To some reading this, it will seem that “it’s all about me”. That’s because it is, and I make no apology for the self-centred viewpoint of my blog generally: it’s the nature of a blog, and doesn’t mean I don’t think about nor care about how other people feel.
I share my thoughts and feelings with you all in the hope that possibly something will strike a chord; that you’ll feel or think “oh yes, that’s how I feel too”; and that it will help to know that you’re not the only one with such feelings. This is a strange time for us all, and we’re all in this together and need to understand that we will each react in a different way. Some people are throwing themselves into even more work than usual; some are closeting themselves away completely and not going out at all if they can avoid it; some are cleaning everything with an unsurpassed precision and care. Meanwhile nature is, on the whole, taking a breather from our mucky human ways.
The eve of Lockdown – 23rd March 2020
There were all sorts of rumours flying around, and people had been out and about in big groups at the weekend despite all the pleas by government and health professionals to socially distance ourselves. Facebook was driving me mad, as were a couple of the ‘chat groups’ I’m in. My running group, having said they’d all come for a run, then said they wouldn’t.
My mood plummeted. My kids had gone off with my ex; I felt alone; completely alone, desolate, bereft. No kids, no partner, no friends. I deactivated Facebook and left a couple of the chat groups. Whilst I felt desperately alone, I’d been here before in many senses: and my reaction to feeling so isolated is, ironically, normally to cut myself off more and climb into my hole.
I phoned my Mum to say happy birthday to her and ended up in tears; partly feeling sorry for myself; partly anger at people’s stupidity – scaremongering – panicking. Even so at the back of my mind a voice was saying ‘we’re all scared: it’s just we react in different ways’.
Day 1: Tuesday 24th March 2020
Turned the computer on early to pick up work emails. I’d left my phone downstairs overnight: picking it up and checking through, there was a message from the Government about lockdown; “you must now stay home”. I clicked on the link: relief. We were allowed out to get supermarket shopping (essentials, and as rarely as possible – vital in my case as I was running out of food); we were allowed out once a day, with our household (if relevant) for exercise; and divorced parents were allowed to take their children from one house to another as they normally would.
My boss was irked that I was late for our team conference call, and said something about people not starting work until 9.30 a.m. I sent a message later to say I’d logged on at 8.45 if not earlier and that I had just missed the fact that the call was earlier than normal. He’s a great boss, whom I really like and who is a really good manager, so it’s not a great viewing to think I’ve annoyed him: but I think everyone’s getting a bit shirty or touchy or sensitive at the moment. Goodness knows what panic stations the senior management team are going through each morning, with worst case scenarios being highlighted and so forth.
I had a chat with Hannah, a friend from work, who’s also been a bit up and down. That made such a change. Even 10 years ago with Swine Flu we didn’t have the sophistication of IT technology that we have now, and the ability to keep in touch with people the way we can now. We are still connected, even though we can’t all be together physically.
I went for a run and did some singing practice and realised that I must have been on the verge of being depressed, as I hadn’t been able to motivate myself to do these things over the past few days but in fact they are exactly the things I need to be doing. My biggest fear had been that I wouldn’t be able to go out to exercise, and the effect that would have on my mental/emotional health.
Days 2 and 3
These days were much the same as day 1, but I was in so much happier a frame of mind. I had lunch outside in the sun – albeit still wrapped in my dressing gown for warmth. I set up a competition for my team at work, where they had to guess where a photograph was. Stage 2 of the competition is that they need to send me photos for us all to guess, and also to vote on which should be used on our whatsapp profile. I just think these sorts of things are important like a time like this (apparently the Jews had orchestras in the concentration camps, which were immeasurably worse of course than anything that’s happening to us at the moment). The whatsapp group for ‘Bessies Refugees’ (I work in a building called Bessie Surtees House, in Newcastle) is keeping everybody going as well, with banter, silly gifs and videos, moans about the IT connectivity and virtual tea time.
I ran further on Day 3 and started looking at pieces for my Performance Recital. I now have a virtual singing lesson lined up for Saturday. And my Mum sent me £60 in the post. Mums are great. I’m sure my kids will realise that about me some day. I spoke to them this evening, but they didn’t seem to have much to tell me.
Food-wise I was down to a single fish cake and some dried pasta as I’d stocked up in January. It looked as if pay day wouldn’t be until Monday, but at least I had that cash from my Mum. I have a belief that money always turns up from somewhere when you really need it: I hope all the self-employed people who have lost their incomes for the foreseeable future will find that too.
Day 4: Friday 27th March
Hooray! I got paid – including the pay for working ‘Enchanted Belsay’ over Christmas, and also from Lancashire Life for a feature I wrote. I ordered meat from Hallsford Farm Produce, a veggie box from Eva’s Organics, and then went to Sainsburys.
That was a surreal experience. As I arrived I noticed that the queue of people waiting to go in led all the way up and down a row of parking. I joined the back of the queue, thinking that it would take ages to get in, and started to upload the smartscan app.
Before long (thank goodness it wasn’t raining, though it was a little chilly) I was at the front of the queue. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so excited to get into a supermarket! What would I find in there? Would the shelves still be denuded of the more everyday goods? Would I be limited to premium brands?
In fact it wasn’t bad. I could have bought carrots, but I didn’t need any (I had been shocked that there were no carrots a couple of weeks ago). The shelves were pleasingly replete – although I was glad I didn’t need dried pasta as that was missing, and I couldn’t get Heinz tomato ketchup nor tinned tuna in olive oil (nor in sunflower oil). I had to buy slightly different versions of some things – there was no Allisons bread flour so I bought a small bag of Dove Farm malted flour, which will be healthier for me anyway – but importantly, there was a bottle of Martin Miller’s gin and there was also a fairly good selection of tonic.
