I’m sure we would all agree that the best YouTube videos are of Lego people and even on the big screen, wouldn’t you rather watch a blockbuster Lego Movie than one with real people in? But many people would be surprised to learn that Legoland is where some of the greatest writers get their inspiration.
My family are all Lego mad; you never grow out of Lego, you just spend more and more money on it, but it was only this year, after many hints that I got some Lego. You do not need to take the popular Bachelor of Arts in Lego Literature and Creative Danish at the University of Legolandto enrich your writing with inspiring plot lines and character development.
One of my lockdown birthday presents from Team H was a firefighter’s set, aged 4 plus. I just about managed to meet the challenge of building it on Facetime. There is a fire engine, a firefighter, a BBQ on fire and a Lego boy with a complex character – you can turn his head to have a scared face or a relieved face. How did the fire start? What happened next? Fearless Frank the Firefighter and Frightened Freddy became a short story. Then Team AK sent me a boat set, age 7 plus, a real challenge. A boat, two scuba divers, a sword fish and a treasure chest. I built a landing stage and it wasn’t long before the hapless Frightened Freddy was standing precariously on the edge of the water… Frightened Freddy Falls In became the sequel…
I had also ordered myself a lockdown present of a big yellow box of bricks and bits – ages 0-99 so it should last me a while.
If you have had writers’ block during the pandemic, you need the world’s most famous plastic blocks.
Are you inspired by Lego or has Lego taken over your house?
Susan doubted that the Crafton Castle Crafters were ready for the online world, a year into the pandemic and they were only just having their first Zoom meeting. Jenny had been urging them on and as she was home schooling her six children they all agreed she was best qualified to be host.
The Crafton Castle Crafters didn’t actually meet at the castle, but at the First Crafton Scouts’ hut. They did pay a hefty contribution to be ‘Friends of Crafton Castle’and on their frequent visits, pre-Covid, they gained inspiration from the famous tapestries, carved wood panelling and beautiful gardens. Susan had been very disappointed that their various gifts of samplers, marquetry and pottery had not featured in the castle’s recent on line exhibition ‘Now and Then’. She was looking forward to hearing what the other members thought.
Susan scrolled down on her ipad to find the email with the link and soon was faced with the message Your host will let you in shortly. 7pm they were meant to start, the minutes ticked by, 7.05, 7.09… Suddenly the screen was filled with the faces of lots of grumpy old people looking confused. Then Jenny appeared in a corner of the screen.
‘Sorry everyone, bedtime stories and I had to reassure Guinevere that the Covid monster could not get in their bedroom. Now have we got everyone? Giles has managed to co opt a couple of his bored sixth formers, Josie chicken wire sculptures and Ben junk statues. Hello Josie and Ben…’
Susan peered closer at the tiny views of living rooms, offices and kitchens; not how she would have imagined Martin’s place. She didn’t recognise Graham at first with that beard and who on earth was Bryony? She was sitting on a floral sofa looking very demure and how had she managed to get her hair done so nicely during lock down, or was it a wig?
Jenny was still talking. ‘…and I’m still trying to negotiate a socially distanced cream tea in the castle gardens. Now who wants to start? I’ve finished another three dozen masks from my fabric scraps and made the curtains for the girls’ bedroom with matching duvet covers. George, we can’t hear what you are saying, you’re still on mute. Phyllis, tell us what you have been up to.’
‘Oh, um yes, can you hear me…’
‘Yes, loud and clear.’
‘I have nearly finished that bookmark knitted with sewing needles and sewing cotton… oh dear, that’s my phone ringing…’
Susan tried to keep a straight face as Phyllis heaved her bulk out of the chair. They all watched as she waddled the two steps to grab the telephone. Her voice was picked up perfectly and broadcast into all their homes.
‘Phyllis, put yourself on mute.’
‘Oh hello dear, oh no, how many bits did they have to take out? Has he got one of those bags? No it’s awful you can’t go and see him.’
‘Phyllis, you have to put yourself on mute, the rest of us can’t hear ourselves.’
‘Well I must go, we’re having a Zoom meeting. You didn’t know I was so tech savvy did you. The crafters, hilarious, they have all aged about ten years in lock down, except for Brian.’
Susan noticed a variety of expressions on the faces of the others as they tried to pretend they weren’t listening. Josie and Ben had broad grins. Phyllis was now laughing and struggling to get out her next words.
‘Yes… six foot four Woodwork Brian has become Bryony during lockdown, well you can tell, but he’s a lot more glamorous than most of our ladies. Jenny took him clothes shopping in between lockdowns.’
