Lockdown one year on

The first UK lockdown started on 23rd March 2020. Approximately a year later, we are just relaxing the rules a little bit from our third lockdown. Spring is burgeoning all around us and there’s a tangible sense of freedom. Even so, radio announcements warn us not to forget that Covid is still present – and of course it’s in fact on the increase now in the younger age groups, the ones who haven’t been vaccinated. I get my first vaccination tomorrow.

Having been interviewed about moving to the country from the city, because something like 300,000 people have moved out of London since the first lockdown (with a population of over 9.3m in greater London it’s not exactly a large proportion, though notable), I woke up this morning wondering about exercise. Last summer the Government pledged more money for bike routes, and people who have bikes which need serious repair (as opposed to just servicing) can get a £50 voucher towards their restoration. I wondered how many people started doing more exercise this time last year – but also how many people have kept it up.

I’m doing tons more exercise than I was last year, and prior to working from home one of my frustrations about a long commute to work was trying to fit in as much exercise as I’d like – also I found 4 hours on the train a day quite tiring for some reason (going for a run as soon as I got home would probably have done me the world of good, but I wasn’t that motivated at 7p.m. on a dark, cold and often wet winter’s night). When I was at work I was in the middle of a city with no trails nearby – if I wanted to run at lunchtime I had to run on the pavement (the office did have a shower, so I think in 2 years of being based there I maybe did 3 runs).

I have loved the fact that over the past year I’ve clocked up around 100km a month – quite a bit more some months – running most days of the week; and I have also increased my cycling mileage.

However for me this is something that has been an incredibly important part of my life since I was in my early 30s, so I have relished having the opportunity to get fitter again; and with my ‘6 at 60’ challenges this year I’ve now entered the entire Lakeland Trails series – 9 runs – and also just entered a triathlon. But what about those people who started to get fitter last spring and summer, perhaps feeling that rush of excitement from starting something new, including buying some colourful lycra? Are they still persevering with it? I have to admit at times recently my motivation has waned when there’s still hardly anyone to go running with – I feel a bit of a pariah when, even when we’re allowed to meet up with one other person to exercise, people still think up reasons not to meet up; and there are times when you’re out running and you say ‘hello’ to someone you pass and they look at you as if you’re carrying the plague (let’s face it, I don’t think I would be capable of running if I had Covid – I would guess even the symptomless one must surely affect carrying out demanding exercise like running (especially the hills around here…)).

So – are you one of those people who dusted down and oiled their bike; who dug their running shoes out of the back of the wardrobe? And what are you doing now? Have you gone from strength to strength or did it just get too difficult to remain motivated over the dark winter months? Please let me know!

Lockdown 9/Furlough 6: socially distanced exercise

As I travel down to Penrith once a week anyway to drop the kids off at their Dad’s, it seemed fair enough that I could – now we’re allowed to meet up in a socially distanced way with one other person – go running with Penny again. She’s been really busy through lockdown, working long hours – as has her husband even though theoretically he has part-time work – and so not only had we not seen each other for a while, but we had only spoken once.

You never know quite what people’s attitudes are going to be about meeting up, even when you’re sticking to the rules: fortunately Penny’s take on it is much the same as mine, and we arranged to go for a run on Askham Fell. We’ve run up there several times before – for Penny and Tim it’s a fairly regular route, or was before lockdown – and I left Brampton on a fairly grey, dull afternoon and travelled down the motorway to Penrith.

Just 20 miles or so further south, Penrith was lovely and sunny. The kids jumped out of the car and I went a couple of miles further through Askham to Helton and up on to the Fell (Penny and I met in the centre of Askham, which for those of you who don’t know it is one of those lovely old Cumbrian villages with stone cottages and a river (the Eamont) at the bottom of the hill. There are also some quite average modern houses, and the village also benefits from an outdoor swimming pool which is normally open in the summer).

With the lack of rain recently the Fell was really dry: even places where there would have been large puddles/small ponds had dried up, becks were running lower than normal, and boggy bits of the Fell were firm and dry. I love the feeling of being out in the open and up high, and whilst Askham Fell may not be particularly high in terms of the Cumbrian Fells generally, it provides some glorious views of Ullswater. It was one of those evenings when it would have been nice to have sat down outside in the sun after running and to have had a picnic (with of course a nice chilled glass of prosecco or similar): as it looked as if two guys, also socially distancing (like us, in two separate vehicles), who ran past us were going to do.