Initially I had a bit of a fight with the self-scanner on my phone, which nearly led me to tears, but after a while I realised that the knack to it wasn’t to get too worked up about it but almost casually to scan things. I ended up being able to scan everything – eventually.
When I got home as the weather continued fine I mowed the lawns. The one at the back is really useless: it really hasn’t taken, so if I’m going to be stuck at home maybe I’ll have time to turn it into some other sort of garden over the next few months. The one at the front is mostly moss, and the one at the side has a big dent in it where the pond was filled in. My father – who likes a nice, smooth, lawn with no weeds (and certainly no daisies) would be horrified. A few years ago he threw some awful weed-killing stuff on the front lawn, despite my telling him not to, that it wasn’t worth it. We had black patches for months.
I then went for a short bike ride, as I had a yen to cycle up above Talkin and see the view of Talkin Tarn from up there. I really noticed people’s houses today: there are some gorgeous properties around here. I also thanked goodness (or god, or whatever) for living in the country. I am so glad not to be living hemmed in close to other people: keeping 2m distance is generally quite easy up here.
When I got back there was time for a shower and some singing practice before joining a group of friends for an online chat. As I come to the end of writing this, I’m about to go to pour myself another Martin Miller and watch some crap TV.
No different from any other non-working day without the kids around, really: except that movement is limited, and people are dying. People I know have had mild symptoms: others have had rather nastier symptoms.
Days 5 and 6: the weekend
I woke up feeling a bit low on Saturday and recognised the beginnings of a feeling which needed to be tackled head on and nipped in the bud if possible – it really was not the time for wallowing (if you’ve ever read Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, there is a passage where she talks about walking into depression as if into a tunnel. A low mood was not where I intended to head today if I could help it).
I went for a walk, keeping a safe distance from everybody, and then went to the Co-op where I had to queue up outside and dance around people inside (their aisles are narrow, so it was quite funny). The staff were lovely, as ever: they have a hard job policing everybody but fortunately people seem to be trying to work together and to be kind to each other and aware of each other.
I had a singing lesson via messenger, which worked reasonably – I now need to download some backing tracks. I’d gone upstairs to get the HiFi out of Edward’s room, and felt tearful about the kids not being here: their cluttered rooms seem so empty and quiet, left waiting for them to run back into. I’ve been trying to contact them all day and they’re mostly ignoring me. I’m trying not to get too sad about it: they’re safe and well and I will see them before too much longer (days or weeks rather than months).
I then did some gardening. I started digging weeds out of what remains of the lawn at the back, which seems to be more mud than lawn. I think it’s a mixture of it being in shade most of the day and also that it’s quite stony underneath. So one plan over the next few weeks is to come up with a new layout for that part of the garden. Later I ordered a stack of stuff for the garden. Will my pay last me longer this month? It should do as I won’t be going out on trains, buying lunches, or buying fuel for the car.
I also did some yoga – I’d been recommended Yoga by Adriene by a friend and by my sister, and I’m really enjoying it and have resolved to do her 30-day challenge (there’s a few of them to choose from: when I finish the first I can go on to another).
When I did some more yoga on Sunday morning, it struck me how lucky we are to have this period of pausing and slowing up. I know for some people life is busier than normal but for a lot of us we have more hours in the day: we’re saving on the commute if nothing else. So what if I don’t get all the writing done today that I want to do? There is time: time to do things properly, without rushing, and without the pressure to ‘present’ something to someone to a deadline.
I had already resolved that if I was going to ‘travel’ much I was going to do so by train rather than plane – I’m now even more resolved that that is what I will do. Not long after I came back from Finland, Inntravel, the holiday company with whom we had travelled, sent a brochure about holidays by train. While I’m still working it would entail taking more leave in order to allow more time for getting to and from the destination, but the journey would be worth it: rather than zooming over places miles below which are gone in a flash, I might have time to stop and explore. Fingers crossed. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki… and back a different way.
I’m now going to finish making strawberry and dulce de lait ice cream, and then going for a bike ride.
Day 7: Monday. A whole week done already!
So that’s it – that’s an entire week of lockdown gone. In some ways it hasn’t been so different to my usual child-free time, except that I’m conscious of the rule of only going out once a day, and queuing for stuff is a new one on me: at least in quite the way we’re having to queue at the moment. I went to pick up a prescription for my ex, which necessitated queuing outside William Howard school and then being met by 4 hand sanitisers (2 on the way in, 2 on the way out). I then queued again to drop the script off at the chemists for him.
It’s been a day when I haven’t felt under pressure to do anything, and I’ve been rather relishing it. I eventually went for a run – that got delayed as I realised I’d forgotten to eat anything, so I had some soup first and gave that time to digest. As I ran was conscious of there being hardly any sound other than my footsteps and the squawking of pheasants in the woods.
At home I mulled over maps, researching the final sections of the book I’ve been writing for several years, and planning where to go once we are all released, before cooking dinner. Finally I was interviewed on Radio Cumbria about Solway Singers, singing and running (which included mentioning Head Torches round the Tarn and our challenge to raise £2020 for Cumbria Mountain Rescue by running 2020 km before the end of October).
It’s work tomorrow and I want to do yoga first, so I’m off to bed in a minute. The first week has been OK: but will I still be feeling like that in 2 weeks’ time or longer?