All of a sudden the house is empty and quiet; I’m conscious of the spaces. One moment the boys were here, playing on the xbox and chatting; Bella arrived, bounding in to grab some of her things and a hug with cat; then all three piled into David’s car and were off, gone, it felt, with no transition. It’s often the way: more so since lockdown. My schizophrenic life feels more obviously schizophrenic when they’re here one minute and gone the next and I’m here every day.
Being furloughed made me more aware of the differences: potentially there was the noisy chaos and hugs & battles of children in the house, followed by silence and calm: sometimes a desirable thing which I welcomed with a sigh of relief, sometimes less welcome and it took an hour or so to get used to being on my own again, and the quietness. I think what lockdown and furlough has taught me is that I do have inner resources and I’m not lonely nor as mentally unstable as I feared, whether or not the children are here and however much they create upheaval (or not – I have some lovely moments with them as well, and I perhaps need to concentrate on those more).
Right at the beginning of lockdown – pre-lockdown, even – my biggest fear was that being on my own I would crumble and drop into an abyss of loneliness and despair. It has been a relief that that hasn’t happened.
It’s made me think that one of our biggest emotional problems as human beings is not the actual problems but the fear of them. Fear can be paralysing, resulting in inaction; it can result in anger and aggression (we are, after all, animals); it can result in defensiveness and self-protection. For me the fear – which made me emotional and angry and then made me ‘close up’ and cut myself off from people for a brief while – was not of the virus itself but of the effect it was going to have on my life. Thank goodness for our amazing modern technology, which has been truly put to the test and, I think, come up trumps; and thank goodness that I was still allowed out running and cycling, and that I have lovely places around here to practice them both.
The exercise in itself has not only been an emotional support but also has proved to me that despite my age I can still improve my fitness and stamina and feel faster and more competitive: what’s interesting is that I also enjoy the non-competitive ‘pootling’ type of runs and bike rides (when I was younger I was always trying to beat my best time, always pushing myself). I’ve never been in any doubt about the benefits of exercise generally, being fit and getting outside – not since I first decided to get fitter at the age of about 30, when as I got fitter my insecurities about all sorts of things including my body image reduced enormously – but it’s always nice to have one’s views confirmed.
Moving to Cumbria, to somewhere rural, opened and continues to open my eyes wide to the amazing fulfilment that comes from living somewhere where you can get close to nature. I grew up in Somerset, in a village about the same size as the town I now live in: and loathed it. I couldn’t wait to escape to the city: ideally as far away from family and what I saw, at that point, as restrictions, as possible (Nottingham was the University the furthest south that I applied to). I still don’t think of Somerset as ‘really rural’ or ‘the real countryside’, though it does have much beauty (and much traffic), but I can now understand the appeal of not living in a big city, and it struck me early in lockdown how glad – and lucky – I am to live where I do.
I have also learnt to be a bit calmer and slower: to allow myself to say ‘well, there’s no rush to do that’ or to allow myself to read a book for hours. I noticed this particularly at the beginning of furlough: I’m so used to (often self-imposed) deadlines and to Doing Things that sometimes it’s difficult to stop. On the other hand I always have a lot of things I want to do! But I think I appreciate more than ever that a day when I don’t do any singing practice, or don’t run, doesn’t actually make me worse at those things. In fact I think if anything being calmer about life overall makes me better at them.
So, work on Monday (8th June). I will continue with my daily yoga and almost daily running or cycling; I will try to get out open water swimming when it is safe and warm enough to do so. I will be baking fewer cakes (though a couple of friends have birthdays coming up…) and will not have time for Friday morning Italian conversation: but I think on the whole to be back at work and feel that I’m actually earning my living, and using my brain, will be a good thing. I feel quite spoilt to have had this time.
I don’t know when I’ll write again: I spoke of possibly winding up this blog. However there are lots of new routes to discover still and tarns and lakes to swim in, so you may be regaled with stories of the mini-adventures of my friends and I in this gorgeous corner of the world. Scattered through this post, just to demonstrate it, are some photos as despite rain – and hail – I have had some lovely outings in this, my final week of furlough.
I’ve mentioned anger a couple of times. It seems that at the moment the United States is a sad and angry place; that anger has spilled over into public demonstrations here. I do not condone any cruelty to one’s fellow man, but unfortunately it seems to me that there are some people who will use any excuse to destroy rather than to build bridges, and there are always people at extremes. Will humankind ever learn to live in peace; will men ever learn to tolerate and accept? There are those who lead a glowing way, such as Jacinta Aherne, the Prime Minister of New Zealand; but sadly somehow I think people like her are in a minority (and also managing a less densely located and smaller population). I said the other day to a friend that I hoped I’d got more tolerant as I’d got older: but even so there are things which I get angry about (litter in beautiful countryside; people not being environmentally aware; hypocrisy). And yes, I’m sure I’m a hypocrite. I think we all are.