Covid-19 and Beetley: A Saturday Update

So the UK government has officially downgraded the alert level for the Coronavirus, from 4 to 3. All the schools are set to go back in September, hotels are opening in July, and non-essential shops opened earlier this week. The two-metre social distancing is set to be reduced to one metre soon, and all public transport is running, with the requirement to wear a face-covering of some kind inside trains and buses.

Sounds positive, doesn’t it? Well, I don’t think so.

Too many people are still dying, and too many people are still carrying the virus without any idea that they have it.

The track and trace app has been abandoned in favour of something else provided by Google and Apple. No doubt a company somewhere made a mint out of the failed experiment, and some officials pocketed a nice payoff too. The fall in the numbers of deaths is hailed as a great success. Try telling that to the people who died this week, and their bereaved relatives and friends.

Speaking from his luxury home in Florida, where he travelled to by private jet, the odious Lord Sugar, he of ‘The Apprentice’ fame, denied the very existence of the virus, for the simple reason that he doesn’t personally know anyone who has died of it. That man has a vote in The House of Lords, let’s not forget that.

I had to drive into the nearby town of Dereham yesterday, to go to the bank. It was a Friday as normal, as far as I could tell. Car parks almost full, crowds of eager shoppers everywhere, and few bothering about social distancing. You could have assumed it was still 2019, and nothing had happened. There were measures in place at the bank, and around half the shops and all the cafes and pubs were still closed until July.

But it was otherwise very ‘normal’. OId normal, that is.

Far too normal for me, I assure you.

Beetley Update: Yet Another Covid-19 Saturday

As this situation drags on, it even seems to be geting to the local dogs. I was awakened early by dogs barking in nearby gardens, and that set off some ‘yappy dogs’ on the street outside. Very soon, there was some kind of ‘Canine Concerto’ happening, and getting back to sleep was impossible.

During the current lockdown, even allowing for the recent ‘easing of restrictions’, waking up early is not advised. With nowhere much to go, it makes a long day feel a whole lot longer. We can of course drive to the coast if we wish, but there are still no cafes or public toilets open, so maybe not a good idea. Not much point going into town to look around the shops, as only the food shops and chemists are open at the moment.

Uncertain weather doesn’t help either. Depending which forecast you look at, we are due to have either a dry humid day up to 24 C, or a 60% chance of thundery showers in the same temperatures. The obvious conclusion is that it is going to feel uncomfortably humid, whatever happens.

Next week, ‘non-essential’ shops are allowed to open. I predict there will be a rush on for hairdressers and barbers, as well as people browsing in gift shops, charity shops, and card shops, just because they can. Not because they actually want to buy anything. The local supermarkets are retaining the same distancing measures and queueing system, and I think that’s a good idea. When Macdonalds reopened last week, the queue for the drive-through brought local traffic to a standstill. Imagine if the restaurant had opened too.

People are craving what they were used to, and will not hesitate to have it once they can. All this talk of the world ‘changing’ becuase of the Coronavirus is just fantasy, I’m afraid. They will jump in their cars, head to the shoppping malls, book holidays abroad on jet planes, pack out any public venues that actually open, and get back to ‘normal’ in a heartbeat, as if nothing had happened.

Don’t believe me? Wait and see.

Yet Another Lockdown Saturday

Since the issues with the virus began, I have been reporting from the small village of Beetley in Norfolk, about how it affects this small community.
So here is another Saturday update, with unsurprisingly little to report.

The change in the weather had an immediate affect on people being seen out and about. Rain kept in most other dog walkers, and many of the family groups who had been enjoying the outdoors by the riverside. It occurred to me that they should have just put on some coats and boots, and made the most of the remaining time off before they have to go back to work or school. But a drop of 10 degrees C overnight put paid to their enthusiasm.

After the earlier burst of activity involving cutting lawns, trimming shrubs, and banging away at parts of their houses with something heavy and noisy, it seems that they have now either done all they can do, or have lost the will to do more. We are back to peace and quiet at weekends, with no traffic, and few walkers to be seen.

On a personal note, I have become involved in a ‘neighbour dispute’ with the people at the side of our back garden. They want to cut four feet off the hedge that borders their garden, and delivered a hand-written note telling me of their intention. I have suggested arbitration from the local authorities instead, with the unhappy neighbours needing to prove that our hedge is ‘Anti-Social’, and causes ‘detrimental affects’ to the enjoyment of their rented property. If I lose the judgement, we will end up with an unsightly gap in the long hedge that will look ridiculous.

