A Reader Emails……….

Hello Jane.

Hello Reader, what can I do for you?

Jane, in the present difficulties, is it important in life to have a papoose?

Um, oh, well.  (Think positivity, Jane, think positivity.)  Of course it is.

It is important in life to have a papoose.

Well, it is.  Let’s think what that can actually mean. In fact, let’s have a look at a papoose.

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Here he is. His name is Algernon and he is out for his daily exercise on a walk with his mum, Minihoho

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and his dad, Cowabunga.  Looks like Algernon is kicking off a bit, don’t worry, Cowabunga will sort him out, he’s a good dad.

Cowabunga has a friend, Fordfocus, sometimes they share fatherly duties and look after Algernon and his friend Dostoyevski Kevin the Third.

I know!  Upwardly mobile or what!  These papoose – papoosooses? Papice?  Anyway whatever the plural is, they are going places, mainly out for a walk with their dads.


and their dads seem to think it’s important to have a papoose. Papice, whatever.  They are hanging on to them.  So, yes as far as their dads are concerned it is important to have a papoose.  They would probably get into trouble if they went home without a papoose.  You can just imagine it.  ‘Oh Hello Cowabunga, I’m glad you’re back. Where is Algernon?  What have you done with the baby? You know it’s important in life to have a papoose, a reader emailed about it.  What have you done with ours?  Where is our papoose?  I hope you haven’t left him outside the castle, we don’t want to end up with a vampire papoose, doesn’t bear thinking about.  Where is my papoose? I need a papoose.  It’s important.’

They do go out with their mums, of course.


Though that can create difficulties for the papice.


Here are the papice, Algernon and Dostoyevski Kevin the Third out with Minihoho and her friend Queen Countess Sharon of The Top Shops.

(You see, they get it from their mothers, I always said this when I was teaching.  There is nothing we, as gifted and brilliant teachers, can do in a mere six hours a day in the classroom, when they’re at home, usually, for the other –hang on, let me borrow your fingers – eight, no wait, six from twenty four, oh that’s a lot, could you take your socks off? Ah, got it now,  thanks, eighteen – knew there was an eight somewhere – hours a day.)

Fortunately Queen Countess Sharon of the Top Shops and Fordfocus are good parents.  They play with Dostoyevski Kev all the time and take him for lovely walks past the Transylvanian castle, fairly quickly, as you do on the wide prairies.

I seem to be struggling a bit with this posting, lets have a look at that email – hmm, is it important in life to have a papoose?

Well, these papice are quite strong.

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Here they are lifting the scissors.  I didn’t realise quite how strong they were until I lost one of them, whilst I was doing the photos and found him right under a huge pack of really heavy card.


Not squashed at all.

So I tried them both out, weight lifting a box of cotton reels (I’m going to take up quilting again when I have time, I could do with twelve weeks with nothing to do, highly unlikely but it would give me time.  As it is, I hardly know if I’m going to get the teddy bear hotel for the grandchildren started, never mind finished. I’ve got a ton of real life one-scale painting to do, you know how it is.)  Anyway, papice, cotton reels.


On your head son!  Actually no, you’re not allowed to do that now in case it damages your brain.  Though to be fair they don’t look that bright and with a name like Dostoyevski Kevin The Third and a mother called Queen Countess Sharon Of The Top Shops he’s probably going to end up as a second-hand car salesman at best.  Apprentice to a dog food delivery man, rising to in-van sack-arranger after six years. Sad really, stuffed before you start, with a name like that.

Positivity Jane, positivity!

I’m sure papice can be useful somehow, they are very small and stiff.

Oh!  I know!

Yes it is important to have a papoose in life because they are just the right size for unblocking the glue bottle!

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Perfect. I’m sending him in now!  Hum the Indiana Jones music –

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See? Wonderful.

So yes, emailing reader, it is important to have a papoose in life because you can use it for unblocking the glue nozzle. Fabulous.  I’m glad we got that sorted and happy to answer your questions in the crisis.  I have as much uninformed opinion as anyone needs.  Happy to help.  Ask Jane.

And finally here are Minihoho, Cowabunga, Fordfocus and Queen Countess Sharon of The Top Shops with Algernon and Dostoyevski Kevin the Third all off, after the present difficulties, in search of a party and barbeque or at least a playground well away from the nearest Transylvanian castle.

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A reader emails back

My spellchecker is on the blink and I can’t get the local computer mending man to come out.  I meant to write purpose.  Is it important in life to have a purpose?  I don’t want a small porcelain native American baby, I’m having enough trouble at the moment with the cat.

Jane replies.

Oh!  PURPOSE.  Of course, purpose, Well it all makes sense, now.

No sorry, haven’t a clue.



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Taking care of you.

I’m a bit late posting this morning.

I went supermarket shopping.  A shop that would normally have taken half an hour in the supermarket closest to my house has taken two hours.  It was necessary to be queued in the car park, two metres apart, to get into the store.  It was very cold, the queue, which was meant to be over-sixties, was long and the wind was howling round the (relatively) empty car park.  For the first time in the crisis I bought more than three days worth of food.  If I can avoid doing the queueing, or limit food shopping to once a week, I’ll be happier.

When I got home I had to disinfect everything (I wipe all the packaging with disinfectant, then I wash my gloves in disinfectant) before I could put it away and then, finally, oh hooray, I was able to utilise the facilities.  Mafeking was relieved, Ladysmith was reprieved and I uncrossed my legs.

So a very short posting ( I am going to find a sunny spot indoors, by a window and warm up) ends with practical advice.