Susan peered closer at the top left hand square containing ‘Bryony’ and wondered how Phyllis knew all this gossip. Then she glanced down at Josie and Ben; they were obviously enjoying the meeting far more than they might have expected.
‘Byebye dear, yes and you… ‘
Phyllis put the phone down.
‘Sorry about that everyone.’
‘Well I’m sure we shall gradually get used to Zoom’said Jenny. ‘I think Phyllis has rather pre-empted the announcement Bryony wanted me to make on hi… her behalf.
Susan felt the gloom of the past few months lift, what a fun evening, she couldn’t resist speaking out.
‘Well, we’re really members of the BLTGCHQ Community now.’
Lonely in Lockdown? No need to be, the new Minister for Fun, when interviewed today, said there was no need for people to be lonely in Lockdown just because they are not allowed to see real people, they can make new friends. You can make new friends out of anything and on the government website you can see some suggestions – here is a sneak preview.
The little girl stood on tiptoe and peered over the stout cliff top fence at the sparkling blue sea.
‘I wish I could go in the sea Mummy.’
‘It’s much too cold.’
‘But there are people swimming in the sea.’
‘Beach Bubble people are used to it, you wouldn’t like the horrible salty water going in your mouth, Sally, the swimming pool is much better for swimming.’
The sun shone in Sally’s eyes, taking her to a dreamland. The sun warmed her face. She loved being up on the cliff top, but now she was tall enough to see over the fence she could not stop asking questions.
‘I wish I could go on the beach, what is sand like, Mummy?’
‘Horrible, you can’t walk on it properly, the wind blows it in your mouth.’
‘Well the Beach Bubble people look like they are having fun playing in the sand.’
‘That’s because they have nowhere else to play. You wouldn’t like to live down there, especially in winter.’
‘Why don’t we live down there?’
‘Because we’re the Cliff Clan, we live up here and they live down there.’
‘Why can’t we visit them?’
Sally’s mother sighed. ‘How many times have I explained darling, we have to keep separate; them, us, the Forest Folk, T’othersiders, Town Team, City Crowd… You sing that song at school, you should know by now, but there are more bubbles than even I can remember. Besides, we don’t need to visit them, we can meet them all on Zoomtime.’
‘Tell me what it was like when you were six.’
Sally’s mother smiled at her daughter, the child never tired of her stories.
‘Well we couldn’t go to school, no one could come to our house and when we went outside we had to wear a great big hot suit and a very heavy helmet. But we hardly went outside because there was nowhere to go; the shops had all closed down before I was born.’
‘How did you get your food?’
‘Once a week a helicopter flew over our road and dropped a great big crate on a parachute. My Daddy was very important as he was in charge of unpacking the crate and making sure each house got their box of rations. Out the door he would go in his suit with his air tank and mask and yellow gloves, then deliver each box to the doorsteps. So you see how lucky you are.’
‘And I only have to have an injection once a year?’
‘Yes, we had to have a great big needle in our bottom every four months, when the yellow van came round with the scary robodocs to give us our medicheck.’
Sally squealed in horrified delight.
‘How come we have real people doctors, what happened to the robodocs?’
‘I’ll tell you about that when you are older. Now do you know what Daddy and I have planned for your sixth birthday treat tomorrow? We’re all going on the train.’
‘The train, the real goods train with the special carriage on the back?’
‘Yes, we have lucky tickets to ride in the observation saloon.’
‘Where are we going to go?’
‘Wait and see.’
The next morning Sally tripped happily ahead of her parents as they walked to Cliffton Station. She had never been inside the old building, let alone stood on the platform. From the footbridge they often watched the long solar powered train glide silently into the station to deliver supplies for the Cliffton shops.
Standing on the platform, the train looked much bigger and they had to help Sally up the steps into the carriage. They said hello to the other passengers, who all knew it was Sally’s birthday, everyone knew each other in Cliffton and they were happy to let Sally’s family have the best seat facing the viewing window at the end of the carriage. They glided smoothly out of the station looking backwards down the long snaking line. The platform passed by, they went under the bridge, houses disappeared into the distance, then suddenly it went dark. Sally gripped her parents’ hands.
‘It’s okay,’ said Daddy ‘we’re just going through the tunnel, leaving Cliffton and going into the forest.’
Sally stared as if her eyes would pop out, so many trees and then an open field, people were waving at the train, others were riding horses. The little girl was excited to be going somewhere new at last. The train started to slow down and a platform slid alongside as they stopped. A sign said Forest Halt.
‘Are we getting out here?’
