Monday is England’s next step on the ‘roadmap’ to normality. Wherever you are you may be closing down or opening up or more likely your leaders are doing another u-turn. Normality is a long way off and though you might read messages on line from your favourite places – ‘Welcome Back’ – do they really mean it? Here are some nice places you probably won’t be able to go to…
Bridges open, but one way only, bad luck if you’re on the wrong side of the river.
Dreaming about eating out? Stick to dreamland, everywhere else is fully booked.
Must have beach app on phone to check if you are allowed to visit.
Lighthouses – good for social distancing, but only one visitor at a time.
Someone else got their first, closed until further notice.
Cruises currently limited to passengers who have been vaccinated and are good at rowing.
Wales, different rules to England, you may not be allowed to cross the border.
Cathedrals are always interesting to visit, but this may be as near as you can get. Enter only if you are fully masked and have had a negative Covid test.
Museums are popular outings, especially if it’s raining, but book in advance for your thirty minute slot, book separately in advance for a cafe fifteen minute slot.
Scottish holy island – ferry only goes once a day. Scotland has different rules to England and Wales so you may not be allowed across the border… what a shame, you would really have loved Iona…
National Trust houses always popular for an outing; they are opening up again – of course you have to book in advance and once inside will have to walk round in single file, one way only, no stopping or turning back…
Chances of getting inside here for a look round? Very unlikely…. unless you live there.
Cassie stood as near as she could to the bow of the boat without getting tangled in rope and other mysterious equipment, eager to catch a first glimpse of the island. The wind took her breath away, the sea spray stung her face, but she did not want to return to the tiny cabin that smelled of diesel fumes; she had soon discovered that looking straight ahead and gulping fresh air was the only way to avoid sea sickness.
Now as the clouds cleared to reveal blue March skies she wanted to savour every moment, every view as the skipper slowed the boat and curved round to follow the shoreline. Cassie held no illusions that the sun would always shine on this uninhabited Scottish Island, but she hoped the sunny welcome was a good omen. Beside her Sheba roused herself and pointed her nose towards land, the dog would be as glad as the rest of them to step on dry land. Her owner, Sam, had gone to the back of the boat to check on his son, who had spent most of the one hour trip hanging over the back of the boat being sick. They had laughed at her this morning, nibbling on dry toast as they tucked in to a full cooked Scottish breakfast.
As the tiny landing stage came into sight, this day felt like childhood Christmas and the start of school summer holidays rolled into one. No more work, no more lockdown, just freedom. Of course she would never have been doing this if it weren’t for Covid. Cassie had been happy moving to a new town, happy living alone in her new house, coping fine with lockdowns and working from home, but she had realised she did not want to spend the rest of her life working for MPJ, or even another year.
The decision to accept the job as wardens of an island they had never heard of was easier for Sam, he had nothing to lose, no home, no job and little prospect of either in the midst of the crippling pandemic. What he did have was his science degree and a few old contacts he had managed to resurrect. The board of the island project had seen past his lack of CV to the fortitude that had seen him survive life on the streets and pull himself out of homelessness. The challenges he had faced living rough would stand him in good stead to cope with the complete lack of twenty first century amenities.
Cassie had no family to leave behind; her home was now rented out to one of the women in MPJ’s homelessness project, who had been touchingly delighted to be entrusted with Cassie’s two geckos. Cassie hardly qualified as a nature warden, or science expert, but her work skills would enable her to do the admin and communications side of things. They would not be cut off from the rest of the world, there would be regular Zoom meetings with the scientific team heading the project. But the three of them would be alone on the island; they had been tested and retested and declared Covid free. No one had even set foot on the island for over a year so their environment would be pure and safe. They themselves were an experiment of sorts, though other small teams could be sent later on.
Lucas had his mother’s and stepfather’s consent to come with them and he would be useful, but he was free to leave if he got too bored or lonely. He had pointed out that most teenagers had been bored and lonely in lockdown this past year. His mother was glad he would be well away from all her perceived dangers of teenagers roaming in towns and assumed after a few weeks he would be wanting to return to the highland estate home he had run away from.