Perhaps they had too much time on their hands during this lockdown?. After all, they have lived there for some years, and the hedges were exactly the same when they took the property on. So now I have to endure an investigation from the authorities, and become involved in a neighbour dispute that I never expected to encounter in Beetley. Maybe I should have bought a small castle instead, and raised the drawbridge? Or an unpopulated island off the coast, only accessible by boat?

No matter how far away you move, in my case 130 miles, it seems you can never escape the prospect of a niggling neighbour.

Covid-19 Saturdays Continue

Another weekly report from Beetley, during the pandemic lockdown.

As I type this at almost 11 am, you could hear a pin drop outside. Activity is at the lowest level for weeks, despite a sunny start to the day.

One community spirit thing that I noted this week was people putting books outside in small containers. They are offering the books they have read to anyone passing by, free of charge. With the library closed in town, and the mobile library not coming to the villages during the pandemic, it is great to see so many of my neighbours giving away free books to those who have run out of things to read.

Yesterday when I was entering the nature reserve with Ollie, I saw that someone had rigged the latch on the large gate. It was jammed open by the use of a carefully-placed cable tie, which was impossible to remove without a sharp knife to hand. They had fixed a hand-written notice to the woodwork, saying that they had done that so that people could enter and leave without touching the metal latch, as the virus could stay on the metal for 72 hours.

I spoke to some other dog walkers, and they thought it was a good idea. I didn’t agree. Without the gate firmly latched, it would be easy for an excited dog to get out into the small car park, and the fast road beyond. It would also allow deer to exit through that route, and possibly be injured or killed by traffic. What one person thought was something good to do for walkers and visitors is not such a great idea, in my opinon. I would have just washed my hands when I got home, or used a dog-poo bag over my hand to open and close the latch.

Because nobody is driving around much, some locals have had problems with their cars. My next-door neighbour had to buy a new battery for his SUV, as the old one had gone flat from lack of use. Some cars have failed to start after weeks of not being used for commuting to work, and with many using delivery options for grocery shopping too. Some of the irritating side-effects of being in the lockdown that none of us ever thought about at the start.

Some ladies I meet out on dog walks are also concerned about their hair. With all the hairdressers closed until further notice, their regular hair-dying and trimming sessions have left them with grey roots showing, and ‘mad’ hair. Many have actually apologised to me for the appearance of their hair, which is weird. My wife’s hairdresser is closed until October, so I might have to cut her hair at some stage. I doubt she will chance letting me near her with a pair of scissors though.

As far as I am aware, nobody in this village, with its population of around 1300, has died from the Covid-19 virus so far. Our secluded location and lack of visitors may well have helped of course.

Or it may just be that everyone washes their cars so much, their hands are always clean. 🙂

The Buzz Around Beetley

This blog is named after where I live, Beetley Village, in Norfolk.

The name of the village has absolutely nothing to do with Bees, Beetles, or Volkswagen cars. However, that does not stop the local Parish Council associating the place with Bees. Our amateur football team is called The Beetley Bees, and they play in yellow and black striped shirts. And the Parish Council newsletter is called The Beetley Buzz.

(Both photos can be enlarged for detail)

We don’t have a local newspaper here. With a population numbering less than 1500, it would not be financially viable. The closest alternative is The Dereham Times, a weekly newspaper published in our nearest town. If something of note happens in the surrounding villages, including Beetley, it might get a mention. Or it might not.

If you enlarge the photo to read the text above, you will see that not much happens here. No crime reports of any kind feature, which of course is a good thing. The big news and first feature is the problem of dog-fouling, and owners not picking up their dog’s poo. That is about how angry it gets around here.
Then there is a notification of a keep fit class for ladies, a forthcoming Quiz Night at the junior school, and a note about fundraising for the volunteer lifeboats.

No stabbings or murders. No house burglaries, street robberies, or even a car theft.

To save paper, and money, Page 2 is printed on the back.

This concerns planning applications, local meetings, and the news that the small amount we pay to the Parish Council each year has been increased.
By the princely sum of £1 per year. Then there is a report of the Patient Group at out local Doctor’s Surgery, and a dog-biting incident where I walk Ollie, on Beetley Meadows.

