In the time of the virus: getting through the next phase

Before I go on, just a quick update to let you know that I’m no longer feeling ill, just very depleted energy levels.  Whatever it was, that was one very tenacious bug.  Thank you so much for your good wishes – when I wrote I was feeling particularly low as I had thought I was recovered only to seem to go backwards again.

I wrote (most of) this post several weeks ago, and for no reason I can now recall, failed to finish it and hit the ‘post’ button.  Nothing that has happened since has encouraged me to think I was wrong; quite the reverse.. 

So here we are, with the past few months let-up having been wasted by the government and trust in government squandered somewhere around Barnard Castle.  If you want to get to there, you wouldn’t start from here.  But we are where we are, as increasingly we are forced to acknowledge, and here is where we go from.  The cliches just keep on rolling by.

Like many others, Malcolm and I have been reflecting on what got us through the past 6 months, and how we’ll get through the next.  In some ways what we’ve already done was the easy bit: it was the spring and then summer, the weather was mostly good and most of us were able to really make the most of whatever outdoor space we had.  That’s still the case, but now we face diminishing sunlight, colder weather, and if last year is anything to go by, possibly much wetter weather.  We need to get our strategies in place, and make a start.

Reflecting on what worked for us gives us some hints as to where to go next:

  • We absolutely loved our Sunday morning virtual coffee trips.  We prepared well for them, and were able to bathe in the warmth of past real-life trips
  • Malcolm’s developing love of birdwatching and photographing birds has given him plenty to do , both while out and afterwards working on his photos and video.  I’m enjoying joining him from time to time
  • My sewing machine and I are now officially in love, and looking forward to good times together.  I will never be that person who will sew their own clothes, but I am increasingly in love with the concept and reality of visible mending
  • Our virtual holidays in Scotland and Germany were great successes.  The optimists in us have actually rebooked those trips for 2021; the realists acknowledge that the trips may not happen.  In the meantime, we’re working on a plan that over the autumn and winter we’ll have virtual holidays in lots of places we’ve been before and maybe some we haven’t yet been
  • Cooking.  Like many others, we’ve done even more cooking than ever.  We’ve both enjoyed experimenting and trying out new recipes (or reprising old ones).  We’re thinking we’ll have some themed meal/snack planning – based on places we have or haven’t been, or maybe cookery writers or recipe books.  I know I tend to go to tried-and-tested dishes, but I’d like to extend and expand my repertoire (especially on the vegetarian side)
  • Walking, and lots of it, is a must not a nice-to-do.  I had a regular leg check last month, which confirmed my feeling that my leg had become more enlarged since it was last measured.  Not too bad below the knee, not too good above.  Since then I’ve prioritised my daily walk, and (until I became ill) succeeded in averaging at least 10,000 steps a day.  It’s a health thing that both of us needs.  Actually of course, that all of us need
  • My allotment has been a godsend, but I’ve sorely neglected it over the past couple of months.  I’m not sure why, but that has to stop.  I need the allotment for the calm and respite it provides, but also for the fresh food I produce there.  I don’t want to sound too gloomy, but the combination of coronavirus and Brexit isn’t going to be a happy one: another avoidable disaster swiftly approaching
  • Box sets.  We’re still working our way through ER, and still enjoying it.  But sooner or later we’ll come to the end.  Something will take its place (The West Wing looks like a contender – for consolation or rejoicing after 3 November?)  
  • Over the past two Christmas/New Year periods we’ve enjoyed a Director’s Film Season.  We’ll do the same again this year – our pick is Mike Leigh
  • Reading.  Hilary Mantel’s trilogy has featured for both of us

So there are plenty of signposts for us to follow through on, and I’ll be following up on all of these over the next few weeks.  In the meantime, if you’ve other ideas that worked for you I’d love to hear them.  We’re going to need to share more than ever.


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Dipping my toe in – again

Well hello!

I didn’t mean to be away for so long. We went away on a (brief but lovely) holiday by the sea, and at the end of it I became ill. I don’t know what with – not covid symptoms, and I had a negative test – but whatever it is has hung around and laid me low.

I feel like I’m on the mend now, though this recovery seems very up and down, and I’m learning I can’t push things too fast. But I’m still experiencing lots of fatigue, and having to take things very, very gently. If I don’t then the next day I’m back down again.

[I’m also wondering whether or not I can trust the negative test result – self administered, when I was feeling very unwell. I was feeling far too nauseous to be able to follow the instructions and keep the swab on my tonsils for 10 seconds].