This is the first time I’ve given advice in the current difficulty and it is this.  If you are going out shopping, visit the smallest room first and wear your thickest knickers and a nice woolly vest, dear.  A supermarket car park is not at all super to stand in for an hour in the cold.

Stay warm, stay strong, be cheerful.


Forthcoming attractions –

How to cut the hair of your spouse with the bacon scissors and still stay married.

How to make a wind-up phonograph with empty baked bean tins.

How to entertain the children with string.

Teaching your teenage son the National Curriculum Advanced Physics.

Modelling with earwax.

Introduction to the Encyclopaedia of Trivia Volume One.  Interesting facts about felt insoles.

Holidays – did anyone really enjoy them that much? Active Internet debate.

For adults of a certain age – The Joy Of Custard.


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Always someone worse off…….

I cannot quite remember, nor find it online, but there was a comedian who always used to say, ’There is always someone worse off than you and his name is…………….’ Please email and tell me if you know.  Possibly Eric Sykes, ooh I did love him, do you remember him and Hattie Jacques playing twins living together with their cuckoo clock, Peter?  You can find the series online, there are many shows to watch.

Right now the saying ‘there is always someone worse off than you’ is absolutely true if you are able to read this indoors in the warm.

In the current difficulties, while still living on a building site, I have been trying to keep some of the builders employed.  Building is a trade with many self-employed sub contractors.  Currently in the UK the money situation for the self-employed is fluid.  Our carpenter is one such.  As he lives alone, has been coming for untold months and can work in another room, use another toilet and eat in his van, I am trying to keep him in work until supplies run out.

One of the jobs still to be done is the new staircase.  It has been lying in the garage as a kit of parts for a couple of months.  So it was decided for the sake of employment that the carpenter would fit the staircase today, assisted by the OH, which left me and the OH clearing junk from under the staircase until midnight last night.  This involved emptying and moving my big dolls’ house and the wash stand, full of glasses, and the sports equipment and and and (who knew there was so much stuff under the stairs?)

Round about eight at night the OH got very ratty. He is on very reduced alcohol and got to the bit where even me breathing was annoying and screamed words to that effect quite a lot.*

I don’t do crying. I remember being three years old and deciding I would never give my mother the satisfaction.  She, being a control freak, was delighted if she could make someone cry, especially me.  She had a particular facial expression, pleased and slightly to the right of insane, if I cried.  So I trained myself not to do it.  So I don’t.  At my cousin’s funeral there were boxes of tissues everywhere; I recall wondering why.

So last night, verbally attacked, I got rather thoughtful and at this point thought of that saying that there is always someone worse off than you, and began to make a mental list of who they might be.  Here’s the list:

Child carers –there are thousands of these people who do not have a childhood at all, all round the world.  Children who, as soon as they are able, are pressed into service looking after an older family member. Maybe a short-tempered older family member.  Maybe a family member who has physical needs which are not pleasant to deal with.  Instead of getting some hours a day escape at school those children are locked in with the ailing family member.

Children in difficult homes.  Some children will be locked in with family members in withdrawal from drink and drugs.  People in withdrawal are very unpredictable and frequently frightening.  If you are the sort of person who has a prayer list, you might want to save the children in your prayers.

The very old.  People over ninety have just been told here by the government not to go to hospital.  I am old enough to have an inkling of how frightening some of the conditions of age can be.  Bits drop off or stop working and, whilst you don’t necessarily have massive faith in young doctors and nurses, many of whom appear increasingly wet behind the ears, it is reassuring to have reassurance.  I used to be included in my mother’s hospital visits to the geriatrician.  The geriatrician was a person one hundred per cent right for the job she was doing.  My mother loved her.  The doctor usually started by telling my mother how smart she was looking, how bright she was for her age, how eloquent and so on.  She didn’t just butter her up, she laid it on with a trowel so thick you could have laid bricks on it.  My mother lapped it up, to the extent of ‘ Is it time to see my special doctor yet?’  ‘No, you saw her last week.’  ‘Are you sure? You know how bad your maths is.  I don’t think so.  Ring her. Now.’ 

Yes she did love that doctor and, as conditions are now, how lucky she was to have her.  Someone worse off than you is anyone who needs medical assistance and cannot now get it.

My cousin died at home, quietly without drama and with attendance from his wife, not wearing a mask or plastic clothing and was then able to have the funeral he planned with friends coming together from all over the country.  Which now seems a wonderful thing.  On to the list go all those whose final moments will not be peaceful, whose families will not be in attendance.  And all those who will not be able to have a ceremony, a funeral, an ending that celebrates a life.

I have been barrier nursed.  The second time, I think, I turned up in hospital with blood in copious amounts coming out of either end.  I was put in a room on my own.  Before people came in they suited up.  I could not see their faces.  They stood well back from me unless they had to check anything.  There was a bin by the door.  Standing on the other side of the door they took off all the protective clothing, turned it inside out, reached through the door and put it in the bin.  I thought ‘Oh gosh, what have I got that the doctors are so frightened of?’  If this is not you, or not you yet, be so glad, you are blessed,

Someone unsure of where the money is coming from to eat tomorrow.  Been there done that.  When the S&H was four months old my mother brought me a tin of biscuits.  I lived off that tin of biscuits for several weeks because I was using my child allowance to feed my in-laws, who were staying every other week for four days when my mother-in-law was demented.  The main money was paying the mortgage, the petrol and food for the OH, who at the time was in his research post on Legionnaires.  It was important he had enough food to keep his brain working.  I worried so much.  I remember looking in the tin, watching the biscuits dwindle.  Dear, it was so desperate I even ate the custard creams.  Fortunately I was able to get part-time work back at the college do exam prep, just before the biscuits ran out.  It was a close call and I lost inches off my hips.  Boy was I svelte!  (Didn’t last long.) So anyone being barrier-nursed goes on the list as do the nurses doing the nursing.  All frightened and doing it anyway.  Not you, not me, lucky us.