This is local news, for local people, and it makes us feel glad that we chose to live here.

That’s ‘The Buzz’ around Beetley, at the start of 2020.

Beetley

Someone recently mentioned that they had only just realised that Beetley was a place, rather than a strange name I had invented for this blog. I have posted photos of Beetley before, and written about this small place too. But for the benefit of those of you new to my blog, here are some more, to give you some idea of this rural location in Eastern England.

Beetley is in the centre of Norfolk, one of the most easterly counties in England.

As well as pig farming, the growing of oil seed rape is popular, and the yellow flowers can be seen all around here in the fields.

The nearest church is the old Methodist church, and as you can see, it is very small.

Old Beetley is now part of the larger village, but retains its own identity.

The opening of a new Scout Hut is big news around here!

At the end of my street is the Gressenhall Museum. It is housed in a former Workhouse, built in the 1830s. It features exhibits about life at the time, as well as having a working farm.
https://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/gressenhall-farm-and-workhouse

As you can see, it is a real place, albeit a very small one.

Not exactly a tourist destination, but if you are ever in the area, I will be happy to show you around. 🙂

https://beetleypete.com/2012/08/16/beetley-village/

https://beetleypete.com/2016/01/30/a-bright-afternoon-in-beetley/

Gressenhall


All photos can be enlarged for detail.

With nice weather this afternoon, I decided to take Ollie somewhere new. Just west of Beetley is the village of Gressenhall. Although slightly smaller than Beetley, it does have a definite centre, with a small shop and assorted houses that are clustered around the village green. The brown building on the left is the community centre and children’s playgroup.
Ollie fans, please note. He flatly refused to be in a single photo today!

On the far side of that green is a duck pond. But there were no ducks in residence today.

Gressenhall is 2.5 miles from Beetley, and can be accessed via a safe footpath, away from the traffic. It is the place where we can find our nearest pub, The Swan. A reasonable walk of about twenty-five minutes.

Opposite the pub is our nearest shop and post office. This small shop keeps old-fashioned opening hours, and the post office inside is only open on Monday afternoons! It is something of a hub for the local community, and is usually full of people chatting to each other, as they buy their newspapers, wine, or fresh produce. The owners live above the shop, and manage to keep it going in these difficult times for small businesses.

Gressenhall is mainly known for the Farm and Workhouse museum. This museum is just at the end of the road where we live, so we prefer to think it is in Beetley. However, the main road is the dividing line, so it is really in Gressenhall.
http://www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/Visit_Us/Gressenhall_Farm_and_Workhouse/index.htm

I hope that you enjoyed this snapshot of village life in central Norfolk.

Holidays and Travel: Kenya 1983 (Part Four)

It was going to be a long day. Our luggage was packed, and we had to take what we needed for the day out, and the trip back to Nairobi later. The first destination was a Maasai village, taking in whatever wildlife we could see along the way. After a picnic lunch, more searching for animals, before the long drive back to the hotel in the city. Everyone was alert, and on the lookout. Nobody wanted to miss anything. On the way to the village, we saw a lot more of the same animals. Zebra, wildebeest, and gazelle. It never once got boring, as there were so many of them, and always the chance of spotting something new.

Arriving at the village, I was rather disappointed to see so many other tourists. Although it was a genuine home for the tribe, where they herded cattle, living much as they always had, these tourist days provided a much-needed economic boost for the local people. The downside was that it gave the experience the feel of a theme-park. Maasai men, unusually tall, wandered around carrying spears, and were dressed in traditional robes. The women, also gaily dressed, had all set out small stalls or blankets on the ground, to sell their wares. We were shown inside the huts, which were dark, and very smoky. Women and children inside sat around cooking, giving the impression of living as normally as possible, as a few dozen westerners gawped at them. My wife bought an authentic hand-made machete, something that gave us problems later. Haggling was advised, but we were still flush with our ‘illegal’ cash, so just paid the very fair asking price. I didn’t like watching other tourists trying to beat down the price of affordable trinkets to less that they would pay for a bottle of water. When it was time to go, I felt relieved. I tried to convince myself that the income was good for the tribe, but I felt that it would have been preferable to leave them alone.