And now, just as I’ve come back to write again, I find that WordPress have changed everything, so I’m going to have to figure out how to do stuff all over again. Damn!

Hopefully I’ll be back with you soon. In the meantime, I hope you’re well and coping with all that life has to throw these days.

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In the time of the virus: happy new year

As you can tell from the very fact that I’m writing this now, I’m by no means a religious observant Jew.  Nonetheless, I appreciate the rhythms and patterns of the year, and endeavour to mark them in some way or another.  September has always felt to me to be a good time to begin a new year, to reflect on the past year, and (between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) to make amends for harms done (deliberately or inadvertently).  The 10 Days of Awe.

What a year this has been.  Bad things and good things.  More of the bad than the good, for some much much more than for others.

This time last year we didn’t yet know there would be an election in December, and that we would be landed with a PM and government least able to deal well and effectively with all that the year has given us.  We certainly didn’t know that we would be facing a pandemic by March.   We didn’t know that people (and organisations) close to us would be dealing with existential challenges.

In our small world, we didn’t yet know that youngest son and his family would be moving  shortly to be farmers (though we knew it was coming).  We didn’t know that seeing family and friends would become something rare and treasured.

I will be spending some time through the next 9 days reflecting on the year past and the year to come.  I’ll share some and some not.

In the meantime, I’ll wish you a happy and peaceful New Year.  And if you plan to fast on Yom Kippur (as I may), I wish you well over the fast.

I’ll leave you with a bowl of Chilean Guava Berries from my front garden.  They’re clearly not the traditional apples and honey, but they are sweet and round and fragrant.  They’re a bit of a surprise, like much of this year has been really.  But unlike much about this year, in a good way.

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In the time of the virus: because really, it still is (front gardens)

So in that spirit, I’m sharing some of the things I’ve been finding uplifting.  Because I suspect that, like me, you’re feeling in need of some uplifting right now.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed more than ever in these strange times is the front gardens I see on my daily walks.  I’m deliberately noticing them these days, instead of just spotting them if they happen to be outstanding in some way or another.  By which I mean: when I go out for my walk, especially if it’s a really local one, I make a point of looking at all the front gardens, and enjoying those I find beautiful, or inspiring, or quirky, or whatever.

It inspires me to see what people can achieve when they want to and have the time and inclination to make an effort.  Some of the loveliest have also been the smallest.  Some have been where there is actually no garden at all, just pavement.

I’ve had some lovely chance conversations with gardeners in their front gardens as I passed by (including the one where I left with a baby foxglove plant, and promised to return with one of my salvia cuttings).  Encounters such as these help build community and a sense of shared experience.

I truly believe that gardeners will make a garden wherever they find themselves, and these months have not disabused me of the notion.

Back in 2015 I wrote a post vowing to make the effort to improve my own then-embarrassing front garden.  If you go back to that post, you’ll see just how different it is now.   I’m glad I put in the effort to transform it.  There’s still more to do.  But then, I don’t think I’ve yet met the gardener who says it’s all done now and no more improvement is possible.

For next year there will be a crab apple tree, and possibly a small bay tree.  There will be lots of tulips, and other plants to fill the gaps.

In the meantime, it gives me pleasure to see people walk past and stop to admire something, and ask about the plants.  And now I’m off to pick some of the Chilean Guava fruits from the plants I put in several years ago.  Which are neither Chilean, nor guavas.  But they are delicious, and quite unusual.

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In the time of the virus: where did I go?

I’m so sorry, I seem to have gone missing for a very long time!  Not sure why, no big reason but a succession of small reasons.

In the meantime I’ve written all manner of posts – in my head.  None have actually reached the keyboard.  So – time I think to move on from there and take off where I am now.

Today I’m just popping my head around to say hello, and I’ll be back properly in the next couple of days.  I hope you’re well, and will be back with me when I’m back with you.

Toodle pip!


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In the time of the virus: plums are not the only fruit

The world may be going to hell in a handcart, but the local fruit harvest this year looks phenomenal.

On my small patch I have a bumper crop of ripe figs – enough for me to be able to pick 3 or 4 every day, and as I’m the only one here who likes them, plenty for me.   I confess they rarely get as far as the kitchen.  The temptation to eat them straight from the tree is too great.  My apple trees are not yet at the ‘bearing lots of fruit’ stage, they’re just babies still.  But even so, several of the trees have some beautiful fruit that will ripen over the next few weeks.  There are raspberries galore, and the more you pick the more you get with these beauties.  The rhubarb, which I’ve been pulling since early March, keeps on coming too.

