A note from our Editor, Louise Robinson
Hello everyone and welcome back to my #notgoingoutclub blog. I hope you are all doing as well as possible under these very difficult circumstances.
I don’t know about you, but I’m finding lockdown in the rain rather harder than lockdown on a sun lounger. But here at the #NGOC we like to look on the bright side – and at least when my hair is wet those pesky roots don’t show so badly! Fingers crossed the sun shines for this very special week for the nation. On Friday, it will be 75 years since the end of the Second World War when millions thronged the streets to celebrate Victory in Europe Day (including, as it later turned out, a 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her 14-year-old sister Margaret who left Buckingham Palace by a back door and pulled their caps down over their eyes as they joined crowds on the Mall).
How sad that the hundreds of street parties, pub singalongs and veterans’ parades have had to be cancelled this year because of our own war, this time against an invisible but no less frightening enemy. However, just because we can’t go out, it doesn’t mean we can’t take part.
The Royal British Legion is urging everyone to mark the day at home, which begins with a two-minute silence at 11am. At 3pm we’re asked to stand for a toast (‘to those who gave so much, we thank you’) and later, on the BBC, Prince Charles will read an extract from his grandfather King George VI’s diary from VE Day. The Queen will broadcast a message at 9pm, the precise moment in 1945 that her father gave his radio address to say the war was over. After that, we’re all invited to throw open our windows and join a UK-wide rendition of Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again. Oh dear, I can feel the tears coming already!
Celebrate at home
Our family will certainly be doing our bit to join the celebrations (although I’m not sure the nation – or more precisely my neighbours – is ready for my singing voice). Organisers have put together a DIY party toolkit, including bunting templates, a menu (spam hash or homity pie anyone?) and playlist featuring Glenn Miller, The Andrew Sisters and Geraldo & his Orchestra at ve-vjday75.gov.uk/plan-your-ve-day-party and ve-vjday75.gov.uk/toolkit. Check out Prue Leith’s muscovado flapjacks – she specifically chose the recipe because it doesn’t contain flour, the ingredient (along with pasta, yeast and tinned tomatoes) which has become our 2020 version of wartime rationing. English Heritage also has a party pack, with instructions for learning the lindy hop, recipes and a Spotify playlist.
On the box
Of the raft of TV programming to mark VE Day, I’m particularly looking forward to Remembering Victory, a repeat of the 2015 show in which celebrities including David Attenborough and Michael Parkinson recall the war and their own VE Days (BBC1, 9.10pm – after that singalong). Reader Nigel Hedges also urges me to catch up on Channel 5’s VE Day: The Lost Films, which aired on Saturday, but I missed it. He says it vividly captures the nation’s many unofficial celebrations through eyewitness accounts and old cine film shot by ordinary people.
I have also been bingeing on the brilliant new BBC drama Normal People, which is currently streaming (or should that be steaming – it’s pretty raunchy!) on iPlayer. It’s a dramatisation of the bestselling novel by Sally Rooney and is exquisitely done. Any aspiring Mary Whitehouses amongst you should note that the sex scenes in the early episodes were too much for my daughter, who insisted on watching the whole thing socially isolated from her parents!
Life is quite simply better with flowers. So while I wait for the zinnia and cosmos seeds I planted a few weeks ago to peep through through their compost, Lisa Schneidau at the Devon Wildlife Trust is urging me to take a closer look at the wildflowers currently springing up on our verges (and sadly for us, in our lawn, which I confess is rather more dandelion than grass).
As she says, Merrie May is traditionally the month associated with flowers, folklore and ancient festivals of fertility and abundance. And fascinating tales associated with many common flowers make them worth a second glance in the garden or out on your daily walk.
Wood forget-me-not, a common flower in shady areas, has a long association with lovers and fidelity. It reputedly gained its common name after a German man, while collecting the flowers for his beloved, fell into the river Danube. As he was swept away, he called out ‘forget me not’ to the shore.