Driving off in search of animals to see, we were soon off the beaten track, and our route took us into an area where the road was bordered by very high grass. It appeared to be featureless, but after twenty minutes or so, the ever-alert Stephen suddenly stopped the vehicle. He quickly told us all to be very quiet, and to look out to our left. We crammed into the open roof area, and scanned the grass. Sure enough, it was moving, being parted by something large. Moments later, a large rhino appeared, less than fifty feet from our gaze. It was being followed by a tiny baby rhino, which was amazing to see. Many of us actually gasped, to see such a sight. The mother rhino gave us the briefest of glances, and passed behind the bus, crashing into the grass on the other side. Stephen was ecstatic. He had managed to find us a truly memorable experience. A mother and baby white rhino, one of the rarest things even he could remember on an animal drive. And everyone had got photos too, so the whole group was beside itself. Stephen could not contain his excitement, and kept telling us how lucky we were. When we stopped for lunch, he carried on, approaching each member of our small group, repeating ‘White rhino, and a baby. Did you see them?’ I was as pleased for him as I had been to see it myself.

After the early lunch, we drove off in search of lions. Stephen was sure that he knew where to find some, and backtracked towards the village. In the distance, we could see at least ten vehicles circling, just off the main track. He headed that way, and seeing some other guides he knew well, he turned to us saying ‘Lions, soon.’ We joined the circling queue of safari trucks and jeeps, and he told us to be ready with our cameras, for a very short stop. As we arrived at the cluster of rocks, we could see a large male lion, three females, and two cubs. He stopped our bus about one hundred feet away from the group. They were all lying down, and completely unperturbed by the vehicles. We took our photos quickly, and he drove off again, very pleased to have brought us to wild lions. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but I had found this to be the least exciting moment of the whole trip. It felt staged, although we knew that it wasn’t; and the presence of so many vehicles had made it feel more like a safari park in England, than a moment of discovery in the wild.

It was time to go back to the lodge and collect the luggage. When Stephen was away from us, I organised a collection, into which we placed the equivalent of £25. Some gave us money, though two of the group declined, and we finished with a total of less than £50. We made the amount up to that figure, and held onto it until our return to Nairobi. We felt that Stephen had more than deserved it, and were very disappointed that the Belgian couple had refused to contribute. Stephen returned from the reception with startling news. During the previous evening, unknown to us at the time, a female member of staff had been killed by lions. Apparently, she had been going home from work to staff accommodation some way off, and had been dragged off the path by lions. Parts of her body had been discovered after breakfast, and her clothing had been recognised. I never discovered how they knew for sure that lions were responsible, but it was a sobering end to our trip. The return journey to Nairobi was long and dusty, and it was dark by the time we returned to our hotel. Bidding farewell to Stephen, we shook hands, and gave him the collection money. He took it without counting it, or looking at it, waving goodbye as he climbed back into his minibus.

It was late, but the hotel provided us with a welcome meal. We had to get to bed, as the next day, we were flying off to Mombasa, excited to see the Indian Ocean, and another side of Kenya.

Beetley Benefits

If you live in a large town or city in the UK, it is unlikely that you would ever be aware of the unseen benefits of living in a Norfolk village, or for that matter, villages all over this country. There are downsides, that I have often mentioned in this blog. Public Transport could be much improved, and there is a scarcity of local shops, and places of entertainment and leisure, that do not involve having to drive to them. Call an ambulance, and you may well have to wait a considerable time for it to turn up; and you are not likely to see a police officer walking the beat locally.

However, the benefits far outweigh these disadvantages. Ask yourself, are you happy to leave your car unlocked where you live? If you went out and realised that you had forgotten to lock the door, would you return home in a panic, expecting to find all your possessions gone, or intruders in your home? When you are out walking around your neighbourhood, do you feel comfortable when you see a group of young men walking towards you? If you ever concern yourself about issues like these, then you really need to think about moving to Beetley, or somewhere just like it.

You would like to order some reasonably expensive item from a company like Amazon. You are unsure if you will be in to receive it, and there is nowhere that it can be left securely. So you get it delivered to where you work, and carry it home. Or it is sent to a relative who is available, and you have to collect it. Here, the solution is simple. You return home to find the item propped up against your front door, in full view. It has been unmolested, undisturbed, and might have been there all day. Nobody would even think about stealing it. Someone might even move it inside your back gate for you, under cover, if it started to rain.

