A few days ago I was told by work that I’d be returning on 8th June. By then I will have been furloughed for 8 weeks, and I must admit that I’m rather relieved that there will again be some structure and purpose to my day. Today – Monday 1st June – I have been feeling particularly bored with the ongoing situation and whilst I don’t want things to go back exactly to how they were before – although all the signs are that they will, with people already queuing for IKEA as if there was a shortage of furniture and cheap crockery, far more traffic on the roads, and vapour trails in the skies – I’m looking forward to having something to think about and tasks to do.
There will be less time to read, but reading travel books and watching travel programmes on the television is something of a double-edged sword. It’s great to see places and start dreaming about when and how to get there: but sometimes reality hits and you realise that not only is coronavirus stopping travel but also with the debt of my skiing holiday still to pay off, it’s going to be some time before I can afford another holiday anyway!
So whilst I’ve been looking up ways to get to Finland by train, which route I’d take to get there and which to get back, I haven’t actually planned it in much detail. It’s a pipedream as yet and I look at the Railway Map of Europe longingly and wistfully; and dream also of all the other places I’d like to go, such as the ‘stans’. The map below shows how it’s quite possible to get from mainland Europe (and hence, via the channel tunnel, the UK) to Finland and places further east. Also on my bucket list are Tromso in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark, and Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia (having watched Michael Portillo’s railway journeys). In fact I’d just like to explore more of Scandinavia, let alone the Baltic states; and getting to places like Baku, Tashkent and Samarkand needs plenty of time (and is therefore probably a retirement project).
I’m now reading a book about those great travellers/explorers, the Vikings, having finished Around the World in 80 Trains and also The Beekeeper of Aleppo. I warmly recommend both books for totally different reasons. The latter serves to remind us of the plight and trauma of refugees throughout the world and of the destruction of beautiful and historic places by war. The former had many comments which seemed relevant to our current status of isolation and of a slower life, but one where – at its best – communities seem(ed) to be pulling together.
One of the words which the author learned as she travelled was the Dutch word gezellig, which apparently means “no boundaries and everyone is sharing and getting along with everyone else”. It reminded me of those other terms which are also not easily translated into English, and which also have a feel good factor to them: the Swedish words fika and lagom and the Danish hygge.
A couple of other quotations from the book which I wanted to highlight were:
“For the first time in months, reading had become meditation again, almost medicinal in its healing. With a last look at the jacket, I left the book on the table for someone else to enjoy.” This is something I do with my books – unless I feel that I’d read them again and again. I leave them on trains for other people to enjoy. And reading is definitely meditation, if not, at least at times, escapism.
“Being on the road frees you from the burden of the everyday… yet I often had moments on my travels when I was overwhelmed by loneliness, and sank into troughs of depression deeper than those I had at home.” This reminds me of when I worked abroad, firstly in France and then in Norway. For the majority of the time I had a fantastic experience and enjoyed myself hugely: but when I got low I got very low, and far more so than I would at home. It’s perhaps because if you’re alone abroad it can be far more difficult to get out of that pit than when you’re at home and surrounded by friends and family.
One of the things about lockdown however has been that friends and family are not always there. The sense of community increased initially: people looked out for their neighbours, shopped locally, bought local, and didn’t move (on the whole) far beyond their local area. However there was also from the beginning a strong sense of protectiveness, which potentially meant that rather than acting as part of a community, people only protected their own and stayed inside well away from anyone else (I wonder if they would have been quite so moralistic about it if there was no internet, telephone, etc. etc., and if they hadn’t so easily been able to communicate with people?).
I have really struggled with the idea of complete self-isolation: of being a hermit. At its most extreme, as at least one person seemed to suggest, it would have meant not seeing the kids and being on my own in my house and garden: and post-furlough with no work to keep my mind occupied either. I’ve mentioned in earlier blogposts that being able to get out on my bike or for runs (or even walks) has lifted my mood at times: I’ve at times got quite annoyed about how certain judgmental people who are in houses with their own families don’t seem to stop and think what it’s like for people on their own (and in fact the people who are most vociferous about self-isolation are rarely practicing it completely themselves, but are still going to the shops, for example).
The other morning a friend very honestly said that she’s having a rather ‘self-defensive, protective, selfish’ life at the moment, making sure her family are OK, and that she’s scared stiff of getting coronavirus. I respected and liked her for saying it, and it made me feel a lot better, because I had been thinking that I was the one being selfish because I find the isolation and restrictions of being at home and on my own a lot very hard at times, and I feel criticised for going out at all.
I guess at the end of the day we’re all dealing with this in our own way and a certain amount of tolerance and understanding wouldn’t go amiss. I am quite happy limiting the number of times I go to the shops, and I don’t miss ‘going shopping’ in terms of visiting High Streets. But cut me off from the Fells and woods, lakes and rivers and I would be utterly miserable.
That’s not to say I’m jumping into my car to visit Lake District hotspots – I wouldn’t dream of walking up Cat Bells at the moment, and the sides of Ullswater as I drove past on a sunny Sunday were like any normal (non-viral) summer holiday. But the joy from being able to go for a walk in one of the less well-known areas and to swim in several of the lakes was a real treat at the weekend: and whilst parking areas were busy, if you avoid the ‘honeypots’ then it is easy to socially distance.
It annoys me when people leave litter, park and/or drive inconsiderately, and don’t bother to think about where they could go which might not be so crowded: but on the other hand I also think there is an element of nimby-ism to the so-called locals who complain so bitterly about visitors to this beautiful county that we’re lucky enough to live in. We are privileged to live here and not in a densely populated city but if people want to enjoy the beauty then they should also respect it.
It feels as if the end of furlough and the gradual relaxation of lockdown may signal the end not only of this series of posts, but also of this blog: I need to think of a theme for the next one as it feels as if I’m writing about similar things now. Next week I will try to sum up the change in the emotions from the beginning of lockdown to the end of furlough. Meanwhile… stay safe.