It was beautiful; rocky shores and steep cliffs had given way to white beaches and the calm waters of the little cove belied the fact that rough weather often made any boat trips impossible. The next delivery of supplies could not be relied on. Sam reappeared to help the skipper tie the boat up. Cassie kept well out of the way, but as she looked up at the rugged island she spotted something against the clear blue sky; one single gentle spiral of smoke from the centre of the island. A welcome domestic sight in any other setting, but how could this be on their secret uninhabited island?
Doris was agog with curiosity. Who were the two big chaps that turned up next door on Christmas morning, just when Doris happened to be looking out of her front window… and that big shaggy dog? Cassie had said a friend from work was coming for Christmas Dinner and might bring his teenage son… Her young neighbour had no need to ring or knock to check Doris was okay as she knew her cousin was staying, but she could ring and thank Cassie for the chocolates…
‘Hello Cassie, did you have a nice Christmas? Thanks so much for the chocolates, Cousin Ruth’s favourites… yes I’m so glad she came, we have had a laugh, just like when she used to come and stay in the holidays when we were children… That’s what my nephew said, makes sense; Ruth’s little flat was perfect till we went into lockdown, she was always out and about, but this year it’s been like a prison… Yes she likes the back bedroom, looking out onto the garden and hearing the blackbirds… No we’re fine thanks, Ruth’s more tech savvy than me and my nephew’s doing our on line shopping … well I do wonder what on earth he thinks we like to eat, but now we’re in Tier 4 it’s so scary and he’s forbidden us to go to the shops.
Yes we did, later in the day when they were awake in Los Angeles. Ruth’s got an eye pad or whatever you call those things you open up, I daren’t touch the thing, but she got us on Facetime, so amazing, mind you it is fifty years since they landed on the moon and we thought we would be living on the moon by now. Thank goodness we’re not, otherwise my son would probably be there instead of the USA… but the children have grown, even since I saw them in the summer.
So what did you have for your dinner… pork… oh, so he wasn’t a little lad then… did you have enough food, a vegetarian, oh dear, no of course that’s quite common these days, but a bit of a problem if you’re having roast pork. He did like the geckos then… but the geckos didn’t like them… not surprised they were nervous having two big blokes and a dog clumping round your little front room and bumping into the glass; ‘vibrating vivarium’ ahh, making fun of you poor little reptiles…
Where do they live … Scotland, oh goodness, it’s a wonder Nicola Sturgeon let him out and she probably won’t let him back in… you mean really ran away, what about his mother? …no I suppose you couldn’t really pry, but what an interesting life you lead. What are you doing today?… A bicycle ride, are you allowed, I get so muddled up when we keep changing Tiers, not that Ruth and I are likely to go out on our bikes, perhaps I should get one of those electric ones. You can go out for exercise and meet only one person, I suppose your ‘friend’ will be busy with his son…
Cassie though it ironic that she had spent last Christmas Day alone and now when everyone else was facing Christmas alone she was having two guests for Christmas lunch, three if you counted the dog. When she had invited Sam the rule had been three households for five days, but Boris had changed all that on Saturday. They were still in Tier 2 so she didn’t think they were breaking any rules; Christmas Day only and no overnight stays, but she hadn’t bargained for Sam’s long lost son turning up. Even in pre Covid days this would have been quite a drama. But there was no question of him being sent back to Scotland, would he even be allowed back in? Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister, did not want anyone entering or leaving Scotland. Sam had insisted Lucas ring his mother, so she could call off the frantic search round their huge highland estate, but more to ensure future prospects for cooperation.
Sam was thrilled with the turn of events, he felt he had a connection already with his sixteen year old son. Cassie could not see things in such a positive light, Sam was a long way from being able to provide a stable home for a teenager who still had two years of school ahead, but it was not her place to say anything. Of more immediate concern was meeting Lucas. As an only child brought up by her aunt and sent to a girls’ school she knew nothing about teenage boys. Doris next door had reassured her all she had to do was treat him like a normal human being and perhaps he would be interested in her geckos.
Now as she looked at the time and checked the oven she wondered if Sam had heard the latest news; at one minute past midnight on Boxing Day they were going to enter Tier 4. Any positivity she had felt about the pandemic or her own little life seemed to be fast fading in recent weeks, a new strain of Covid, worrying statistics…
The doorbell rang and as she opened it she was taken aback to see a broad shouldered young man taller than Sam, standing behind him.
‘Cassie, this is Lucas.’