‘No, no, they’re just dropping off supplies for the Forest Folk.’
The train started again and Daddy pointed left at a huge stretch of flat water with colourful boats floating idly.
‘Lakeland, where your Aunty Kate lives.’
Soon the train stopped again at a lovely little building covered in flowers.
‘Can we get out here and visit Aunty Kate?’
‘No darling, but you can tell her on Zoomtime we have seen her station, she’s the station master and plants all these lovely tubs and baskets of flowers.’
All too soon the train gathered speed, the lake was left behind and they went through another tunnel. The scenery began to look familiar; Sally thought she glimpsed a flash of blue sea in the distance, then more and more houses appeared and very soon platforms slid alongside them. Sally felt a catch in her throat and her eyes welled up; even before she saw the sign she realised where they were.
‘Here we are ‘ said Daddy in a jolly voice ‘home again.’
Sally looked up at the yellow and blue sign ‘Welcome to Cliffton-on-Sea’.
Ellie sipped her tea as she watched breakfast television. Women doing amazing things, how come she hadn’t thought of these ideas in this year of living strangely? Swimming in the Thames every day, wild swimming… cold water was the latest way to keep healthy. If everyone went in the river every day the whole country would be healthy, probably immune to Covid as well. Ellie tried to imagine herself going down to the local river early every morning; alone, bit risky but who on earth would want to join her. Where would she get in, not that swampy reed bed by the bridge, the slipway at the rowing club…
Perhaps it was better to stay in a boat like that English yachtswoman; Vendee Globe non-stop round the world. Ellie didn’t even know the race was on, let alone who was in it, but Pip Hare was and here she was back again and talking to Breakfast Television. She hadn’t actually won, but it was still pretty good. She looked about Ellie’s age and totally normal. A good way to avoid lockdown, or rather it would be like lockdown only with the scenery changing, mainly sea, but Ellie could cope by herself, she had learned that much since Dave had announced his departure this time last year. Turned out to be the best thing that could have happened. In lockdown with Dave, Dave working from home, 24 hours of Dave… what a nightmare. If Ellie could cope by herself in this little flat, she could cope by herself in a state of the art yacht. She had only been on the ferry to the Isle of Wight, but she loved the sea, looking at it, swimming in the summer. The open seas, independence, learning about yourself; she had looked into her inner self, but hadn’t found anything yet; well that on line course ‘Unlocking the True You’ had been rubbish anyway. She should probably start by crossing the Atlantic; it couldn’t be too hard to learn how to sail, it was all satnav and computers on board and everything was made of tungsten. Ellie would have to give up her job… she would love to give up her job. Working from home she had realised that it wasn’t just the people at work she didn’t like, she hated the job as well. Money could be a problem, but she could get some charities to sponsor her…
Her reverie was interrupted by her phone buzzing, message from Ruth.
Do you mind if we give it a miss this morning, it’s bloody freezing out there, I had to melt the bird bath and that east wind will be unbearable on the prom, you’d best stay in.
Ruth was chickening out of their daily walk, their daily exercise with one person from another household? The daily exercise and gossip was all that was keeping Ellie sane. It was alright for Ruth with her garden and birdie friends. Ellie would have to go out all by herself. Well a bit of a breeze wouldn’t put her off, she could do it. If she wasn’t meeting Ruth at their usual spot she would go on a different circuit.
Half an hour later Ellie realised her first mistake, she should have walked the other way round, heading east along the promenade the wind took her breath away, the sand stung her cheeks, her eyes were watering, her scarf came unwrapped, her hood would not stay up. The next zig zag path up the cliff looked so far away, who would even notice if she didn’t make it home. Despite hardly being able to see, she could not fail to notice a familiar bright pink hat in the distance. The pink hat was heading towards her, it could only be Ruth and she was walking with someone else. It was galling that they had chosen the right direction to walk, setting a fast pace with the wind behind them. Did Ruth assume Ellie would have stayed at home or on their regular circuit? Ellie was Ruth’s one person from another household, so what was Ruth doing walking with someone else?
Have you had the jab yet – whoops sorry, those who have a phobia about needles do not like to hear that word and certainly do not like seeing the constant images on the news of smiling pensioners being vaccinated against Covid. But this is the biggest programme of vaccination in The World ever, so there is plenty to talk about; have you had it, why hasn’t my ninety year old aunt had it yet, which one did you have, should I have it…
I had the phone call on Friday to turn up at 4.30pm on Sunday for AstraZeneca; all weekend the news was about the effectiveness of AstraZenica, would it resist the South African variant etc. Who do you trust? There is a sizeable group of people, in every country, who do not trust any Covid vaccination, ranging from those who have a genuine medical reason and have been told not to have it, those worrying if animal products or alcohol are used to make it, through to CIA involvement. I don’t know if those with a needle phobia will also be avoiding vaccination.