As we ran Penny suggested that the ground was so good and the weather so lovely that it might be time to do a long-planned run: High Street (an old Roman route) from end to end.

On Wednesday I was still feeling full of energy and optimism from Tuesday’s run and decided I’d do a brick session (bike then run); on Thursday I went out on my bike and did the previous day’s bike ride in reverse, this time to stop to take some photos as the sun shone down on the Northern Pennines and the Lake District fells could be seen in the background. All was green and white: hawthorn, elderflower and cow parsley in white bloom against the green of the hills and fields. On Friday I was due to meet up with a friend and go open water swimming in the river Tyne, but my car got a puncture and I could only book it in for 4pm: too late to get over for swimming, but perhaps just as well as the weather had become extremely windy.

I was hoping it would calm down overnight but it didn’t, and the forecast for further south and into the central Lake District area – where we were due to start the High Street run – was even worse. As we’re busy clocking up the km to raise funds for Cumbria Mountain Rescue, we didn’t feel that risking potentially being rescued ourselves – or worse still, blown off the top of a Fell – would be that good an idea. We met on Askham Fell and went for an incredibly wet, windy and cold 7 mile run roughly over the same ground as Tuesday’s run but with a lot more bogginess. We had thought of going as far as Loadpot Hill and then dropping down to Howtown before coming back on the lower path (part of the Ullswater Trail) but decided that retracing our footsteps over familiar ground was probably a better idea. High Street can wait for better weather.

Reading and thinking

I finished The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared this week, which I really enjoyed – I then watched the film which was nothing like as good as the book. I’m now reading Monisha Rajesh’s Around the World in 80 Trains. She makes the point that not only do you see more travelling by train than you do when flying, but actually you also need to be selective about which trains you use: bullet trains etc. just swoosh you along so fast that the countryside is a blur and you don’t see anything that way either.

The book fits in rather well with having watched Race Across the World on the BBC iPlayer, where contestants have to travel 1000s of miles and cannot use planes: they also have a limited budget. The first series was definitely a race, and I felt it would have been nice to have seen more of the places the teams went through. In the second series the teams wanted to experience some of the places they went through – which led to one team running out of money on the penultimate leg – which I felt was a far healthier attitude and made for a far more interesting series (the winners also gave at least half of their winnings to south American charities, or at least said they were going to).

This, along with coronavirus lockdown, has reminded me once more of one reason I moved to Cumbria and of why, much as I need a job which I find mentally stimulating and which I enjoy, I also want time to do the things which are important to me. City life down south – or perhaps city life generally – is incredibly rushed. People rush not to be late to work, or rush to get home, tired after rushing through tons of emails at work (and often, I think, generating more work for themselves or for others in the process); buildings are thrown up as quickly as possible in order to get rent in as soon as possible, or to sell the property and move on to the next development; we all zoom around in cars or on trains, getting frustrated by traffic jams or the slow driver in front of us.

Monisha Rajesh puts it very well in her book, with words which I am completely in accord with, and I hope she won’t mind if I quote her here. She’s talking about her thoughts having been watching old women doing t’ai chi in Hanoi:

“As a people we’d become obsessed with speed, checking our watches, glancing at the clock, running for the Tube, inventing bullet trains, faster internet and instant coffee, yet where was the extra time we were saving? And what were we doing with it? If speed was improving our lives, then why were the days busier, longer and harder, our minds overburdened and tired?… Leaving my job, my home and my possessions had quietened the noise in my head… The less I carried, the less I worried.”

Monisha Rajesh, Around the Globe in 80 Trains

Obviously there are problems with lockdown, primarily economic: and yet the flip side is that it has given the entire planet a ‘pause’, or at least those who aren’t working silly hours. And yet as soon lockdown was eased just a small amount, there were pictures of crowded commuter trains, reports of airlines being angry about quarantine, and the fear that people would flock to beauty spots for the bank holiday weekend. But working from home should give people an extra hour or two each day, if not longer: for me I’ll use that time to do yoga and keep running more regularly than I am able to when I’m commuting to Newcastle. But perhaps at the end of the day we humans just find it incredibly difficult to strike a balance; to hit a happy medium. We certainly seem to find it difficult not to want ‘stuff’ when we see all that people around us have, and as soon as time is freed up we fill it with something else. I wonder what Ms Rajesh is doing having got back home from her travels…

Lockdown 5/Furlough 2

I forgot that my ‘major’ problem last week was cat fleas. At least, I think that’s what it was: it might have been something I picked up out running. Every-so-often I seem to get this problem where my ankles get bitten (whatever it is seems to get just inside the top of my socks, where I get the impression that it goes mad because it can’t get out and bites me in frustration).