For some reason she had imagined a smaller version of Sam, pale, quiet and nervous, an unhappy runaway; so she was further surprised when he greeted her enthusiastically in a booming baritone Scottish accent.
‘Lunch smells nice.’
‘It’s just a little pork joint,’ Cassie apologised ‘I’ve never cooked a turkey in my life.’
‘That’s okay, didn’t Sa…. my father tell you I am vegetarian?’
So what next? What in the world shall we do now? When shall we… don’t pan dem ic!
Has it ever been so hard to make decisions, for anybody, anywhere in the world? Perhaps only the odd hermit in a cave is carrying on as normal, without having to think any more than usual.
Pre Covid decisions such as what to have for dinner or what to wear often took me longer than the life changing ones such as moving across the world, choosing a job or a house, accepting or rejecting a marriage proposal… now we have even more banal decisions to make; where shall I wear my mask, when shall I take it off?
Now politicians and parents, councils and carers have to make minor and major decisions weekly, daily, hourly and I’m sure many of us wish we had Jacinda Ahern or Nicola Sturgeon telling us exactly what we should be doing next. In a pandemic it does help if you are an island or a small country, but in the modern world that is no guarantee of protection.
Did I imagine it or did I hear a police chief from somewhere say on the news ‘…and we will smash your car window and drag you out if you do not tell us where you are going.’
Countries, states, counties, cities, councils all over the world have needed and still need to make firm decisions and if your local leaders have taken the right decisions, tell us about them. But if your leaders are waffling, hesitating or spouting total nonsense, your household or business needs to make its own decisions. However, deciding what next is like trying to read those multi lingual leaflets you get with everything from medicine to your latest electronic toy. The print is so tiny you can hardly find your own language, let alone read it and if you do get out the magnifying glass you probably won’t understand the instructions anyway. Shall I open my shop/go to the shops. Can we send the children to school? Shall we book our holiday/wedding/funeral … shall we cancel our holiday/wedding/funeral? Is it even safe to open my front door?
Or shall we just hide away. It is strangely comforting in these times to follow domestic routines; washing on Monday, getting your on line shopping on Tuesday, posting your blog on Wednesday, vacuuming on Thursday, mowing the lawn on Friday will make you feel in control of your little life, even though it will make no difference to the rest of the world.
Sam always had the radio on when he was in the hotel room, just to own a radio and have somewhere to plug it in was a luxury. It was more than entertainment, he was catching up with what had been going on in the rest of the world while he had ‘been away’. By the evenings he was physically tired, but his mind could not rest, he did not want to be alone with his thoughts. Science programmes, current affairs, the arts, he lapped them all up; he was interested in everything, like he used to be in the old life. Perhaps he would have been a polymath by now, talking on intelligent programmes instead of just listening in.
Her voice caught him off guard, was it her, yes, the presenter repeated her name. Sam tuned into what she was saying.
No, I had never thought of being a writer, too busy living life, just an ordinary wife and mother, then my marriage broke up.
Broke up, like dropping a glass on a tiled floor, broke up… she had left him, taken the child… left him for no reason he had ever figured out.
It was just me and my little boy, it was hard, but after a while I realised I was happy, I could survive on my own, not just survive, make something of my life.
Sam felt his chest tighten; had she ever been happy, was that not a life they had? He was happy, she made him happy, Lucas made them both happy. He had everything, the new research project, promoted to senior lecturer, getting the mortgage for the little house that was the home of her dreams; when had her dreams changed? She was still talking, bright and confident, a mature woman now of course. He felt the physical blow of being left all over again.
…when Lucas started at the village school in Scotland I started writing and trying to run the smallholding I had inherited with the cottage…
And that is a story in itself and inspired one of your novels?
Yes, I was tracked down by the programme Heir Hunters and I wanted to find out more about this fourth three times removed cousin who was a recluse.
Sam found himself almost smiling, you couldn’t make it up, his suburban London ex wife in the wilds of Scotland, maybe she had made it up … but then anger flashed through him, his son should not have been living in a dilapidated cottage hundreds of miles away, no wonder he had lost touch completely.
Now your fifth novel comes as people question why so few people own so much of the land in Scotland, your heroine comes from London on holiday to the highlands and ends up marrying the local laird. What gave you that inspiration?
I must emphasise that it is not autobiographical, my own laird Duncan is nothing like the haughty landowner in my novel. And actually Duncan and I are writing a book together about rewilding and good husbandry.