This is another issue to divide people, as if we hadn’t enough already. It’s not compulsory in the United Kingdom, but the big picture is to get as many people as quickly as possible vaccinated for any chance of life returning to normal and to save as many lives as possible. Anthony Fauci is one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases and now chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, who no doubt listens to him more carefully than his predecessor. I heard him on the radio saying if people ask which vaccine they should have he tells them to have whatever is offered as soon as possible, because we can get vaccinated again. Other experts say similar things; my lay reading of all this information flooding into our brains is This is just the Start. Most of us have absolutely no idea what goes on in laboratories, except it involves microscopes and tiny glass droppers. Viruses mutate and in the same way that different flu vaccines are offered each winter, Covid vaccination could need to be updated and offered every year.
Meanwhile back in Southbourne-on-Sea, the fact I was called so soon, when I am not vulnerable, is nothing to do with my age, but the rattling rate at which the NHS are getting the vaccines done! Procuring vaccines in the first place involved a huge operation and cooperation between government and private concerns. This was followed by a great deal of organisation and commandeering of buildings from leisure centres to fire stations. Regular NHS staff have been joined by retired doctors and nurses and army medics, plus an army of volunteers to herd people safely.
But I did not have to go anywhere adventurous or blogworthy, our local GP surgery was doing jabs with seven rooms open. We all lined up safely spaced and after a couple of minutes outside, it was only ten minutes from going in the front door to going out the back door. As there was a bitter easterly wind, the ten minutes included divesting several layers of clothes and scarves to have an arm ready and putting it all back on again. We filed to desks to get a sticky label with name, date of birth and a mystery number, which was stuck to our information sheet. The advantage of having the NHS is we’re all on the computer; all that has to be done is print out millions upon millions of sticky labels… When I arrived at the needle point there was a doctor to jab and a person tapping into the computer. We get a tiny card to bring back for the second jab, no date, but in 10 to 12 weeks. Of course I am bound to forget where I put the card, so remind me it’s in the top drawer left hand side…
Films, television and the media are to come under strict scrutiny and indecent images are to be banned. People dealing with lockdowns, social distancing and Pandemic Pandemonium ae finding it very stressful when they turn their television on for escapism and relaxation only to be confronted with scenes of people shaking hands, hugging and even kissing. Seeing a crowd scene is liable to cause a total breakdown.
Here is your handy guide to what pictures you must NOT put on Facebook, Instagram or blogs.
Considering you were not to let him out of your sight, let us clarify how long you think he has been missing.
I’m not exactly sure.
And are you sure he is definitely missing, hasn’t just wandered into the garden or gone after the cat?
I… we’ve checked everywhere, not in the flat or the offices.
Not popped next door?
No they have not seen him, we have double checked everywhere.
What about the dog?
He’s not missing, he’s gone with her and the baby to her mother’s.
I’m not worried about that mongrel; so we know he hasn’t gone out with the dog… Bicycle still there?
Where he keeps it locked up of course, I know it’s your first day on the job, but you did do the induction and familiarisation, Sergeant?
Of course Sir and now you come to mention it, his bike has gone …and his rucksack and the keys to the cabinet…
WHAT! We now have only thirty minutes till the press briefing and we don’t want to call a major security alert.
I don’t think the press conference is our main worry Sir, they can delay it, won’t be the first time, or get that expert chap or one of the ministers? Not really our problem is it Sir, we’re just pro..
Precisely… remind me why you wanted to be a protection officer?
I wanted to do Royal protection duties, but they wouldn’t have me.
This is a most important press briefing, have you seen how many are outside? All we can do now is make sure this doesn’t get out, so before I suspend you from your duties as second in command of the Prime Minister’s protection team, could you contrive to leak some kind of cover up story to Laura Kuenssberg and the BBC.
No, we’ve already done that story, think of something else credible that she wont see through…
In French the Questions will be Quand, Quoi, pourQuoi…
Most of the world is asking when the pandemic will end and a further multitude of questions about variants and mutations, with no straightforward answers. Ironically, while England is still deciding whether to quarantine people in hotels, Perth, Western Australia detected its first case of coronavirus in almost 10 months; a quarantine hotel security guard. Nearly two million residents were placed into a five day lockdown on Sunday.