Yesterday we visited youngest son and family at the farm where they live, and we took granddaughter out to a nearby cafe-in-an-orchard.  There are rows and rows of plums and apples, including greengages and damsons, which you rarely see these days because they’re difficult to grow as a commercial crop.  These are PYO, and I did.  Granddaughter ‘helped’ me pick several kilos of greengages and some plums, which I’ll use to make jam and bottled fruit for the winter.  I say ‘helped’: her role was mainly as taste tester.  She knows how to enjoy a greengage does that little one, and she reminded me several times not to forget to take out the stone from the middle.  Which was helpful.

And as we enter the season of gluts, I read that for the first time ever our local allotment association and Transition Bath have been working with the local council to collect surplus produce from our site to share them with local organisations providing food and meals for people who struggle to afford fresh food.  How sensible is that!  And about time too.  I hate to see plot holders putting perfectly good produce onto their compost heaps because they can’t make use of it.

(And on a side note, why do we talk about ‘food poverty’ as if somehow it is something different?  Surely it is just one aspect of poverty – the absence of enough income to be able to afford to buy the necessities of life.  Which I take to be, at the very least, nourishment, shelter, fuel, clothing, and the normal trappings of local life).


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In the time of the virus: where did the time go?

I’m not sure where the time went, I seem to have been away for a bit.  Sorry about that.  Mostly busy being busy; in between times busy feeling exhausted.

Thank you for the good wishes for my operation, which I really appreciated.  It went amazingly well, and my eyes healed up impressively quickly.  I can now see so much better.  The boil has also turned a corner and healed, though it looks as though there may still be some residual infection despite two rounds of antibiotics.  I’m watching it carefully, and may need to go back to the doctor to have it looked at again.

So.  All fine now, which is good, because we’re in a busy busy time again.  Youngest son at last has some occasional pieces of work in prospect, and we’re pleased to have been asked to help out with some childcare from time to time.  Plus oldest son and d-o-l are on holiday glamping not too far away and we’re going to visit them for a couple of days.  All the ‘normal’ elements of life as we knew it are gradually returning – Bath City Farm is cautiously and carefully reopening, and our work as trustees is ramping up as we return to the various projects we were working on before ‘all this’; I’m focussing on finishing off lots of almost-finished craft projects ready to have a stall at the Farm one day later this week; and we’re even thinking, ever so cautiously, about having a few days away some time.

We’ve arranged to have some new flooring in our two main rooms downstairs (wooden flooring to replace the carpet which has been badly damaged by moths – an increasingly common problem here in Bath and many other places in the UK).  We’re pleased to be in a position to support a local family business to do this, and not so pleased to have to move all the furniture out of the way.

On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to rethink what goes where, and whether we want to keep everything we currently have.  I’ve been going around the house with a beady eye wondering what we no longer need/want as we transition into this next phase of our lives, and I’ve found a few things I feel we can and should move on.

I’m thinking it would be a great idea to eye up one room at a time, and blitz it with a thorough clean and sort out, including all the various little jobs that usually get overlooked.  I’ll have to see whether or not Malcolm is willing to play that game with me.

My tardiness in writing here means that Sunday came and went without me telling you about our (virtual) coffee trip.  So, it may be Tuesday, but here goes.

This week it was Berlin.  Oldest son visited there several times on school exchanges and loved it.  He inspired us to go.  Malcolm ran a marathon there years ago.  Then at a particularly difficult time in our lives when we felt much in need of some quality family time, we travelled there with both sons and their partners, and we all fell in love with the city.  Of course Berlin has a particular resonance for people of our vintage.  As children of the 50s, we have strong memories first of the divided city and the Cold War, and then later of the exhilaration of the wall coming down in 1989.  One of oldest son’s exchange partners was from what was East Berlin and a very thoughtful young man, and was pleased to be able to tell us about his family’s experiences of the Cold War, living in the East (his parents were very involved in their church and the demonstrations that eventually led to the wall coming down).

We’ve visited on our own since then, and each time have seen and experienced different aspects of the city.  Each time we’ve fallen in love anew, and it’s another place on our list to return to some day.  Until then, we’ll continue to enjoy our virtual visits.


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In the time of the virus: back to life, back to reality

Monday was a success.  I had the operation and was home by lunchtime.  True, I spent most of the rest of the day in a dark room listening to podcasts, but such a relief.  The staff at the hospital were, without exception, very kind and thoughtful and of course skilled.  The covid precautions were impressive, and the whole thing felt very safe.  I can see the improvement in my field of vision.

