Sunflower Power

My mother-in-law is a widow and lives in an apartment within a retirement village. She has a cat, Jones, and Jones is her life. My mum-in-law is struggling at this time. She can’t see anyone, she can’t socialise and no one is able to visit her. She doesn’t really understand social distancing and for someone who is suffering with dementia, the world at this time is very confusing.
On Saturday I spoke to Margery and she was so sad. She doesn’t like where she’s living, she told me how unhappy she was and she was miserable. It played on my mind for a long time after I spoke to her and I thought about what would make her feel better.

On Sunday morning an idea came into my head. It feels as if this could be something, it’s a challenge and I don’t know quite how to begin this initiative. This week is what would have been Chelsea Flower Show and I thought about what is the easiest, the brightest and the most cheering thing to grow. A sunflower of course. I would like to do something to help people who are lonely, isolated and I would like them to have a project of their own. Children could be involved, care homes could do this without any enormous outlay or taking up too much of what is a valuable caring job.

I feel I could purchase one plastic flower pot, a small bag of compost and a packet of sunflower seeds. Plant just two of them in the pot and begin a chain of kindness, gifting this onwards with the remaining packet of seeds asking the recipient to do the same for someone else on their own. Just one flowerpot given to a lonely person could become a continuous act of thoughtfulness. A sunflower seed needs only light and water to thrive. It will grow on a windowsill or a window box. A balcony, or a stately home. A sunflower will grow without class barriers and doesn’t require green-fingers.

I envision sunflowers being grown in Swansea, or Stevenage, in Watford or Wigan. I have felt for a long time that lots of other wonderful people have been doing things and I have wanted to contribute, but I have struggled to find something that I feel would add to our current situation. Growing something from seed with the minimal input is rewarding. To see sunflowers flourishing would make people smile.

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The balanced scales of contentment

Am I happy today, I’d rather be content. Contentment, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this and whether in this precarious time I should be.

With COVID-19 hanging over me I’m wondering if I ought to be worried, frightened or apprehensive. Hundreds of people are dying every day and I can’t see my family, hug my grandchildren or spend precious time with my Mum and Dad. I can’t go shopping or have a haircut, so should I really be feeling the quiet contentment that I’m finding myself in. So then I started thinking about the condition that I’m experiencing and how I have got here.
Is contentment a characteristic we’re born with? Is this something that we lose as we grow? As a child I didn’t need much or desire more than I could aim for. Somewhere, somehow I discovered that the world offered more than I knew about. As I found out more I wanted more. When, as a child I would ask for a book for my birthday, I’m now in a position to buy more books than I can read, but do I need them? How many books can I read at a time? Whatever happened to the library? For me I know I should be feeling bad but I’m not hankering after an expensive holiday anymore. I’ve had some great experiences, but all I really want at this moment is to give my grandchildren a great big kiss and to feel them in my arms. I can’t remember the last time I felt some physical contact with another person. Suddenly my needs are less than at any other time in my adult life. I feel as if I have been transported back 50 years to a time when my world was much smaller and I knew less. My grandparents always appeared content. To travel to far flung places wasn’t in their remit and I feel, looking back, that the expectations in their lives were not as demanding. Could it have been because of the Second World War and their gratitude that they and their families had got through it relatively unscathed?

I can see the similarity between the War and our current battle against COVID-19. My fears for entertainment, hospitality and travel might be unfounded in the future, however, my contentment can be found in little things, like growing salad in my garden and looking at clear blue skies and listening to birdsong. My contentedness comes from my sole foxglove and my plans for developing a bed of them such as the bed in the garden of a lovely old couple that I used to visit as a child in Abbots-Ann. Jess and Ethel Threadgill were the epitome of what I now desire. I remember with great fondness everything about those times. Bone china teacups and saucers of course, their dog and their lovely rolling green lush lawns. The great bank of foxgloves, which we were consistently warned of their toxicity. The colours and the great height of the bell-shaped blooms were amazing to a child.
I’m content in my garden plotting out my bed of fox gloves rather than planning another exotic excursion.

If I have learned anything from the virus it is that my needs are less than I expected.