Anyone very depressed or overwhelmed by the current situation.  Point them in this direction.  I will keep blogging, something cheerful, something uplifting.  I’ll try to do it every day but have weekends off.  As long-term readers know there is ten years worth of free reading on this site, just scroll down and keep scrolling.  I ain’t Shakespeare,  just a short, tubby writer, cheerful in the face of everything.

The very very bottom line on this one is that you will either survive, in which case you will have survived, or you will die in which case you will be out of it and no longer have problems.  Those are the only two possibilities.  If you are here now, reading this, you are one of the lucky ones.  We’ll be OK you and me.  We can do this.

Whilst, as I wrote yesterday, many of us have been given a twelve week gift by the government. we still only live one day at a time.  If nothing bad has happened today, then it is a good day.  Do the gratitude list at the end.  Don’t be lonely, email me. I’ll reply.  We will live one day at a time.  That is all you are ever asked to do.

And, of course, be glad you are not a politician.  They wanted power, they got it and now…………

Ours are looking a bit knackered to say the least.  Oh yes, be glad you’re not a politician.**


*And we subsequently discovered, had forgotten to take his medication two days running.  If your normal schedule has been disrupted, for goodness sake, remember to take your medication.

**And have you seen some of the hairstyles politicians have, round the world? I think it’s a requirement.  I wonder if you can pick them out at school?  ‘You – mouthy little know-all with the toilet brush hairstyle – politics for you, I’ll tell the career teacher.’  ‘No Miss, I won’t.  I want to be liked and would like to pass a law to that effect.’  ‘Politics it is then.’

Yes, personally speaking, it could always be worse.

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Twelve weeks to SuperYou.

The only thing that all life on the planet has in common, is time.

We all have the time of our life, whatever and whoever we are and no matter how short or long.

What are you going to do with your time?  How are you going to spend it?

Usually bound up with getting and spending, nurturing, working, achieving, raising, busy busy busy, quite suddenly many of us round the world have been given twelve weeks in isolation by the government.

Twelve weeks is a great gift, from the government to us and from us to the world to save it.

And to save the world you don’t even have to wear a cape and fly around in your underpants.  Result!

All you have to do is stay home and use your free gift of twelve weeks.  What are you going to do with yours?

Twelve weeks is enough to learn the rudiments of a foreign language.  What ever device you are reading this on will have the ability to access the foreign language of your choice, this is your chance to make a friend you would never have made in a country you may never visit, in their language, as slowly as you like.

Twelve weeks is enough to dress enough dolls to fill half a six foot table (just saying.)

Twelve weeks is enough to plant some seeds of flowers, salad or vegetables and get them germinated and growing.  For fast salad crops it’s even enough to harvest and eat them.

Twelve weeks is enough to learn the rudiments of a musical instrument.  Have you got a musical instrument lying around the house somewhere? We do not consider ourselves musical but here we have an inherited organ. (I’ll leave a space here for you to make up your own jokes.  It is of a generous size and brown FYI.) (It was all the OH had, apart from some war medals, from his dad.)  We have a penny whistle. We have my old recorder.  If you do not have such instruments I bet you have saucepans you could learn to do drumming upon.  All drummers are slightly mad but in the current climate this will never be noticed and, if you are really frustrated by the situation, bashing it out with a wooden spoon on the back of a pan will do you the world of good.  (There will be a later column on do-it-yourself divorces for marriages where one half suddenly espouses drumming.)

Twelve weeks is long enough to learn to draw.  In a later column I will show you my portraits.  (Haven’t got etchings, may take that up, too.) The most crucial aid to success is to get the lines in the right places.  All you need is some paper and an eraser.  If you are running out of paper you can use the back of leftover wallpaper, brown paper bags, shopping lists and so on.  As long as it is a flat, smooth surface you can draw on, you can do it.  You are focussed on reproducing whatever you see before you. Any object, any view, any person, pet, picture on a screen, doesn’t matter what, the aim is the acquisition of skill.  In twelve weeks you can acquire  lot of skill, practice is what it takes, time is what you’ve got.

Learn to juggle.  Two or three objects, similar size and weight.  Ideally not the cat, the dog and the cooked chicken from the supermarket, but. you know.

Teach the old dog new tricks.  Teach the cat to fetch.  Learn to speak goldfish.

The old student trick from long ago………rearrange the books in the bookcase, tallest on the left, shortest on the right, then catalogue them.

Read all the books you were going to read but never had time to get round to.  You can find them online.  Shakespeare, Plato, Dostoyevsky, Ibsen, Kafka, Darwin, Chaucer……….  The list is long.  These are the people who changed the world with words.  This is your chance to get to know them and find out how they changed the world with words.  It is completely amazing that you can do such a thing, but you can.

Why not write your own life story? You are the person best qualified in the entire world to do this.  It is a great legacy you can leave to the future and to your descendants.  Samuel Pepys, politician, diarist and author, lived through plague and the Great Fire of London.  His writings of the time are a very valuable historical document.  You could be  a similar historian of all that is happening right now, if you write it down.