Last week it seemed to be worse overnight and I got to the stage where I was wondering about not sleeping in my own bed, but in the spare bed. However having sprayed various rooms in the house, washed tons and tons of bed linen (and my younger son’s duvet – just in case), vacuumed like a loony, stuck extra flea-stuff on the cat and slept with a bowl of washing up liquid under my bed, the problem doesn’t seem quite so bad. Fingers crossed.

I’m really enjoying my daily Yoga with Adriene. Having started on her 2015 30 days of yoga but added in a couple of other classes, I’ve just now done day 23 on 22nd April. Next I’m going to do some yoga for the lower back as I have a feeling that might also help my shoulder – I’ve had some sort of shoulder problem (stiffness/pain) which seems to have been exacerbated by doing Duolingo on my phone on the train on the way to work: definitely doing less of that plus some shoulder mobility and stretching exercises helped (and I should probably do more), but yoga and not travelling so much definitely seems to be the real key.

I keep wondering what the world is going to look like; what things we’ll go back to and what we won’t go back to after this virus is ‘over’: if it ever really is. I was doing a CPD webinar yesterday about Permitted Development rights – I don’t know about the planning system in other countries, but over here there are certain changes you can make without planning permission. One of them is changing offices to residential, which has apparently been somewhat contentious as it’s resulted in some very poor quality (and small) residential units. I asked the question at the end of the webinar about why we didn’t, and whether we should, have similar legislation helping the change from retail to residential: our town and city centres years ago suffered from office uses moving out to cheaper and more car-friendly locations on outskirts (a mistake, to my mind, for all sorts of reasons, though you can see why economically it suited people). But nowadays retail is also under pressure and I really think the answer is to bring more residential uses into town and city centres (parking will need some creative thinking, including some way of trying to get us all out of our cars, especially in towns and cities which don’t have good public transport. My aunt, in London (zone 2, so fairly central but not right in the middle), has a car but rarely uses it – but then she also has a bus pass and there is great public transport in London (and a congestion charge)). I’m attending a webinar on the future of the High Street this evening, and am also contributing some questions and thoughts on the subject: I’ll get back to you on this later. Meanwhile I’m off out for a bike ride in the sun (I’m not feeling very motivated to run at the moment).

Later

It was quite breezy out on the bike but yet another glorious sunny day (in fact I think we probably could really do with some rain, or at least the gardeners and farmers could). I was on my triathlon bike, which I haven’t cycled for ages. I’d been wondering how different it would feel from my other road bike – the answer was, surprisingly so! The gearing means it’s faster on the flat, but harder work uphill – but on the other hand the wheels/tyres are also narrower, which helps. What surprised me – as I’m not terribly technical about bikes – was how different it felt size/shape wise – the frame geometry is more different than I’d expected. And also the saddle is a lot more comfortable – mental note to self to get a different saddle for my other bike, which is overall a more comfortable ride for longer distances (you don’t feel the bumps quite so much).

I loved being out on my bike and decided that I’d cycle this week rather than running – although not tomorrow as I’m ‘at’ an all day online conference and then it’s theatre night, so I shall just go for a quick run at some point. It’s a real luxury having the time to be able to cycle at the moment, so I may as well make the most of it.

When I got home I then finished moving the paving slabs in the garden and planted some pea seeds. I also noticed that loads of lovely tulips are coming into flower: and the african violets are spreading well around the garden!

English

I definitely have more time for one of my favourite pastimes, reading, at the moment: I ‘treat’ myself each morning to some time reading while I drink that so-important first coffee of the day. Fortunately I had a pile of books by my bed and a friend has now also dropped a boxful of books off, so I’ve had plenty of reading material.

A book which was recommended to me was The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, and I’ve just started it. I’ve always been fascinated by language but also by history – I loved the period of history, the so-called dark ages and early medieval, that I did at school. I’d always felt that we (the English) fought so much with the French because we were closely related to them – like brother and sister. In fact we’re probably more closely related to them by going back to Celtic times than through the Normans – but what Melvyn Bragg’s book points out is how closely related the two languages are, and how English very nearly ‘lost’ out to French. I knew that French had carried on being the language of the aristocracy for hundreds of years (rather, I would assume, as it was in Russia?), and I’d always thought that despite being a so-called Germanic language, English actually has a lot in common with Romance languages. I hadn’t fully appreciated or considered just how much of the vocabulary of current day English comes from French, nor that French was, in medieval times, the language of trade (which is how words from Arabic have also come into our language). It’s amazing really when you think that English is now the language of commerce for the entire world.