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Victory over adversity

The country is remembering VE Day tomorrow. As a nation we all owe so much to the people who saved us from the tyranny which would have befallen Great Britain. Captain Tom Moore is an example of the very best that we can be. He epitomises everything that we should strive for. His fundraising at the age of 99 is truly mind-blowing. However, I think we all need to learn that it’s not just about the money. It’s too easy for us to reach into our wallet and tap in ‘the long number’ when we all should aspire to the spirit of the man.

As we are all in the clutch of COVID-19 it’s impossible to imagine how we as a nation would be able to commemorate in the same way as people did back in 1945. The media have given us the impression that the celebrations were carried out with only 1 week’s notice, whilst here we are all anticipating Boris Johnson’s announcement for the relaxing of our Lockdown. The resilience of people, in particular, women, seems to me to be amazing. With rationing and no men, raising children and being able to provide street parties with limited resources must have been difficult, to say the least. As soon as this country heard about Lockdown we went into stockpiling and panic buying, causing shortages of toilet rolls, pasta, hand sanitiser and plain flour. How would we have coped with rationing, limited sugar and powdered egg? I don’t think this nation would have managed. We’re too soft and cosseted.

The strength of character shown in wartime Britain seems to have disappeared. With fruit picking season approaching I am reading of a shortage of workers within this country. However, I am also reading of rising unemployment in this country. Am I the only one to see the misnomer here? I know that farmers want skilled labour and cheap, but what’s wrong with teaching students to pick in the correct way and provide them with decent accommodations whilst they’re doing it. Once upon a time, labour would descend on Kent and Sussex in order to get a paid holiday picking fruit and hops.
I feel quite strongly that we all need to be more resourceful and borrow a bit of wartime pluck.

I asked my Mum what she remembers from VE Day 1945. She was almost 7 and her memory of the day is sitting on a garden wall waving a flag. Mum grew up in a fairly rural setting and I wanted to pick her brains as to the sorts of things that were on offer on the 8th May. She told me that everyone kept chickens and that they had a pig in the back garden. When it was time and the pig was plump he was sent for slaughter. These days, we would give the pig a name and send it to a farm in the country for retirement! It seems cruel, but at that time they did what was needed to survive. I asked Mum how they kept a whole pig fresh and she told me the tale of sharing out with neighbours until it had all gone and then they killed the neighbours pig. Now, when we shop at Waitrose, if they haven’t got our favourite product on the shelf all a consumer does is complain on social media. Perhaps that’s where we’ve gone wrong. I feel that we have become too complacent in our expectations.
Maybe we need to find some resilience in order to get us through COVID-19 and then re-examine the way we live our lives.

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I dream of dresses

In the olden days, well 1976, I hadn’t even considered the life that I would end up with. I was 18 years old and I was working. I’d had weekend jobs, or one to be exact, with a well known upmarket food store called Waitrose. Moving on from there via the Inland Revenue, fairly boring and only a short stint, but the parental feeling was at least it got me away from the awful Trevor, I ended up in a bank. It’s hard to imagine but I was a lot better looking than I am now. Years have taken their toll, I am 61 and I weigh considerably more. I live in black stretchy trousers, pull-ons by M & S and I’ve always got a jumper on because I’m never warm enough, yet another symptom of MS, they just keep on coming!

BMS (before MS) I could wear quite nice clothes, not designer I’m not that posh but more boutiquey type stuff. When I was this age, I would never have been caught dead in Marks & Spencer’s. It comes to all of us eventually, it begins with the underwear, quite good fit, good colours and as things are going South now I need a good bra fitter. After a few years of underwear a t-shirt that perhaps looked comfortable caught my eye whilst walking through the store. Thin end of the wedge, that, because I could still get away with cutting the label off – but back in those days BMS, I could still wear pretty clothes. Things fitted from Dorothy Perkins, C & A at a push or Chelsea Girl, which was once Snob. Each month when I got paid I would hit the clothes shops in my lunch hour. One month’s wage spent in 3 lunch hours!

My fashion had a modesty to it. I didn’t expose a cleavage, not that I had much to expose. I knew instinctively what was appropriate workwear. I loved dresses and necklines were demure. I adored tiered skirts in pastel colours with Broderie Anglaise blouses and Peter Pan collars. For evenings and dates I loved the feel of satin on my skin and I never gave the impression of latent sexiness.