Instead of rubbishing cookery shows on television have a go yourself. It’s amazing what you can make with basic stuff. flour, fat, sugar, an egg (that’s a lot of biscuits, right there.  You don’t have to eat them all at once, biscuits and cake freeze, hard biscuits will keep in a tin for weeks.)

Learn poetry off by heart.  This is wonderfully old fashioned and sooooooooooooooo good for your brain. Learn the lyrics to your favourite pop songs properly.  Go on, all the words in the correct order. I dare you.

Learn to dance.  Tap is the thing I always wanted to have a go at.  But I do often dance as I work out to music.

That’s the next one, work out a work out for yourself and then work it out.  The OH paid good money to join a step class, all they did was step on and off a step to music. Quickly, slowly, bouncy, stand on one leg, while flapping your arms, singing, both feet up, both feet down.  And he paid money for that.  Well, I’ll go to the foot of our stairs.

Have you watched Groundhog Day?  This is our Groundhog day.  At the end of twelve weeks you can emerge, blinking,  into the sunshine as the artist, linguist, juggler, know-all, baker, poet, drummer, nutritionist, and anything else you want to be., that you have always wanted to be.  No one will have seen you practise.  No one will have witnessed the awful, screechy bits, the falling off the step (stay safe, A&E may be a bit busy if you break something), the tasty biscuits that looked awful.  What will emerge into the sunshine to amaze is a talented individual, a newly wonderful person.  You, 2.0.  Redesigned.  Better. New improved.

Twelve weeks is the chrysalis.  Enter a slug, come out as a superstar butterfly.

Get busy, you’ve probably only got twelve weeks before the ghastliness that is modern living recommences.  Appalling relatives, who mainly view you as a cheap source of food, are waiting, poised horribly ‘When all this is over dear we’ll come and stay for six weeks.  Your father has his old trouble back, so our house could do with an airing, we can’t wait.’

Twelve weeks to change the way the world sees you.  Twelve weeks to SuperYou.


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Reasons to be cheerful part nine and five sixteenths.

I may actually have got that title mixed up with my hat size but, you know trying times and all that.

This is another posting about trying times because, why not? Oh go on you know you want to.

Keen readers with long felt wants (we had one of those once and used it as a door stopper) may recall in my burbling about addictions and the families of anyone addicted to anything, which is an awful thing to be, either party, that I attended Al-Anon family groups for some years.

One of the pursuits that we were encouraged to pursue, that sounds so goody-two-shoes and please-be-sick-in-the-brown-paper-bag, actually works.

It is ending each day by writing a gratitude list. If, however, your government telling you to stop in the house and polish your shoes, is getting on your wick and you wish to rebel, you can write the gratitude list first thing in  the morning. It still works.

(Very, very, very long term readers are permitted by order* to do it whenever in the day you like!  That’s just how much we don’t give a stuff.  Hah! Be yourself (everyone else is spoken for.)

So why am I grateful?

Today I am inexpressibly grateful (first lie, because I am expressing it) that the lift man has turned up today to install the lift. They said he was going to be here at seven thirty, so, of course I did not sleep all night in case I slept in.  I do this. I’m an idiot (why am I telling you this if you are a regular reader? Twice as much tautology, that’s what you get round here.) But at seven thirty there he was in his van. I am grateful because he knows what he is doing, is very experienced and is working like a machine.  He has not yet looked at the bits and wondered where this goes.  By the end of the day I will have most of a lift and already much less of a big hole in the middle of the house.

I am so grateful there is a choice of beverages.  I would be deeply unhappy if forced to drink coffee all the time.  I just don’t get on with coffee.  I like tea.  I like a specific brand, which has been difficult to get because of panic buying.  Today up at the post office there was a box of my favourite tea bags.  Oh Hooray!  (I’d let you have a lick, but you know, social distancing.)

It is sunny, the sky is blue. But it is not scorching like Death Valley, or sunny freeze your fingers off, blow on them, oh damn they’ve gone black already like Antarctica.  It is sunny, slightly warm, might be quite nice by lunchtime like England.  Lovely.

I have two packs of unopened socks.  One of the great joys of life is new socks before the old ones have gone crispy. Oh yeah, we know how to live.

There is a charity in Edinburgh called Smalls For All that recycles new knickers or possibly, knew knickers, or even, new nickers, and preloved but still nice bras to countries where ladies do not have access to underwear.  I have access to underwear. I have a reason to buy a new bra and the money to do it.  I can afford to buy an extra pack of knickers when I go to buy one for me.  I am so so lucky.

It looks as if I may have survived cancer twice, still superstitious about saying it, but you know, still here.

I have got approximately ninety seven trillion craft kits, art supplies, dolls house thingies and all the rest and several weeks uninterrupted solitude to get cracking on them.  There is no better time to do the stuff you didn’t have time to do.  Haven’t we always complained that we don’t have the time, for our hobbies, that we want?  And now, what are the chances, really what are the chances, the government has actually given us the time to do our hobbies.  Also we are not allowed to encourage our mothers-in-law and other relatives of dubious value to visit us.  Whoever it is in your family who is on the phone lamenting the lack of opportunity to arrive, eat you out of house and home, leave when it suits them and in the interim, bore the pants off you, cannot do it now by government edict.  ‘I am so sorry Great Aunt Patsy (with the hefty moustache and the flatus problem) The Prime Minister says I have to stay in and play with my dolls’ house.’  Boris Johnson has ordered me to play with my dolls’ house!  It’s a dream come true.