So your life now is very different from your dreary life in suburban London?
Yes I have the big family I always wanted, with Lucas, Duncan’s three and our son and the twins…isolating has been like a family holiday for the nine of us, teens and pre teens all getting along together.
Sam switched the radio off. She had everything and he had nothing. He had lost everything in the divorce and he wasn’t even sure how, house and son gone, his own mother never forgiving him for letting her grandson be taken. But he must not descend into darkness again, think first. He turned on his lap top, the other vital possession the Big Issue had furnished him with, navigating the internet was still awkward for him. She must have been famous, just entering her name, or rather his name that she published under, produced results. Up popped her author website and a colourful blog about her highland life. Thousands of followers, perhaps he was the only one in the country who had not heard of her books. He tried to stay calm, at least in the interview she had not denigrated him, not even mentioned him, was that worse?
He needed to talk about this, not internalise, that’s what the counsellor told them when they had the ‘help’ during lock down. Most of them only put up with the do-gooders’ waffling to keep their hotel room, but some of it was helpful and he knew he had rights, a right to contact his son. But he had to stay off the streets and build some sort of life, even then it was unlikely his son would want anything to do with him. There would be no sleep for him tonight, but tomorrow he would tell his story for the first time.
This week I finished reading two short story collections and one novel. The first I reviewed was Sally Cronin’s ‘Life’s Rich Tapestry’. Once again Amazon rejected my review and as usual I have posted my 5 star review on Goodreads and also decided I should put all my book reviews on my Facebook Author Page.
from Janet Gogerty on 13 February 2020
A delightful collection of all sorts to dip into.
We start with the seasons, words carefully chosen, some poems succinct …I stopped to smell the roses… precious time well spent. Then all things human such as ‘From Cave to the Stars’ the first cave drawings onwards to beaming our messages out beyond the stars. The other verses follow mankind’s evolution. Fairies and other Folk takes us somewhere else, starting with the poignant tale of the ugly troll with the sweet nature. The Natural World peacocks, magpies and a murder of crows. Pets, Random Thoughts then 99 Words in a Flash. Telling a story in just 99 words is a skill. A Close Match is a good opener to this section. In the short story selection Brian the dog wins the day and Jack, another old dog, finds a happy ending. Then cats get their turn and love of a cat helps Millicent stand up for herself. Who can resist Speculative Fiction which starts with a family secret? The Wrong Turn is a poignant story, but we are glad Gerald gets his comeuppance in the next tale. A couple of strange stories and then we finish with a poetic tribute to the author’s mother-in-law. A great collection of all sorts to dip into.
Sally’s collection made nice light bedtime reading after some of the television programmes I have been watching. In Wednesday’s blog I wrote about television, because I know some bloggers do not watch it at all and gathering from the comments, others watch programmes or films with various screens and technology without actually tuning in to live television. But it is good to watch something your friends are also following… do you like fact or fiction on television?
This week we finished watching a real life six part ITV crime drama, White House Farm, about the murder of parents, daughter and two young twin grandsons in August 1985. Lots of us remember it being in the news because it was such a tragedy. At first the daughter with mental health issues was thought to have committed the murders and then killed herself, but the story revolves around the doubts that led to the arrest and trial of the surviving son, Jeremy Bamber. To this day he is still protesting his innocence. The leading detective was sure he could have the case neatly sewn up, convinced it was the daughter, while the sergeant, passed over for promotion more than once we gather, is convinced she could not have done it. Modern viewers brought up on CSI and Silent Witness will have been cringing as evidence was cleared away, blood soaked mattresses burnt. Most of us would agree that a young woman who had little idea of how to use a gun could not have shot everyone and beaten up her father. Added to the tensions in the CID office was the interplay in the family. The twins’ father was separated from his wife and the boys lived with him and his girlfriend, as his ex wife had recently been in a mental hospital. He had just taken her and the boys to the farm to stay with their grandparents, never imagining it was a death sentence. Jeremy Bamber had a girlfriend who after a month turned and gave evidence against him. His cousin was equally suspicious because of the way he behaved afterwards. The Bamber son and daughter were adopted, adding another thread; did he feel he didn’t belong, was he the cuckoo in the nest as his cousin suggested?