I’m on my second course of antibiotics for the boil, which at long last seems to be on its way out.  Around my eyes looks red and bruised, but nowhere near as bad as I was expecting.  It was all done from the inside of my eyelids, so there’s not even any external scar or stitches.  For the first few days my eyes felt sore in the afternoons and I needed to rest them, but otherwise no ill effects at all.  Just amazing.

We celebrated the end of our period of self-isolation by visiting one of our favourite gardens (Heale Garden, near Wilton), where the cafe and all-important toilets are also now open.  The visit felt almost ‘normal’ again.  The garden was as lovely as always.  One of the delights is a massive mulberry tree.  I lay on the grass underneath it for a while meditating.  I walked barefoot on the grass.  I watched the butterflies and bees.  I noted plant and colour combinations I liked.

On Thursday I went to town to buy some things I was running out of, and met a friend for coffee.  Unlike the last time we met, we were able to sit at a table outside the cafe, and I noticed they now also have some indoor tables available.  They’re still not using real cups, nor are they accepting refill cups.  Small steps, as the man said.  But progress nonetheless.

My friend has discovered all sorts of things about my dad’s family history.  I’m thrilled beyond words to know so much more.  As dad died when I was only 11 and shortly afterwards mum fell out with most of my paternal family, I never had the chance to find out anything directly from them and she seemed not to know much about them.  I’ll need some time to mull over what she found out.  I’m so very grateful to her.

It was noticeable even before they became compulsory just how many more people were wearing face coverings in shops and around town.   People were also being careful about spacing, and some of the smaller shops are limiting the number of people allowed in at a time.  I was pleased and relieved to see this.

Yesterday we visited youngest son and family again.  We were able to take granddaughter out, and we sat outside in an orchard cafe with our coffees.  She had fallen asleep in the car, I lifted her out she slept and snuggled on my lap for another half hour.   Tomorrow they’re coming to stay with us again for a couple of nights.  The very simple joys of life.

I hope you have some simple joys to keep you afloat, and that I’ll see you again soon.  Now with new improved opening eyelids xx



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In the time of the virus: a day of reckoning, and a (virtual) coffee trip

Sorry, this is a rather long post.  Console yourself with the thought that I may not post again for a few days.

Sunday.  Tomorrow I’m due to have the overdue eye surgery.  Usually I’m someone who hopes for the best and plans for the worst.  Today I’m planning for the best and expecting the worst: given the inflamed state of the boil I very much doubt that the surgery will go ahead, though I will be delighted if it does.  It’s a shame for all sorts of reasons, I feel very well otherwise, and it’s been clear to me for a while that the drooping eyelids are getting worse and reducing my eyesight, especially when I’m tired.  I have parallel sets of plans for the week ahead: one for if I have surgery, the other for if I don’t.

Plan A

Just in case I’m out of action for a few days, I had a long list of jobs to get through today.  Mostly on the allotment – watering, crop picking, seed sowing, cleaning the hen house.  I took cutting the grass off the list as it was too wet today but no matter as it’s been cut fairly recently.

As for the rest of the week, much will depend on how badly bruised my eyes are.  I can’t honestly remember much about it last time other than being surprised at how quickly I recovered from it.  Based on that, I’m hoping that the plan to visit youngest son and family for the day towards the end of the week will go ahead.  I also expect to be able to meet a friend for coffee and help her finish off filling in an official form.  There’s the ever-present knitting and reading, and more than enough interesting podcasts to catch up with if rest is needed.

Plan B

Assuming the surgery is postponed for the foreseeable future, I’m looking forward to doing some of the things I’ve really missed over the past fortnight.  Top of the list of course is visiting youngest son and family (oh that little girl).

Then there’s the occasional coffee out – one of our favourite stops now has tables again (outside only, distanced).  And (to my surprise) shopping: a few small items of food; and some visits to charity shops.  I’ve never seen myself as much of a shopper, but it seems I really miss aspects of it.

I also want to make some more face coverings, either to sell or else to give away.  I’m in contact with our local food bank to see if they would welcome any donations for their users, many of whom I guess may struggle to be able to provide them for themselves.

Coffee trip

Some years ago we spent a holiday in a town just north of Verona.  Chatting to the owner of the house where we were staying, he mentioned that they often went to the Dolomites in the summer to escape the heat.  One thing led to another, and we decided to stop off there for a couple of nights on our way home.  We asked for a recommendation for where to go.  The place he suggested had no vacancies, so we tried out luck in the nearby town of Ortisei (St Ulrich).  We had two nights and one full day there, and fell in love with the place.  Since then we’ve been back many times, and savoured favourite walks and favourite foods.