One thing most of us in lockdown don’t have to worry about is summer bushfires. Thousands were told yesterday and today to ignore the Covid stay-home order and evacuate their homes, as a bushfire in the hills on Perth’s outskirts gained pace. But the most chilling warning is It’s now too late to leave, you must stay in your home. The blaze, which is the largest the Western Australian city has seen in years, has already burnt through more than 9,000 hectares, destroying at least 71 homes.
Perth spotted one little weak spot in its robust Covid protection status, while many of us see great gaping holes in our countries’ defences. Hindsight is a great thing, but I think medical experts and even ordinary folk had enough foresight to see more should have been done earlier. There are people who have isolated completely for nearly a year, but most of us, every time government advice eased off, have had visitors or been on a little outing; some people have been jetting all round the world.
If you listen to the news too often you will drown in numbers and go round in circles. But one positive thing is the vaccination programme in the United Kingdom, which is rattling along at a great pace. With little new to talk about in lockdown, the gossip is who has been immunised lately.
What is everyday life like now after months of Tier systems, November Lockdown 2 and a month in Lockdown 3? Grandparents have been unable to see new grandchildren; weddings, moving home and plans to have babies have been put on hold all round the country. I have been widowed for five months now and half of me is still happy for normal life to be suspended, but the other half is missing family and friends and being able to visit and get out and about. Then there are the not so regular events that can’t take place; luckily Cyberspouse said he didn’t care what we did with his ashes, so he wouldn’t mind that they are still in the cupboard with all his camera equipment…
Going for walks is now the national occupation. I don’t drive, so I am used to walking to get places. Then there is the traditionalgoing for a walk with your partner, family, friends or by yourself to recover from a stressful week at work. Whether locally or on a day out, The Walkused to involve stopping for coffee at a beach front café, lunch in ‘The Stables’ at a National Trust property or popping into interesting shops in that nice town by the river…
In lockdown you may get a takeaway coffee when you meet up with the one person from another household for exercise if you are living on your own. I am too dyspraxic to walk, talk, avoid tripping over dogs and drink out of a hot cardboard cup at the same time. But it is good to be out seeing people. The cliff tops and promenades are full of folk and plenty of those are also taking brisk walks by themselves, though I am the only one in a bright pink coat. Most of us are managing to adhere to social distancing and I think it is safe out in the fresh air or gale force winds.
A walk around residential streets as it’s getting dark is also quite fun; lights are on but curtains and blinds are still open. I have always enjoyed looking in people’s windows, all the different decors and cosy interiors and life going on. Some people still have Christmas lights in the front garden or Christmas trees indoors, it all helps brighten up this strange winter.
When we are not out, many of us are on line. Those of you working from home or trying to teach home schooled pupils are probably heartily sick of Zoom, but it’s still a novelty for me. We could all be in space ships or in a space colony. Is this the future? At the weekly Saturday evening quiz I see people I would never meet in real life. I have started going to our camera club Zoom meetings and members can put their pictures on the screen – not me obviously, my technical skills only stretch as far as typing in the meeting code – but it is nice to chat and see both familiar and new faces. Lounging on the sofa with my ipad instead of sitting on a plastic chair in the church hall, what’s not to like? Will people want to go out on dark winter evenings when they could just stay home? Those who are not on the internet or are nervous of technology could miss out, but the disabled, those who can’t leave children and those without easy transport would all be on an equal footing in Zoomland. Will this be what we wish for?
Bringing you the news you may have missed… today we report ona statement by the Woodland Trust.
‘The Woodland Trust has been the victim of a sophisticated, high level cyber-incident and it is feared confidential information about many of our trees has been accessed. As soon as we became aware of the situation, we took immediate action to mitigate the impact on the trees and notified the relevant woods. We have been working hard alongside experts, including forensic timber specialists, to determine the nature of the attack and assess if any branches may have been compromised. We are sorry for the concern this incident will cause. It is affecting our ability to support certain services for our trees and our woods. We are working hard to resume normal services as soon as possible.’
When asked about the effect on trees a spokeshuman said
‘When human beings ‘buy’ a tree or trees to dedicate to a loved one, or as an environmentally friendly birthday present, that tree or trees remain anonymous. Supporters may visit the wood where it is planted, but they must sign an agreement not to contact the tree in any manner.’
‘So they cannot carve their initials into the bark?’
‘Certainly not, no contact at all, no photographs may be taken and no hugging.’
‘What will happen now?’
‘This is a terrible situation for which we can only apologise to all trees and their saplings. Their identities could be revealed and lead to great stress, resulting in the postponement or even cancellation of spring.’