Something must have appealed to the future Husband in a Hurry about the way I dressed. We started dating, strangely enough after Southhampton FC won the FA Cup on May 1st 1976. I was yet to turn 18 and he was just about to celebrate his 21st birthday. I thought he was incredibly ‘cool’ because instead of bringing in cakes for his birthday he bought alcohol, so we all had a small drink in the bank.

My dress sense wasn’t always the most suitable for when I started dating HIAH. The strappy heels didn’t really work well on the football terraces and I was inevitably cold. I remember trying to keep up with him dashing back to the car (a Mini Clubman) in order to ‘avoid the traffic’. We always parked a good distance from the football ground and my heels got caught in the gravelly path across Southampton Common. It wasn’t until I was much wiser that I worked out that heels don’t go with football, more your trainers, but that’s another chapter.

I miss those days but looking back, since MS, my style has to be more for practicalities than fashion. I couldn’t recreate it anyway, I was a different girl back then and it suited my age and size at that time.

So in order to satisfy my nostalgia for femininity I intend to drench myself in 1970’s Laura Ashley dresses, not the real ones you understand, just photos.

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Can we ever trust again?

If lockdown is lifted towards the end of May and is, as Boris says, a phased affair, who of us are going to feel happy to return to a normal life?

I am quite nervous about resuming certain things in my life once again. I used to love going out for meals whether it was with Husband in a hurry or with girlfriends. It used to be an exciting time, where to eat, what to choose from the menu and what to wear. However, now I’m not sure about my confidence out and about. Mixing with other people, being in a crowd, will I always be watching for others who might have symptoms? I love going to concerts and I have a couple which have been rearranged for later in the year or next year, but I’m not sure whether I want to go. My trust in others to do the right thing is at rock bottom, believe me I don’t like being this. I’m spending far too much time in my kitchen because I won’t order take-out. I never thought twice about ordering a pizza but now I wonder who coughed over the preparation of it.
Now MacDonald’s want to reopen some of their food outlets. There was a time when I loved eating a MacFlurry on Eastbourne seafront, my favourite was caramel, oh for those days. Will I ever do that again, I hope so.

I’m not frightened of going out, I enjoy fresh air and feeling the sun warm on my face. It is especially good at this time because there is little traffic and more flora and fauna to see. It worries me to be with people again, I trust my family because I know where they’ve been. I could see Mum & Dad and I would happily look forward to seeing my grandchildren. I’ve missed them dreadfully, their hugs and their enthusiasm. My fear is the unknown of others who may have travelled on buses, trains or in taxis after another may have been infecting the door handles and supports. The government’s idea of a ‘Track and Trace’ app might be somewhat reassuring, however it’s not without it’s risks and a part of me does wonder if this is a little too late.

Testing frightens me. I’m not sure who is being tested anymore, I’m told that a candidate doesn’t have to be symptomatic in order to participate. If that’s the case how does it work? If you haven’t got symptoms how do you know? Tell me Mr Hancock, is this just a ploy to get to 100,000 tests per day. Call me cynical but I’m confused.

A vaccine, I don’t even have a ‘flu jab because I’m frightened of catching it. So tell me why I would have something that might make me more sick. I already have a weakened immune system, apparently, and as I understand it a vaccine goes into you and it’s got a little bit of the virus in it which encourages your T-Cells to fight it. The last time I had a ‘flu vaccine was the only time I caught ‘flu so I rest my case. I’m not sure I want this vaccine.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my life worried about having a life. I want to go and see bands, I want to go to my favourite restaurant and I desperately need to get my hair done. Let’s hope I can soon.

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To meat or not to meat…

I don’t think I’ll ever become a vegetarian. It’s not because I’m a big carnivore, far from it, I enjoy my Christmas dinner and I like bacon. Pancetta is the base of a really good carbonara. However, there are times that I have to question just how important meat is to me. It might be my old age, I might be getting soft in the head, there are people who already say that and as a ‘wheelie’ I can’t stand up for myself.