The OH is turning back into a human again.  Never thought I’d see that.  The Prime Minister closed the pubs. I wished for that several columns ago, never thinking it would happen and for lo!  It came to pass.

I want to write this, you want to read it.  Thank you forever Tim Berners-Lee, who invented www. so you and I could get together.  I am grateful for him endlessly. Right now, he will help us to help each other in the present difficulty. 

My fingernails are growing again.  I think this means I am getting better.  All the time I was poorly, they were rubbish, except for when I broke my arm and they were set to GROW for a while.

Me and mine are OK today.  I hope you and yours are the same.  Look at all the things I am grateful for and it isn’t even lunch time yet.

A gratitude list works because it takes the focus off the things that are not so good and makes you realise just how many reasons there are to be cheerful.  (Nine and five sixteenths and counting.)


*One veggie nuggets with hot sauce, one deep fried palaver with a battered sausage, one omelette aux eggs, a pot of tea for two, one cola with a slice and a, what did you want Celia?  One chips with no nasty bits and a tomato sauce and a cucumber with no seeds, can the chef do that?  You can’t have that Celia, what else?  Oh all right, one rainbow pastry with sprinkles.  I wish you would eat properly when we go out, and can we have some extra napkins please, and could you wipe the table, just here? Yes, thank you, it’s a bit sticky.  And can you leave the dessert menu, we haven’t decided yet.  Thank you.**

**Wrong sort of order, sorry, can’t get the staff.

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Plagues in history.

I quite enjoy my local social media but arrived there this morning to find a post giving medical advice had been abruptly removed.

Visiting family last week to take a birthday present, we were assured by their teenage children that the way to beat the virus was to drink warm water because their teacher had told them so.

We have been here before, internationally and at a personal level.  When there is any kind of epidemic, rumours and misinformation abound, which, rather than allaying fears, seem to magnify them.

I have written before about the Black Death, the plague that decimated towns and villages in Europe from the thirteenth century onwards.  So great was the loss of life and the reaction to it that echoes of the fear and hope are still to be found today.

The Plague village of Eyam in the Peak District National Park is a good example.  The OH and I visited it on holiday in the Seventies.  We found beautiful pictures all round the village made by the school children from flowers pressed into clay boards and placed beside the ancient wells.  This well-dressing celebrates and gives thanks for those who survived an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in the seventeenth century. The plague arrived with fleas in a parcel of clothing and cloth for the local tailor, sent from London.  Soon people began dying, eventually about half the village died.  As the deaths proliferated, the vicar made a brave decision and ordered the villagers to stay put to confine the plague to the village and stop it spreading.  Those who lived and those who died seem to have been selected randomly.  The grave digger did not die, despite being the one who buried all the others.  A mother who buried her husband and all her children did not die.  The measure were successful and the tremendous sacrifice of the villagers and a thanks for those who survived are still commemorated in the well-dressing.

When researching doll costumes I came across doctor’s outfits worn during outbreaks of plague. They consisted of long black cloaks, and a black pointed hat, like am extreme witches hat with a curving fabric beak. I was unable to find any information about how you tended to patients with a foot long beak getting in the way. Throughout recent history people have been aware that you can breathe in diseases and that bad smells and bad breath are indicative of a problem.  Henry the Eighth was famous for his bad-smelling leg ulcers.  Given his usual reactions to people he didn’t like, it must have been a brave doctor who treated those ulcers.  It was of course, the great stink of London in 1868 that lead Sir Joseph Bazalgette  to engineer the wonderful modern sewage system for London, that is only just now being superseded by a greater sewerage project.

I am fortunate  that the OH is a former medical microbiologist.  He it was, who in the Seventies, working at the new Queens Medical Centre in Nottingham, landed the research post for Legionnaires’ disease.  This disease, like so many apparent plagues of sudden appearance, had people baffled.  The problem with it was knowing who had it.  It was only identifiable when people were on the mortuary slab and one look at their lungs was all the evidence necessary.  The OH had got into the right place at the right time purely by circumstance.  I had wanted to leave home.  Desperately.  So much so I didn’t care where I went as long as I went.  Being all of five foot two in those heady days I closed my eyes and put a finger on the large map on the common room wall and arrived at places in the Midlands.  Nottingham was the place that was willing to accommodate me and a friend I had made at training college, who subsequently did not want to leave.  I left anyway and was followed shortly after by the boyfriend I thought was only temporary until I left home.  He had other ideas, followed me without even a place to stay, and appeared without a winter coat (because the Midlands is bound to be warmer than the North East) but with a suitcase.

Never take in a strange man out of pity.  Leave him on the doorstep but say hello when you put the milk bottles out.  Politeness at all times. Heigh ho.  On the other hand……

There was no job but there was a newly built hospital needing microbiologists.  I stood on the steps just before the Queen arrived to open the hospital.  A step above me a porter with a carpet sweeper was dashing back and forth on the red carpet.  Then the Queen opened the hospital, then the OH was working, then there was a panic and a plague and in that building the OH wrestled daily with a way of making the disease identifiable before it killed people.  Some days he came home with a terrible headache from staring all day down a backlit microscope.  In the six year term allotted he did it, working alone, though when he published the research papers, the lab and his immediate boss had to get recognition.

What he did was to invent a way of staining it on the microscope slide so it could be identified while people were still alive.  Given the correct treatment, they recovered.   Towards the end of the work the Queen’s Medical Centre became a reference lab for the whole world.  Microbiologists from CDC Atlanta Georgia, Portland Down and the Pasteur Institute in France talked to the OH and replicated his results in their labs. He was offered jobs everywhere.  Working together laboratories round the world beat the disease. If you get Legionella Pneumophila now, a machine called a Gas Liquid Chromatograph will diagnose you with remarkably little fuss, you’ll be given some pills and back to work in no time flat, no matter where you live in the world.