Many people know that the French name for a dandelion is piss-en-lit (wet the bed) due to its diuretic properties, but I didn’t know its milky sap was a traditional treatment for verrucae. Its English name means ‘lion’s teeth’ (again from the French, dents-de-lion).
And did you know that the daisy isn’t actually one flower at all but a composite of many tiny flowers – the tiny disc-like petals that form the yellow centre and the cluster of white ‘florets’ surrounding it? The daisy also makes a great mini-photography project because it tracks the sunlight. Lisa suggests taking a photo once an hour and creating a time-lapse montage of their movement.
Find out more about our wild flowers on the Wildlife Trusts’ website or check out Lisa’s book, Botanical Folk Tales of Britain and Ireland (History Press).
The robin, the gardener’s friend
My lockdown forays into beginner’s birdwatching have at least taught me one thing: whichever bird you spot, there’ll always be a robin close by, too. I’d always assumed these feisty chaps were rather cute and loveable. But don’t be fooled, says Caroline Offord of the RSPB. They’re aggressively territorial (it’s why, unlike most birds, they sing all year long – to drive away rivals from their territory, which they hold for life). Apparently, their endearing habit of following you around as you dig the garden began in the ancient forests of Europe where large animals like wild boar were rooting around in the mud and leaf litter, and the robin learned to hang around to see what was unearthed – a bit like teenagers when you’re cooking dinner, really.
Read all about it
Perhaps not surprisingly, a survey has found that 31% of us are reading more since having to spend more time at home – especially fiction. “I haven’t turned out all my cupboards during lockdown. I haven’t baked a single cake. I haven’t learnt a new language,” remarked children’s author Jacqueline Wilson. “But I’ve read two Dickens, The Secret Garden, a new Anne Tyler and an old favourite, an Adam Mars Jones, Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things, and a brilliant new biography of The Beatles.”
I can’t match that, but I’m looking forward to discovering some new reading material at this weekend’s Big Book Weekend, a three-day virtual festival (Friday to Sunday) that brings together the best of the literary festivals cancelled this year because of coronavirus. You’ll find author readings (a highlight for me will be Alexander McCall Smith), as well as interviews and discussions (look out for Terry Waite, Marian Keyes and Luke Jennings, the author of the Villanelle novels that were the basis for the hit TV series Killing Eve). It's free – you just need to register on myvlf.com.
The shows must go on
Every week I’m trying to bring you online versions of the theatre and concerts we’re all missing. I don’t know about you, but I keep coming across tickets and print-outs for various concerts and festivals I’d booked buried in my kitchen’s ‘drawer of stuff’ (now that’s one area of the house that has so far resisted the Big Tidy-Up).
Instead of feeling sad, I’m trying to find alternatives online. Just add your own popcorn, which of course will be a whole lot cheaper than the multiplex or theatre version…
Mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins is hosting a weekly Saturday night concert on her Facebook page. Alongside her astounding performances of the arias and songs we all love, there are quiz questions, shout-outs and the occasional interruption and applause from what she calls her ‘rent-a-crowd’ (husband Andrew and children Aaliyah and Xander). It’s a really sweet and genuine event.
If you’re more of a musicals fan, check out YouTube for The Shows Must Go On. Every Friday at 7pm there’s a free full-length performance of a Lloyd Webber musical, which stays up on the site for 48 hours. So far, we’ve had Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and The Phantom of the Opera, and on Friday we have the celebratory tribute to Lord Lloyd Webber recorded at the Royal Albert Hall.
That’s all for this week, folks. I know I can rely on you all to be honest, so I’m thrilled with reader Lindsay Boyers’ reaction to both my blog and Saga’s #notgoingoutclub podcasts on our website and the live events on Facebook. She says she discovered us when in bed with a terrible toothache that’s lasted over three weeks because there are no dentists open at the moment. “It almost took my mind off it,” she says. High praise indeed, Lindsay! She’s also one of the many new subscribers to Saga Magazine, so if you want to join them, please subscribe to Saga Magazine here.
Stay safe and keep those emails coming to tell me what you’re up to – send them to email@example.com and write Not Going Out Club in the subject line.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.
The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.