I read an article in my daily newspaper yesterday, The Times, I try to read quality although Mr Murdoch owns the Sun as well, so rather than call it a newspaper perhaps we should rename them scandal rags. The article that has upset me was on page 11 or 12 and was a small item at the bottom. I happened to be reading said paper cover to cover as I was waiting for my laptop to recharge. This particular piece informed me of the export of live sheep in cattle trucks covering 2000 miles from the UK to Hungary and Bulgaria. The sheep were loaded onto 3 tiers, approximately 300 hundred and this item was merely informative. It did not explain to me why this livestock was being slaughtered so far from England, it just seemed so matter of fact. There was no explanation as to it being cost efficient or somehow a necessary evil, it just was.

I can’t pretend to think like a sheep, I’m not one of those who follow the flock, but these animals are mammals, they have been mothers and although they are on 4 legs, we were also 4 legged until we stood up on our hind legs. They have emotions, can feel pain and therefore have the capacity to suffer. Can anyone imagine the anxiety and the stress to these animals on their journey? The dehydration caused, the cortisone and adrenaline released into their bodies, to say nothing of the defecation and broken limbs. This cannot make for palatable eating.

We have slaughterhouses in this country, still, just. In what possible world do we need to move livestock from one country to another in order to be slaughtered? Ever since I can remember we have been buying New Zealand lamb, frozen and often cheaper than our own. Why aren’t we buying and eating our own sheep, chickens and beef?

I think that if we learn anything from Brexit or the current Corona virus pandemic it surely must be that with a little bit of foresight and forward planning we could be providing for ourselves and not exporting or importing food.
We have ample green space and fields. We can grow and farm our own meat, we are an island, we are surrounded by fish. We can grow strawberries in June, apples in October and potatoes all year round. Our asparagus is ready now. We need to eat seasonally, I know we need oranges for marmalade, I appreciate there are holes in this ideal. Although English sparkling wine is better than Champagne and our Somerset brie is as good as anything from France, we can’t grow oranges yet.

I suspect that moving livestock around in this way is more cost efficient. I can’t think of any other reason for doing this and I am trying to find a way to raise awareness of this animal cruelty.

Please share this if you agree with me.

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Sugar Baby Love

As we have more time on our hands in these periods of lockdown, three weeks extended to three more weeks and the possibility of even more. We are all trying to find things, hobbies, pastimes to occupy ourselves with. Men can’t play sports and even if they are working from home the lure of outside, cutting the lawn or trimming the edges beckons them away from the computer. Children, despite home schooling, which let’s face it, is never going to work because home is full of toys and TV. Women, us, have taken to baking. If we can get flour, or the other relevant ingredients which brings me to sugar.

I started thinking about sugar, it’s been such an important part of my life. I’ve tried on various occasions to limit sugar from my life but it’s so hard when I look back and see how enabled I was to abuse it. As a child I was a fussy eater so I had to be encouraged to eat and adding it became second nature. We didn’t have ‘low sugar’, ‘no sugar’ or ‘sugar free’. Let’s face it, it made all food more palatable to me.
Let’s start with breakfast. In the days of limited choice, cornflakes, porridge, or Weetabix was all we had. All would taste better with sugar. A bowl of cornflakes with milk and 2 heaped spoonfuls of sugar on top I swear it’s where Kellogg’s got ‘Crunchy Nut Cornflakes’ from. The secret was to eat them before all the sugar dissolved and in the bottom of the bowl was a sediment of sugar grains to crunch on. Weetabix soaked up all the milk rapidly and without that spoonful of sugar just became mush, I always found Weetabix better eaten dry with a thick layer of butter spread on top and a generous dusting of sugar. It goes without saying that there was always sugar on the top of porridge.

When that magical nanny said, quote, ‘A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down’ she was talking about me. As a sickly child the only way I would take any form of tablet was to crush it in a spoonful of sugar!
Lunch would consist of sandwiches, white bread of course, buttered and a chopped banana sprinkled with sugar or even forget the banana. Sugar sandwiches, yum.
Strawberries, or any fruit actually, tasted better dipped in sugar. Well they did when I was young. I have to admit that with a wiser palate fruit should never need added sugar, there are exceptions to this rule; gooseberries, redcurrants and rhubarb. There’s also cranberries which should be made into jelly with guess what? Sugar!

