we still are in a stay at home mode here) It has been wonderfully quiet and bright, Today there was more than one car on. the road and a plane flew overhead. Amazing how I had become used to everyday noise before the stay at home thing. Lucky fir us no one has been ill either.

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    1. That near-silence was so wonderful in its way, I won't ever forget it here in London.

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  25. Pareciamos pássaros engaiolados.
    E para nós distrair comiamos os livros.
    Um abraço viajante.
    Megy Maia

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  26. You don't have to be into conspiracies to believe that confusion has been this government's strategy since the start of the pandemic.

    Re birdsong, I went on the National Trust website to look at the different birdsongs there were. It was a joy to figure out which bird was singing when in my local parks (I've got more than one nearby where I live). Don't ask me for details, though. I've forgot it now and car queues are going back to normal.

    I hope you and yours are safe. :-)

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    1. I think it's starting to become obvious that the government either welcomes or is unable to prevent confusion. Probably a bit of both, but when everyone is in uproar it is certainly easier to put through really serious and controversial things while everyone is distracted. I didn't know the National Trust had birdsong on its website, but I'll take a look now. There is one bird which has a rather dull song which it industriously sings outside my window for long stretches - I'd like at least to know what it is!

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  27. Hello,Jenny.
    So good to know you are fine. your photos are all lovely. Yes, as you say early summe has alredy come to us.
    The books you read must be interesting. I remembered that my father told me how the battle field was cruel in the Second world War. During our lockdown, there were a lot of time,So I watched some war films that were made based on true stories.They were good movies and study for me.

    Have a good day.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Tomoko. The more I learn about history, the more I understand that there is only goodness and badness, and war is never a "good" solution. Occasionally it is the only solution but never a good one. We do have always to face the possibility of dealing with difficult situations, however they are caused, and I always find it interesting to see how people find inner resources to do so. I am glad that the situation seems to be rather better in Japan now, and many restrictions have been lifted. I enjoyed the wonderful photos of roses in your last post!

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  28. Still locked down here for health reasons. And, health or not, I think they relaxed the lockdown far to early. Talk of wandering Hampstead Heath got me wondering if you'd come across John Rodgers' Youtube channel? He makes films and vblogs about walking round London streets, Epping Forest and the countryside around London. He's one of the things that's kept me going through this!https://www.youtube.com/user/fugueur

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    1. Thanks for this, and I've been enjoying your essays and poems which have been arriving by email as I subscribe to your blog (even though I haven't been online much lately.) We too are pretty firmly locked down for the moment. thanks for the link to John Rodgers - he is a likeable character, and I was interested to see his take on Fairlop, which is a long way from where I live but we have visited the bit around the library as we have a friend who lives in the area. I too think they relaxed the lockdown without proper thought - it's disturbing that the medical advisers have now distanced themselves.

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  29. I'm glad you had such a good time in the garden under quarantine, Jenny. Seeing the awakening of nature every day is something else, special is great.
    I had to be in a city apartment and see new green leaves only from the window. But fortunately in May we were allowed to leave the city and now I am in my summer cottage and in the garden.
    It's good that you and your family are healthy. Take care of yourself.

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    1. I am glad you have managed to come to the country and your wonderful garden Nadezda, and I imagine you are feeling very happy there with plenty to occupy your mind. I will be checking out blogs again soon.

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  30. Here too, the mainly amazingly good weather has made the lockdown more bearable. Thankfully we have been able to spend a lot of time in the garden, which if nothing else had made me notice the lack of planes flying over us. On the other hand we seem to have a lot more birds in the garden.

    Whatever is happening in the world the sun still rises in the morning and sets in the evening and nature progresses through the seasons regardless.

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    1. That is such a reassuring thing to think about, isn't it? I often think that too. Thanks for your commment.

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    2. And isn't that the truth

      gramswisewords.blogspot.com

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  31. Hello - How lucky you are to live near Hampstead Heath. I've not seen it myself, but it looks wonderful. I live a 10 minute walk from a lovely beach, called Longsands. Sadly, we don't go there much as it is too crowded, especially this week when it got so hot. Fortunately we have both a front and back garden which are private and pleasant to lounge in. We've been playing around with planting a vegetable garden and that has been fun. Thanks for the book recommendations and for the interesting read about politics. As an American I see a lot of ways in which Britain is becoming more like my homeland, which makes me very sad. I was never interested in politics for most of my life. I was interested in women's rights as a teenager and a young woman, but I still managed not to be interested in politics. It took Brexit and Trump to get my full attention. I've read newspapers in the UK and the US since 2016 and donated money to causes that are important to me. My husband is a very fit 72 year old and I have asthma (but I've started running again), which means we need to be careful. We are very fortunate in being retired. I expect had I still been working I could have worked from home, but he was a mental health nurse and so would have been going in each day. I have more hobbies than I will live long enough to get bored of and I'm quite introverted as well, so staying home is heaven for me. Bill gets a bit restless now and then but when it comes down to it he prefers to stay safe. We keep in touch with family and friends via Zoom and phone calls (I feel I'm going back in time ringing up friends to chat on my landline!) I feel very privileged that we can have our needs and wants delivered to our door (though I don't do business with Amazon). I'm sad about all the chaos going on the US just now, but if it brings about a fairer society I think it is worth it; I'm hopeful that change is coming. I think Dominic Cummings has done a great deal of damage to Boris Johnson and I look forward to seeing the back of both of them one day. I've taken to watching PMQs on catch up, just sliding over to the part where Sir Kier makes his contribution. I think of it as watching a knife cut through butter and it lifts my spirits to watch. I feel it has been a grave error to hand out billions of pounds with no 'green strings' attached. I think the consequences of climate change will make coronavirus look like a walk in the park. Thanks for visiting my blog! Take care.