Coincidentally Chanel Four had a four part drama running parallel and with a similar theme. Deadwater Fell was set in a village in lovely Scottish countryside. After a happy village event introducing the characters, everyone is awoken that night to see the local doctor’s house on fire. His village policeman friend manages to rescue him and drag the wife out, too late. In the darkness and smoke he had discovered the three little girls ( as cute and adorable as the twin boys in the other drama ) were padlocked into their bedroom. At the post mortem it is discovered the children had already been killed with a drug injection. What on earth was going on? The village is grief stricken and then further shocked when the doctor comes out of his coma and pieces together what happened and claimed his wife killed his children, tried to kill him and committed suicide! Amongst all this going on are the complex lives of the leading characters, revealed in flashbacks. The policeman’s ex wife is with someone else, but their boys are with him and his girlfriend and they are undergoing IVF. She was the best friend of the dead woman and worked at the same school with her, but had accidentally had sex with the doctor once – an event she described as controlling sex as he had slammed her face against the patio door!
The policeman begins to suspect his doctor friend; their marriage was not all sweetness and because of ‘what happened after Harriet was born’ he was regularly tranquilizing her, against her will. And then there was the poor grandmother, the doctor’s mother, I felt sorry for her; not only had she lost her grandchildren, but began to suspect her son, perhaps had suspected all along…
It was a good story and we know from the news that whatever writers make up can never be as strange and awful as real life.
Tonight is Burns Night, celebrated each year on Robert Burns’ birthday, 25 January. The first Burns Night was held back in 1801, on the fifth anniversary of his death, when a group of Burns’ friends held a dinner in his memory at Burns cottage. They ate a meal together and read his poems in a night of celebration and remembrance.
Formal Burns suppers have a piper piping in the haggis. The host will say Burns’ Selkirk Grace: “Some hae meat an canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit”.
We know Robbie loved haggis because he wrote an eight verse poem ‘Address to a Haggis.’
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race! Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, Painch, tripe, or thairm: Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang ‘s my arm.
Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach though now often in an artificial casing.
Main ingredients: Sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, and stomach (or sausage casing), onion, oatmeal, suet, spices.
Is it delicious? YES
My first ever haggis was at a Burns’ supper when my friend and I decided to attempt skiing in Aviemore, Scotland. The skiing was a disaster – not broken bones disaster – just not successful. But we did catch a haggis. As we were staying at the Youth Hostel we had to be in by midnight so couldn’t stay to see how wild it got.
When CyberMacSpouse first took me back to his home town in The Borders I didn’t assume everyone in Scotland would be eating haggis, but the local fish and chip shop served battered haggis and chips, yummy but fattening.
In the early years if we wanted haggis we had to wait until someone was coming down to London or coming back from Scotland. It then had to be simmered for a couple of hours in the pressure cooker base ( the only saucepan large enough ) and in our cold flat condensation would be streaming down the kitchen walls – actually, all the walls.
Nowadays cooking a haggis meal is much simpler, pre-cooked versions are probably available all year round in your supermarket or butchers’ and you can get a sachet of whiskey cream sauce to go with it. Unceremoniously chop it in pieces and put in the microwave. Potatoes are already on the boil as are the neeps, which in England is a swede, but called turnip in Scotland. Lots of mashing with butter and ground black pepper and it’s ready. You can also get vegetarian haggis, which rather defeats the object of it being a poor man’s meal using left overs of sheep!
We always buy Macsween – this is not an advertisement, I’m just telling you what we eat and I have to say our homemade meal is better than some we have had out. Worst meal was in a small northern Scottish town that shall remain nameless. We thought to support local business rather than slipping into Wetherspoons and dropped into Morag’s Café. Lumpy mashed potato and dried up haggis. Our most unusual haggis meal was delicious, found in a pub on the Isle of Skye – Haggis Strudel – I guess that will be off the menu when we leave the European Union next week. Wetherspoons let me down this week when we needed a quick dinner before going to the theatre. They had a special haggis menu; I don’t know what the haggis burger was like, but my traditional small portion had potatoes that looked like they had just had a bit of a rough and tumble, rather than mashed to creamy smoothness.
Carrying on family tradition Team H are having a Burns’ Supper and apparently the four year old is going to recite Address to a Haggis as a surprise for his father. Perhaps he is cheating and learning an abridged English version.
Have you had haggis, do you like it?