I’ve been drinking cups of tea since I was a little girl. When I was 7 years old it didn’t taste very nice, unless it had 2 spoons of sugar in it. I had lovely grannies who spoiled me and my grandparents positively encouraged the use of sugar everywhere, probably as a kick-back from the war when they couldn’t get it because it because of rationing and even granddad’s homegrown tomatoes tasted good with a teaspoon of sugar.
As a teenager I progressed to coffee. Coffee was coffee in those days, not extra frothy milk or added syrups. It was Maxwell House and it felt very grown up. It also had 2 teaspoons of sugar, it was the only way I could drink it.
Then there were the fizzy drinks, so sweet you could stand a spoon up in them. Surprisingly at this time, anything that said ‘Corona’ on the front was acceptable. Cream of soda was my favourite and there wasn’t a diet version of it.

I can’t blame sugar for my MS, possibly my weight and certainly the state of my teeth. I look with envy at other people’s pearly whites, Julia Roberts’ particularly. I try not to laugh out loud too often but in this time of social distancing, hopefully my fillings are not too visible. However, if the sun shines at the wrong angle the mercury reflects and gives me away.

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I was going to, but…

I thought I would pop up to Fortnum’s this morning for supplies, but Mum & Dad might have needed help with their very first Waitrose online shop so I thought I would postpone.
Husband in a hurry and I talked about the possibility of heading to the cinema this afternoon, we still haven’t seen ‘Military Wives’ and having dinner at Pablos on Sovereign Harbour, but I seem to have injured my big toe somehow and I can’t put a sock on as I need to ‘let the air get to it’.
I was planning another trip to a bookshop, Camilla’s, in Eastbourne. You can never have too many books! Unfortunately, Camilla’s have just recently had a fire and all the shelves have been destroyed.
It’s a lovely day today and I would have loved to go for a walk along the seafront, but Husband in a hurry has an appointment with a man about the garden so time is poor and we have to stay in and wait for him.
I had a musical concert planned with Gregory Porter, but as it happens I realised it’s on TV and I haven’t got anything to wear anyway.
Husband in a hurry and I thought about taking a city break to Bath. Neither of us have ever been and always hankered to but I discovered that the neighbours were having a barbecue that weekend and there’s nothing better than a cremated sausage, is there?
This weekend is Easter. I always plan an egg hunt for my grandchildren and this year would be no exception, but it’s going to be a hot weekend and I fear the chocolate will melt, so I’ll have to eat them.
Under normal circumstances I would be planning the grand relocation to my new suite, banners, balloons and general decor, but unfortunately the builders have all fallen out, petty squabbling and playground antics so it’s put on hold.

These are all plans torn asunder by COVID-19. This becomes more real because even Boris has been stricken down by this virus. Even though I’ve never met him I feel a connection to our PM and we’re all shocked to hear that he was admitted to Intensive Care. It is only when a familiar face becomes infected that it comes home to us how fragile we all are. The numbers that we hear of day in and day out are faceless until it is someone who we’ve known and seen for many years. I really hope Boris can shake this off, it will help me to feel that this is something we can defeat.

I am sending my best wishes and prayers to him and his family.

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Stolen choices

I don’t want this to be a depressing blog, in fact I have rediscovered a lot in this current situation. I have more time as I cannot fill my life with minutiae. I have found that I am able to make do with alternatives rather than searching out the optimum which fills my time, until now. I am finding things to fill my time, books to read, old films to watch and crosswords to complete. The garden is full of spring, colours are coming alive again and birdsong has become more magical. There is less traffic, so less hum and darkness takes on an otherworldly aspect.

I just need to mention a few things that I’m missing from my life due to COVID-19. My family and close contact with them is a major one for me. I’m a touchy-feely kind of person and I love those huge enveloping hugs from my daughters. They make me feel so warm and emotional. I am sentimental about them and having not seen them for some time I miss them very much. My grandchildren running up to greet me with their special way of hugging, Meadow only reaches my waist so she ends up hugging my knees. I haven’t seen Mum & Dad for 4 months, contact with them is extra special to me now that we are all older.
I applauded the NHS and key workers last night from my driveway and I realised how long it has been since I saw neighbours. Almost all were outside clapping and it dawned on me that we haven’t talked for some time.