Last summer we were able to return with our children, their partners and granddaughter for a wonderful week together which was our long-planned but postponed family celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary.

Today we were delighted to return for morning coffee, though sadly without the accompanying treats (think strips of thick pancake served with seasonal fruit conserve (kaiserschmarm); variations of apple strudel, with or without vanilla sauce, homemade yoghurt, or fresh cream).  No matter, the treats will follow later this week, and the coffee and photos were just wonderful.  So evocative of a beautiful, very special, place.

A bit of background information.  This part of Italy was Austrian until the settlement following WW1.  It remains not just dual language, but actually trilingual: the local language Ladin is the first language of many; and most also speak both Italian and German fluently.  The family we stayed with for many years were primarily German speaking.  Many people have more than one job: agriculture here is a small-scale affair retaining many ancient traditions (small-scale dairy farming practicing transhumance; the importance of hay crops, often still cut and gathered by hand), and can only provide a living when supplemented by other occupations – tourism winter and summer large amongst them.  The farm where we stayed last year provides both bed and breakfast, and self-catering.  The farmer is also part of the local fire brigade, and while we were there he was part of the team that fought a massive barn fire just down the valley).

Another place we hope one day to be able to return.

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In the time of the virus: more adventures online, and a major fundraising push

Saturday again, but sadly no trip to the Farmers’ Market this week again (but something to look forward to doing again next week).

This morning we had our first-ever online AGM for the Farm.  Normally our AGMs are a great opportunity to get together on the site and conduct the formal business all charities and companies need to conduct before going on to spend some more convivial time together.  They’re attended by a healthy mix of trustees, employees, volunteers, and friends of the farm.  The AGM is a time when we look back over the past year and look forward to the year ahead.

In that, today was no different.  It was well attended, and it was especially pleasing to have several of our regular volunteers present.  Our romp through 2019 was a timely reminder of the progress and achievements we made last year, including achieving much of the funding for our new cafe.

It was also helpful to review the financial challenges we faced in 2019, which fortunately turned out to be a much better year than we feared at the start of it. Which has stood us in good stead this year, which would undoubtedly have been a disaster if the financial projections we made at the start of 2019 had been played out.  I take considerable pleasure in that, because I was still treasurer at the time.  Identifying steps we needed to take, ensuring we put them into practice, and tracking our progress was well within my financial abilities – something I certainly couldn’t say about this year’s unexpected challenges.  I am beyond grateful that someone who really knows what he’s doing financially took over the treasurer role in January.  It’s important to know your own strengths and weaknesses, and at times like this you really appreciate what someone with sound professional experience can bring to the party.

Of course we’re having to rethink and reevaluate everything we do in the light of the changed and changing situation.  Like everyone else, we have no idea how this crisis will play out through the weeks and months and years ahead.  But what we can say with confidence is that levels of need in the communities where the farm will grow not shrink, and that we want to be part of their recovery.

We have a major fundraising drive to help us move beyond our 25th birthday this coming October and survive until our 26th birthday and beyond.  Sadly this is not money for nice extras, this is money to help us survive.  We need to do this to replace all the lost income we would normally generate ourselves – from room lettings, courses, sales, team building days, on-site donations from visitors etc.

A couple of years ago we could see that it was becoming harder and harder to secure grant funding, and we resolved to try to increase our financial resilience by increasing the amount of income we generate ourselves and decrease our reliance on grant funding.  Ironically, in the current crisis we have found funders to be sympathetic and supportive, whereas our self-generated income simply disappeared without any hope of replacing it.

We have set ourselves the target of raising at least £50,000 by October.  Already we are almost at £38,000, with a combination of many small donations and a few larger ones.  A local firm (Roper Rhodes Ltd) that has long been supportive of us has pledged to match fund donations up to £20,000.  So far they’ve given us around £11,500, so the next £8,500 or so of donations will be worth double to us.  And on my calculations, that means we just need to raise another £9,500 or so to hit our target.  Still very challenging, but we’ve got this far, and somehow or another we’ll make sure we get the rest.  Those £5 and £10 and £20 donations slowly slowly add up (especially with the match funding).

You can see what we’re up to here.  If you enjoy my blog and would like to do something to help (and can afford to), I (and we) would be immensely grateful.

And so to bed.  I hope you sleep well, and that I’ll see you tomorrow.  When we will be off on another of our (virtual) Sunday morning coffee trips – tomorrow we’re revisiting the Dolomites in northern Italy



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