 

It is very icy out. As a former city dweller, you are afraid to drive into town in those conditions, so you set off walking, hoping that rare bus will turn up. Someone you have never met will stop and offer you a lift in their car, as they are used to driving in bad conditions. Forgotten to close a window when you left home? A helpful person will push it closed from outside, to give the relative appearance of security. If you have parked your car in the drive, and left a door ajar, somebody will ring the bell, to let you know, and to save your battery running down, or rain getting in. Go away for a two-week holiday, forgetting to lock a door, or secure windows, and you can return home, safe in the knowledge that you house will be as you left it

This all takes a lot of getting used to, after sixty years in central London. But there’s more.

Tell someone that your dog is unwell, and you will return to find treats or biscuits for him, hanging off your letterbox in a carrier bag. There might even be a get well card enclosed. If your car needs to go in for repair, or service and MOT, somebody will offer to pick you up from the garage, and drop you back again later. Got a parcel to send, or an air-mail letter to post? If a neighbour is going to the post office, they will happily take your mail for you, and sort out the cost later. If an elderly person can no longer drive, or has become unwell, others will come to their aid, even if they hardly know them. They will take them to the shops, or take a list, and get the shopping for them. If dustbin day is looming, they will make sure that the correct bin is wheeled out for them, without even being asked.

Perhaps you are a dog owner, and sometimes you are unable to take the dog for a walk, as you have to attend an appointment, or travel a long distance. No need to worry. One of the local dog owners will take your furry friend out for you, accompanying their own dog. You can even trust them with a key to your house, and if need be, they will not only feed the dog for you, but pop back later to make sure that it is OK, and leave some lights on, for when you come home late. The same goes for feeding your cat, if you have one, or even tropical fish, chickens, or caged birds. Far from being nervous if you see a group of teenagers hanging around, you can actually ask for their help. Maybe you need to shift some wood, look for a lost pet, or assist an elderly person who has fallen. Not only will they help, they will do so willingly, and with enthusiasm.

Walk past any stranger, and they will greet you with a cheerful ‘hello’, or at the very least, a nod of recognition. Ask for directions, and they will walk part of the way with you; or if they are in a car, will offer to take you there. Mention a restaurant, tradesman, or even a garden centre, and they will steer you to the one with the most reliable reputation, and best service. If someone nearby is having a party, or family celebration, they will put notes through doors, apologising in advance for any noise or disruption. If they plan to burn leaves, they will look over the fence first, to see if you have washing hanging on the line.

This all sounds like a figment of my imagination, impossible in the 21st century, I know. But it is everyday life here, a community as it should be. Safe, secure, compassionate and helpful, living in peace, and wishing the same for everyone else. I recommend it, unreservedly.

Coming to terms

After living here in Norfolk for quite a while now, I have finally begun to believe it. For so long, it didn’t feel real, as if I was always going to be going back to London, or moving on to somewhere else. It has taken a long time to fully embrace the peace, and the unreal slowness of life here. I used to think that I was deluded when I told myself that I didn’t miss anything about life in the city. Part of me always thought that I would snap out of it one day, and wonder what I thought I was doing here.

I now realise that I have come to terms with this life. I am living life in a way I never previously thought possible, and I am glad about it too. I have written a lot about the weather in many posts, as regular readers will be only too aware. I think that this is because I have come to understand weather in a very real sense. I now like to prepare for it, to be aware what might happen, and to make it part of my life, as opposed to disregarding it. I welcome the darkness, and the way that it closes things down around us. I enjoy that slow pace of life, and adjust my own speed accordingly. This is where I live now, and I won’t be going anywhere else.

I expect that many of you would never consider giving up the comforts and amenities of life in a large town or city. I know that I once thought that I never would. There are trade-offs, it would be foolish to suggest otherwise. Life outside villages has a convenience and simplicity not found here. We have to plan ahead, make sure that the car is reliable, and be aware that we cannot rely on public transport. Going to a theatre, a good restaurant, or an exhibition, is not something that can be done on the spur of the moment. It involves forward planning, and of course, driving. Yet it restores that sense of occasion, so often lacking in cities, where these things are so common, they become almost mundane. They can still be achieved, you just have to think about them.

In return, you get a great deal, once you understand what it is. Sky, darkness, stillness; a sense of safety previously unknown.

I can really recommend it.