Part of what is driving me stir crazy is losing control of the little things that I have a say or power over. One is the groceries that come into the house. I feel lost if I cannot choose meals or recipes for the week ahead. It’s my contact with the outside world and although it seems trivial just saying it, it is important to me. I can’t book any slots and if I give Husband in a Hurry a shopping list I know he will be particular about which parts of the list to ignore and the bits he will add.

I miss going to the hairdressers. I know it sounds inconsequential as I know that there is far worse that could happen and missing out on a hair cut isn’t the end of my world, but it’s another chip in my independence. Our monthly writing workshop is being screened virtually and I miss the interpersonal contact, the ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’ which are part of our social interaction. I crave people and the invisible killer that is corona virus is stealing my freedom.

However, there is a positive in that I am not spending as much money, which means I am saving for the time which I know will come, when we are on the other side and our emancipation arrives. Husband in a Hurry and I are finding ways to not live in each other’s pockets, although I am stuck inside, he is able to walk or cycle for exercise every day. Time is spent on books and reading and he is doing those maintenance chores that have been on the back burner for months. I am discovering ways around my laptop which I didn’t realise existed before, although I still spend too many hours on solitaire.

The thing is, we know that we will get through this and I am aware that shopping will return, Waitrose will welcome me back and Tony & Guy need my cash ringing in their till.
I’ll save the Easter eggs until I see my grandchildren in person again.

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The blue-tits aren’t interested!

I would like to point out the positives in this changing time. Call me an Old Biddy if you like, and many do, but whilst this evolving situation is causing great distress I feel that we could all learn from our behaviour at this time.

Firstly, we are starting to appreciate our own backyard. Spring is here and my garden is coming to life with colour and song. The birds are going crazy, not realising we’ve put the clocks forward. The snowdrops have been and gone and I’ve noticed the reds of camellias and the pinks of magnolias. I would restock my herb trug although it’s tricky at the moment because the garden centres are closed.

We need to push a reset button while we can. I remember from my teenage years life was slower but more fun than it is for today’s teenagers. We celebrated the beginning of Spring with the sound of the cuckoo rather than winter sun breaks in far flung countries. We can’t do that now because no one’s flying due to the virus. I think that’s a good thing, our skies are clearer and less polluted. In the old days, celebration of May was festivals, ceilidhs. We had May queens crowned with spring flowers and we passed around corn dollies. We celebrated Spring looking forward to our summers with enthusiasm and didn’t see foreign travel as a necessity. If we booked a holiday in Devon that was the only excitement we needed. The May Bank Holiday was Whitsun where we had carnivals and fun fairs and our celebrations were so much more innocent. All we wanted was the fairground lad to spin us faster on the waltzer. Play schemes were run through the school holidays. Activites for 7-12 year olds culminating in an ‘Inflatables’ day at the end of each week. They would be erected on the local ‘Rec’ (recreation ground). There were always minor accidents, nose bleeds or squashed limbs but remember this was before the Health & Safety. Oh, the fun we had, we did, we enjoyed it.

I’m grateful for the world slowing down for a while. The shops have only limited supplies and I am finding that I want to use more local produce and source things closer to home. Whilst I love mangoes and kiwi fruit, rhubarb is available at the moment and can be used in many ways. Supermarkets offer so much variety but do we really need 54 varieties of cereal? When I was young we had cornflakes, Weetabix and Shredded Wheat. When Frosties were launched we were told we couldn’t have them because a) they were full of sugar and b) they were too expensive. How many different oils can I buy? Ive been hoodwinked into needing walnut oil, sesame oil or groundnut oil, guess what, they all go out of date before I can use them!

I’m so bored at the moment and I can’t shop for groceries as there’s no slots (see last blog) but, I can browse. T-shirts, jumpers or handbags, but who is going to see them? The birds in my garden don’t care. Newspaper articles are advising me on how to cut my own hair, again I could end up with hair like Boris and nobody would mind.

I think that we may be putting our gardens to good use as vegetable plots in future. I’d quite like a pig snuffling in my garden. The pig would have a name, I couldn’t kill it and it would have rather a rank smell, besides, my neighbours would complain. Unfortunately chickens would be fox fodder around here, so not viable, indeed an untenable option for me.

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