Corona virus will be the same except that there already are people working on it in labs all round the world. If the OH on his own could fight a disease that was killing thousands and win, we will certainly beat this pandemic because there are bright young people busy all over the world as you are reading this. One of them, staring down a microscope right now will be looking at the answer and there will be a vaccine.

Meanwhile until the happy day dawns when the vaccine can be produced in quantity, whilst I would not give advice, what the government in the person of the PM is telling you is absolutely right.  Keep your distance. You do not need to wear a hat with a long felt beak.  The best thing you can do is stand out of the range of other people’s sneezes and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. Drinking warm water is not anti-microbial behaviour.  I am going shopping in nitrile gloves.  When I get back, I wash them in disinfectant and wipe all packaging with disinfectant before I unpack it and put it away.

Do not panic.  You could still get run over if you don’t look when crossing the road.  You could still have an accident.  You could still die of something else. Essentially, as you read this, personally, the world has not changed.  It may have become a little less social, face to face but that’s all.

We have better information and better ways of communicating it than at any other time in human history.  New global diseases can be beaten.  You heard this from the wife of the horse’s mouth (now retired.)

Stay cheerful.


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A reader writes…..

A strange man has appeared in my lounge room in the evenings – he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself.

He wanders around, tells jokes to the air, slaps invisible people across the back and sits on a pile of cushions on the corner of the settee.

Last night he drank all the water out of the goldfish bowl in one go, then crunched the cat’s biscuits and burped.

He vanished from the lounge but I came across him later in the garage throwing darts at a picture of my mother that we keep for reference.

Have you any idea who he could be?

The editor replies-

Go through your family photograph album searching for a resemblance. Research indicates, in the light of the Prime Minister closing all the pubs, that this might be your husband, at home in the evening.

Readers may wish to engage strange men hanging around the house at unusual hours, in conversation, to ascertain their identity. They may turn out to be husbands, or, in extreme circumstances, teenage sons.


Forthcoming attractions:

How to have sex whilst maintaining the correct two metre social distancing.  Where to source six foot long baby-feeding spoons, how to cut your toenails without actually touching your own feet and – combing your hair, in rubber gloves, with the lawn rake – can it be done*



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Something silly

I don’t know about you (though you are, as always, welcome to tell me) but I do love a bit of silly.

It was the main thing we all loved about Morecambe and Wise – they excelled at being silly.  Remember the silly, silly dance they did hopping around with alternate hands behind their heads – very silly.

I got told off once or twice at school for being silly.  Teachers were shocked because I was usually terribly, terribly sensible.  Imbued throughout with responsibility, always doing my best, dib, dib, dob, dob, all that.

As a trainee teacher one of the most challenging teaching practices I had, was at a school which had an extra nautical class in each year.  So there was year one A, year one B, year one Nautical.  In theory this was because the school, which was near the sea, was training future Lord Nelsons.  This would have been lovely, but in practice what happened was that pupils who had been excluded elsewhere for unruly behaviour, suddenly evinced a strong desire, advised by their social workers, to go to sea, or, at least, have a quick look, and their families, who had been putting up with them, were inclined to encourage these sudden maritime aspirations.  So it was that the toughest teachers taught the nautical classes and so did wet-behind-the-ears-student teachers. Including me.  I was nearly stabbed.  I was five foot two (I was so tall then, compared with now) and the miscreant was about five foot ten, a lad with ‘it’ on him because something had upset him.  He produced a knife and threatened another pupil.  I interposed my body, which I was deeply attached to, in a gesture that I would now characterise as Brave-But-Stupid, and held my hand out, palm up, whilst gazing in as stern a manner as I could manage, up his nostrils.  The knife, which he had been pointing at the other pupil’s stomach, he rotated so that it was above my hand pointing downwards, grasped in his fist. I stared.  He grasped. The universe held its breath.

And carried on doing it for quite some time.

I went on staring and breathing as steadily as I could.

Then he exhaled, turned the knife in his hand and laid it on my hand.

The silly came afterwards.  I had a car and had been giving a lift to three other student teachers on teaching practice with me.  They all had difficult experiences.  One was tied to his chair and had ink bombs thrown at him.  He left at the end of term for a different career.

On the last day of that teaching practice, on the road just outside of the school, I drove three times round the traffic roundabout, which was very silly of me, and we all laughed. A lot.

In the current trying circumstances (though they are only trying if you decide they are)  I suggest we all need a bit of silly. Here are some silly things to do:

Make a sock puppet.

Do you remember Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop?  Lamb Chop was a sock puppet in the shape of a sheep.  It was an actual sock, woolly loops and a pair of false eyelashes and she talked to it and it answered and we all believed it.  If you know any children who have been brought up on toys that are lumps of plastic I bet they have never even seen a sock puppet.

Get an odd sock (I bet you have a choice).  Bend the fingers of one hand to horizontal from vertical, put your thumb under your forefinger and move it up and down.  For lo!  The puppet talks.  Now put a sock on it.  Place the heel of the sock over your knuckles, use the fingers of your other hand to poke the toe of the sock back between your forefinger and thumb, eh voila!  Sock puppet.  Draw eyes with a felt tip pen, or cut and glue eyes from felt, or stick goggle eyes on, sew or stick wool hair.  Now practise.  Careers have got started this way. Shari Lewis was on television, talking to a sock on her hand.  More than once, in fact she was so famous she was on Sesame Street.  You can find her on Tinternet.