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    1. A private and pleasant front and back garden sounds perfect - and I wish you luck with your vegetables.I seem to be more successful with flowers than veggies. Yes, it is very concerning to see how Britain seems to be following the lead of Trump, although from my side of the pond it looks as if finally Trump might be failing. His comments about the "intelligence" test - which is aimed to pick up cognitive decline) were disturbing, weren't they? It is great to hear that you are keeping fit and also that you contribute to causes that matter. It is so easy to pay lip service and not do anything, so I always try to do something to support causes that I think are worthwhile. I fear that this government might be missing a major opportunity to transform our economy in an environmentally friendly way - it seems to be mainly paying off the cronies and keeping them on side, I fear. HS2 is a very worrying development, costing many billiions and damaging some irreplaceable wild areas.

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  32. Hello , I love your blogpost. All your pictures are wonderful and the books you shared too. In fact I'm going to get that one about crowds. I also like non fiction. My father was born near Hampstead Heath, so I have a fondness for it. I, like Shelly (above), also live by the sea in Herne Bay , Kent. My husband and I walk along the coast most days. I notice that this post is from the end of May, two months ago.
    Are you ok?
    I would love to see some more of your writing.
    You can find me here:

    gramswisewords.blogspot.com

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    1. Hi Gram, thanks for coming here, and i've paid a visit to your blog, too. You're probably still away on your trip and I hope you've been having fun!

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  33. We went into Lockdown too late, and came out too early, mainly because of Dominic Cummings. Let's be honest Boris Johnson isn't fit (in any way) to be leading this country. He only got elected because he's a clown, and people like a comedian. Who's laughing now?

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    1. It's ever so slightly creepy the way he can't seem to stop making quips about really serious subjects. People who have suffered must feel very hurt by his remarks.

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  34. I have a friend, poor man, who's a dead ringer for Dominic Cummings. He used to come up here a lot and hopefully will again, when this is all over. Barnard Castle isn't that far away from here but I think we'll be steering clear of it when he does!

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    1. Poor fellow, it must be very difficult for him at the moment - unless he lives in a hotbed of anti-constitutionalists of course :) Barnard Castle is such a charming place, it's a shame not to visit. Maybe if your friend wears sunglasses.....

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  35. Oh, my…! I have no idea why I missed this post. Didn’t you feel it strange when I wrote my latest comment to your last post dated April 4? I was worried about your long silence, but now I’m relieved and laughing at myself.

    I can relate to you when you posted this post, how you were encouraged and soothed by nature, which is well shown in your photos. During the stay-home period, I enjoyed reading or simply looking at the two picture books of British gardens and villages presented by you again and again. You’re so fortunate to have so many wonderful gardens, picturesque villages, and beautiful countryside. At almost the same time with your country, the infection curve became flat in mine, but now it is rising again, though most of the positive people have no or few symptoms. Now is a difficult time, but I believe humanity will win eventually.

    I really appreciate your return to my blog. I had thought you had something in mind but couldn’t guess it. Now I understand we have the same idea in a nutshell. Every life matters including a leaf as you wrote, and each living thing is connected with consideration for one another, I think. Take care.

    Yoko

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  36. Hello there Jenny, I loved most especially your words "Of course Nature does not care about any of that human stuff..." to me, that's what I keep going back to... that nature carries on. Even if its appreciating our small (in relative terms) garden on a daily basis.
    Your photos are beautiful- the wild roses, honeysuckle etc.
    How wonderful to see the swan and her eggs. I once had that pleasure too, following the progress of one of the black swans in our lakes area... such a thrill to see their new little family of fluffy sweeties.
    All the very, very best to you over there Jenny. Everything takes as long as it takes doesn't it! Cheers and warmest good wishes, Sue xx 💐

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  37. It's definitely been a strange year hasn't it, spending a lot more time at home (or not far from it).
    I have read a lot more books than usual this year, helped by 2 months on furlough and some wonderful weather, allowing me to sit in the garden and really get into some good books.
    Last October we visited my cousin, who is an avid reader, and she gave us dozens of paperbacks to bring home, with me thinking that I would love to read them, yet would probably never get around to most of them.
    Had I known what was to come a few months later, I would have bought many more home as I have read dozens already.
    I love historical novels and adventures/mysteries, and amongst the topics my cousin enjoys are stories around The Templars and similar topics. Just got through the last of the Scott Mariani books that she gave me, and now working on one about WWII spies involved in making D-Day happen.

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  38. Thank God for Nature just going on as she does regardless of the Dramas of Mankind, it is a refuge, even during Pandemic. We haven't fared as well in America as Europe, Asia and Australia/New Zealand have... mostly due to our own Political Nightmare and utter confusion/incompetence at the top. Your Nature shots were soothing to the Spirit, Thank You for sharing them.

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