A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Welcome to Saga’s first blog for those currently in the UK’s most exclusive club (or, at least, that’s how I like to see it). It’s an unnerving time for every one of us, but it’s our aim to bring you some joy, some laughs, plenty of distraction and also some useful ideas for how to stay healthy and pass the time. There’s no denying the next little while is going to be a challenge, but I’ve come to realise that Saga readers are a tough bunch. Together, we’ll get through this.
I’ll be posting on our #notgoingoutclub blog every week and I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas: what are you doing to stay in contact with friends and relatives? How are you keeping fit, and what strategies have you devised for staying positive? Contact me at email@example.com. I promise to pass on the best of your suggestions in my next blog post so we can all help each other. If you’re on Facebook, come and find us here and let’s get the (non-contact) party started…
On the box
Times like these call for the deliciously comforting brand of TV drama so brilliantly written by Julian Fellowes, and as luck would have it, we’re two episodes in to his new Downton-esque drama, Belgravia, which is on ITV on Sunday evenings. My love for Downton Abbey knows no bounds, even the later series which - as my sceptical husband rather rudely points out - have a distinctly TV soap feel to them. So when I heard Sir Julian had adapted his bestselling novel Belgravia for TV, I could have danced the kind of jig the inhabitants of 1840s Belgravia might have recognised.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve loved both episodes so far, particularly the second one on Sunday. I won’t spoil the plot for those yet to catch up with the action on ITV Hub, but we are beginning to see where this story might be heading. The central characters are the yuppies of the early 19th century in London, brash former market trader turned property developer James Trenchard (Philip Glenister) and his quieter and morally upright wife Anne (Tamsin Greig). They’re mixing - somewhat uneasily - in the same social circles as grande dame Lady Brockenhurst (the magnificent real life Dame Harriet Walter) and her husband the Earl (Tom Wilkinson). It became clear in Sunday night’s episode that the two families share a secret that unites yet divides them, and it’s the two women – Anne and Lady Brockenhurst – who are at the centre of the action. Harriet Walter is simply superb as the clever plotter Lady Brockenhurst, who nonetheless manages to keep our sympathy.
This led to a spirited discussion in our house about who makes the best grande dame: Harriet Walter or Downton Abbey’s Maggie Smith. Votes were split. What do you think? Tamsin Greig as Anne just gets better in every scene; I was lucky enough to attend the launch of the show a few weeks ago and it was clear she loves the themes Fellowes tackles – class, snobbery and the power of women, all set in a time of profound social change. Mind you, she also confessed that wearing a corset every day for filming had sent her into the care of an osteopath! Roll on episode 3, where apparently we will find out more about the morally dubious characters…
I’m told by those who know that it’s a good time of the year to see finches in the garden, not just the common or garden greenfinch or chaffinch, but the wonderful bullfinch with its bright pink-red breast and grey back – even though they’re a menace to our fruit trees later in the year. If we’re lucky we may catch sight of a goldfinch at the bird table. Their long beaks can reach even the most inaccessible seeds. But it’s their colours that really delight: the red face, black head and yellow patches on their wings. If you live near woods, particularly conifers, you may also see the siskin, a smaller dome-headed finch with a distinctive forked tail. For more information and to hear their calls, see rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/.
On the subject of birds, Wilko’s stores are running a competition to find the UK’s best bird pictures for its 2021 Wild Bird calendar. The only rules are that the picture must be of a wild bird in a garden/outdoor setting and taken by you. If your picture makes it into the calendar you win a gift card worth £100. Get snapping – the competition ends on March 29. Email your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Website of the day
World Digital Library [wdl.org]. This is an utterly fascinating online library of maps, artefacts and pictures going back 10,000 years from museums all over the world, assembled by the US Library of Congress with support from UNESCO. With a staggering 19,147 items on virtual display, this could keep us all absorbed for months. For example, you can zoom in on maps of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition of 1907-9, together with pictures from one of his later trips. It’s easy to navigate, too, with a simple search bar.
Here’s a quick quiz from our ‘Use it or lose it’ team. How many can you get without resorting to Professor Google? The answers will be revealed in next week's blog post...
1. Can you name the world’s only two double-landlocked countries? (that’s landlocked countries surrounded by other landlocked countries).
2. Where on the London Underground can you travel through the longest series of consecutive stations beginning with the same letter, without changing trains?
3. Iceland is home to Europe’s largest banana plantation. True or false?
4. What’s the total height of the Bingley Five Rise Locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, to the nearest 5ft?
5. Can you name two members of Harold Wilson’s so-called ‘kitchen Cabinet’?
Position of the day
Over the next few weeks we’re going to bring you a full flexibility workout. Here’s the first exercise – the cat stretch. It’s our backs, necks and shoulders that really suffer when we sit down a lot. The cat stretch is a great workout for the whole spine, torso and neck.
1. Get down on all fours, using a blanket to cushion your knees.
2. Position your wrists slightly forward from your shoulders with your knees directly below your hips.
3. Inhale slowly and draw your chest forwards and up, allowing your spine to sink down.
4. Exhale with a sigh and arch your back upwards, relaxing your neck. Repeat five times, slowly breathing in and out as you move.
See you next time, stay safe.
P.S. By far my favourite story recently was the three indomitable friends from Salford – Doreen, Carol and Dotty – who appeared on BBC Breakfast. They have been friends for almost 50 years and have decided to spend their 12-week self-isolation together, moving between their three houses for as long as it’s possible. Carol and Dotty have long gardens for exercising, but Doreen has Netflix so they can watch The Crown. I wonder which will end up as their house of choice? As The Crown is up there with Downton in my mind, I’m all for Doreen’s….