Do a silly walk.

The government is urging us to go out walking.  This is a heaven-sent opportunity to revive the Ministry of Silly Walks as invented by Monty Python.  Actually not as invented by Monty Python, my grandmother thought of it first.  We used to be walking along, in step, then she would suddenly change feet completely without warning and then point out you were out of step.  I always laughed and had to skip to keep up, sometimes several skips with the same foot first.  So, silliest walk you can mange please, preferably in front of a shop window.  Ah that’s better!

Put tights on over your slippers.

My father in law did this.  Shortly after he became a widower, being fond of singing, he joined an amateur operatic group.  Very soon they put on something vaguely mediaeval.  His costume involved a tabard with loops, which he was provided, a pair of tights with buttons, to fasten on, for modesty on a raked stage, and his own plain-coloured carpet slippers.

He actually went on stage with the tights worn over the carpet slippers because no one had told him different.  Every time he wiggled his toes or walked, or tapped his foot to the music, the tabard went up and down.  He looked like he’d swallowed a spring.

Sadly the stage manager had a word with him and put him right.

Silly things not to do.

Yesterday I popped into the local post office.  Staff at the attached shop had quietly informed regulars that there would be a small delivery of toilet rolls.  But someone who was not local, or a regular customer, found them, photographed them and put them on social media.  Within ten minutes people drove there from everywhere and bought them all so there were none for locals like me, many of whom are elderly and cannot get to the big stores but walked (some with sticks or frames) to get them.  The social media person did it for likes.  Can’t say I like someone who would deprive local people of something they need, so that strangers, who are unlikely to be shopping there regularly to keep the business going, can benefit.

I am not only running out of toilet rolls, I have got my big scissors to hand.  If the situation warrants it, I shall cut the newspaper into squares and use it as my grandmother did.  These are the times when it is appropriate to wipe your tra-la-la upon the face of a politician.

Every cloud – a silver lining.

Be silly, you know it makes sense.


Regular readers – ooh hello – normal postings are weekly, frequently weakly but in the current difficulty more often, so please scroll down*

*The screen, not yourself, I worry about the computer-shy ending up under the desk.**

**Where you will find a coin, a paperclip and a crisp in a flavour you have never had before and will not source again – tasty!

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How to conquer fear.

I’ve been posting silly things to cheer you up for quite a few days.  Reading the newspapers and listening to the news on television, I have become aware of the way people are being gripped by fear.  As I have had about ten years of being gripped by fear in various ways, I thought it might be helpful to tell you what works for me when it happens.

I was cast into despair when I discovered my father’s will had given my inheritance to my cousins, depriving my mother of the money she needed for her care in a difficult situation.  I was fearful when the cousins sent me nasty emails, burst into my mother’s house and started running around opening drawers.

I was fearful at the hospital deathbed of my father, whose breathing suddenly declined.  I had put my mother, who looked dreadful, to bed in the next ward and was frightened I wouldn’t be able to wake her and get her there in time.

I was fearful when I broke the first arm that I would not be able to travel the hour and a half required twice weekly to administer the care for my mother.

I was fearful that my mother would be sectioned and descend into the state of being that I know locked-up people can reach if they are aggressive by nature and confined.

I was frightened when I broke my arm the second time that I would not be able to pack a suitcase to go to hospital before my body realised it was broken and stopped working.

I was frightened when my investigative surgery for cancer got postponed the fourth time after waiting all day in hospital, that the cancer would have time to get hold and spread.

I was frightened when the surgeon turned up looking ill herself.

I was frightened when I started vomiting blood and the OH was drunk and tipped the evidence, a couple of litres of it, down the loo, that the ambulance workers would not comprehend the gravity of the situation.

I was frightened every time they put the camera down my neck.

I was frightened I would never see my cousin again.

I was frightened each time of the thirteen that I turned up in A&E with blood coming out of either end, frightened when they sent me home and frightened when they kept me in and then didn’t find out what was wrong.

I have been frightened at least every day for ten years, as anyone who lives with someone with a brain altered by addiction is bound to be, because of the unpredictability of their actions.

I am frightened that I will not get my sight back properly after the accident, I am squinting at you now and there is still one and a half of you.

What helps.

Be brave.  At times of great fear I reach into the deepest part of me and summon up – me.  When I broke the first arm I didn’t saunter round the house popping stuff into a suitcase, I ran.  If something really awful happens, suddenly, it is absolutely true that your brain will be on your side.  It will speed up your perception of events, as every neuron you’ve got will go into overdrive.  To you it will seem that the rest of the world has slowed down.  You will get an adrenaline surge and extra strength in your muscles.  You can use this to run before the stick hits you, to get your mother out of bed and carry her, to collect what you need while the suitcase is empty, to stand your ground in the face of threats, to protect the weak, or whatever you need to do quickly to help.

Embrace the greatest truth that for the whole of your life the one person that will always be on your side is that face you see in the mirror every day.  If that person has let you down in the past, you can correct that by learning from experience and doing better this time.  Be present in the crisis for yourself.

Ameliorate your own physical responses to fear.  While you are still calm, learn to slow your own breathing and heart rate. Do it by counting and practice until you are good at it.  The reason this is helpful is that in a crisis you are less likely to have a heart attack or breathing problems.  If your heart stops or you stop breathing you will not survive long, stay calm and you have a better chance.  If you are less tense, painkillers will be more effective.

Do not let the fear take over.  Distract yourself. Get busy with something unimportant but engaging.  Make your card kits up.  Weed the garden.  Sort out your sock drawer.  Keep busy.

Exercise, exercise, exercise.  Get those endorphins circulating. However much you can move, do that.  Get that blood flowing.  Get busy.

Lose yourself in a hobby.

Turn your thoughts outwards from your fear and go and help someone else.  However bad it is, there is always someone else worse off than you.  You just have to find them and take cake.

Assess your current situation in detail, physically.  Start at your feet and work up, find the good bits as in:  I can wiggle my toes, nothing wrong with them, I can bend my knees and stand up, I can move my hips, I can turn my waist, my arms still move, I can wave my hands, I can hold a pen, my heart is still beating, I can see, I can breathe, I can think.  Do this several times starting at your feet each time and working up. If it’s not working, get more specific, admire each fingernail in detail.  Avoid the broken bit, emphasise the good bits.

These are the things that have helped me.  Fear can be overwhelming; you need to jump on top of it and bounce up and down until you have squashed it flat.

And if you have been a reader here for all ten years, you probably know what I’m going to say next – get a dolls’ house. Put you head inside a smaller, better, controllable world. Make a diorama.  Perpetrate a piece of art.  Paint a picture, model a model.

If you don’t like what’s happening forge an alternate reality and live in it for a while until the real world improves.  Live there intermittently, make a holiday from fear in your head.

The real world will improve, in time.  You just have to get from here to there. If you use the interim productively you will come out the other end, stronger, braver, wiser and with a finished work of art and weed-free garden and paired socks.


Fear is the vertical cliff face by which we ascend to our higher selves.


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Where to panic buy common sense.

Keen to be helpful in these difficult times, I decided to dust off my investigative journalist mackintosh (beige with shoulder flaps), my investigative journalist hat (trilby style, with a band), my investigative journalist gloves (shiny black leather) and my investigative notebook and pencil (Paw Patrol with candy pink stripes and a bow, I think my grandson may have the other one.)

Ready for the fray, I set off through the empty streets, well, empty apart from pensioners walking their dogs, hand in hand (which was clever of the dogs, come to think of it) and a determined middle aged lady walking a cat (along the top of a hedge, halfway up a tree, and round the corner at speed when a delivery van hove into view.  Boy was she dishevelled by the time they ended up in the bins outside the post office!)

My first port of call was the large supermarket on the high street.  I enquired of a stressed-out colleague (this is what we used to call a shop assistant – remember them?)  He said they had had deliveries of common sense in packs of twenty at half past five in the morning but by twenty to six it had all been panic bought by snowflakes and millennials and one pensioner who had been adopted by everyone, passed around and patted and is now dead in a ditch somewhere, probably, sneezing (which is, of course, no longer allowed.)

So I went next door to the posh shop. The posh assistant (they still have these because posh customers like them) said daintily that they had boxes of chocolate-covered sense on the top shelf.  When she fetched the steps and got up there, it turned out to be chocolate-covered sins left over from Valentines.

I popped in to the post office.  The postal colleague laughed heartily and said they were expecting some two weeks next Tuesday, depending on the post and the weather.

Next door in the ethnic grocer, there were some small packets of dried sense on the bottom shelf but they had footprints on them, looked mangled and the instructions for rehydration were in foreign.

The pub wanted to sell me fifty pints of pale ale at a knockdown price but I was driving and keen not be be shot down by drones.

In the DIY store there was the instruction book from a self-assembly common-sense self-sufficiency generator, which had been looted.  The shop owner laughed heartily for the first time in a week, knowing that the generator was useless without the 180 degree self-rotating flanges which he kept in the till.  ‘Won’t get it working without these babies,’ he laughed, heartily, holding them up to the light, ‘worth millions now, these are, I’m putting them on ETube or UBay tomorrow!’  Then he dropped one down the side of the till.  I left him taking the counter to bits.

In the wool shop they had one pattern left and were charging twenty pounds for a black and white photocopy.  I’m not good at knitting, I get all tense.  After a couple of rows I just want to stab someone with the knitting needles.  In the current climate this would be counter-productive, especially if the stabee leaked contaminated blood on bystanders. I left with a crochet pattern for cormorant tents, which only sounds similar, I don’t think it will do the trick, and, of course, I can’t quite remember how to crochet.  I think it involves fastening holes together with string and absolutely no glue at all, which is very clever.  It would have to be really, where would you dab the glue on a hole?*

The restaurant had gone all philanthropic.  The owner, who had decided to go down with a grand gesture, had battered all of his common sense, deep fried it and donated it to the local old folks home, supported by a donation of five gallons of indigestion mixture from the chemist next door, my next port of call.

The chemist could only sell me two sticking plasters, half a headache pill, a dab of pile cream, or five hundred air-line-approved compression socks.

I got back in the car and drove to the farm shop, which was deserted.  The farmer was squeezing the cow for another drop of milk and the hens were laying eggs so fast, they were the size of old sixpences, I was told you’d need eight eggs to make one hot cross bun and he was hoping to sell them at ten pounds an egg, or fifty Euros each if the Brexit arrangements were still on hold.

That was it.  No common sense anywhere in my town at all. I’m off to the investment specialist to buy shares in a gym, starting in August, when all the people who have been sitting on their sofas binge-watching NitFlix box sets and eating dried pasta straight from the bag, fight their way out of the toilet roll wall and waddle, blinking, into the sun.


* On the edge, obviously, it would just fall down because of gravity, if you put it in the middle.

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