The other thing, harking back to when I read The Origins of the British, is that English was actually brought into the country by a minority elite, and a minority who only initially ruled the south of the country – who almost lost out to the Vikings. That this language was then nearly overcome by another ruling minority – the Normans – and that they then became almost more English than the English, makes for a fascinating read.

Perhaps rather appropriate that I’m writing this on St. George’s Day – though in fact he was born in Turkey and became a soldier in the Roman army. Perhaps his heritage in some way reflects the rich mongrel mix that is English.

Running vs. cycling

I mentioned that I’d be going for a short run today as there wasn’t time to cycle. In fact my short run turned into a nature walk as after a couple of km I started feeling weird – I get this low blood sugar thing where I start to feel light headed/dizzy, a bit sweaty and a bit shaky – at its worst I get so dizzy that everything goes black; if the kids are around I can also get quite short-tempered and snarly (“stop winding me up and get me food NOW!”).

As I ran/walked I was thinking about the different aspects of running and cycling. What I really love are my long runs with my friend Penny – they’re not in order to get fit, although we do challenge ourselves, but are as much about getting out and exploring places. Having run the 16 biggest lakes of the Lake District for her 50th, I’ve suggested we run 60 of Cumbria’s tarns and small waters for my 60th: we could do some lovely long exploratory runs which would take in 3 or 4 tarns at a time.

Unless you’re a completely dedicated ultra-marathoner, you can’t run really long distances without the odd break for photos, flapjack, etc.: and that’s part of the pleasure of these runs. Cycling, on the other hand, is more relentless somehow: it’s not quite as easy to stop to take photos, and I’m often tempted to stop but instead just keep bowling along – especially if I’ve got up a good pace.

They’re both great in their own way: if I want to start doing triathlon again I’m going to have to get quicker and more consistent with my running; but for now just getting out and about every day is far, far more than I’ve been doing for years! Meanwhile I notice that the wild garlic is beginning to come out: this year I really must collect a load and make soup!

Monday 27th April

So that’s the end of another slightly strange week. Compared with the end of last week (or slightly before), my mood is far better: and from talking to other people I think a lot of people have had a bit of a low this past 10 days or so. It’s maybe just getting used to this different pace of life. I went out for another, longer bike ride – up to Bewcastle. It’s incredibly isolated up there and as I cycled back an amazing panoramic view opened up into the far distance – across to Northumberland, the northern Pennines, the Lake District. I wish my words could describe it better and that a camera could portray it better. You’re not particularly high up at Bewcastle, but you feel far away both in space and time, and as if you’re at the edge of something. The sky is gigantically huge, the sheep spill out on to the road as if cars didn’t exist and it feels as if it wouldn’t be surprising if Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons or Vikings suddenly appeared: or a bunch of marauding Border Reivers (English or Scottish) driving cattle.

At the end of this week I am close to having finished my 30 days of yoga; I have had some video singing lessons; I have spoken to friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to for ages; I’ve done a bit of Italian though not as much as I intended; and I have tried to do home-schooling (surprisingly hard when you’re also trying to be a mother and when the children are actually far more interested in the xbox). I’ve also mused over many things, and whilst I’ve tried to get some of those thoughts down here, as with so many thoughts which are emotional in basis, some of them are less relevant today than they were on the day I had them, and it’s probably as well that transient grumpiness or paranoia doesn’t get written down in a blog.

What am I aiming to achieve in this coming week? Do I really ‘need’ to achieve anything, or is life currently about enjoying what I can, and doing so contentedly, rather than pushing to achieve all the time?

Lockdown 4/Furlough 1

Snippets – and photos from daily exercise

  1. People are saying don’t do things… BUT this is an opportunity to do all those things I want to do and can’t normally do – and not to feel that they have to be crammed into a tight space each day, if they’re done at all. I’ve already said how I’m enjoying having the time and space to do things which I want to do: I feel lucky to have this time. This is a breathing space not only for the world but for us petty humans who feel a need to rush around and to fill our hours with work to make us feel important and useful. At the end of the day none of us is either important or useful – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t endeavour to try to make the most of life and to enjoy it. For some people that just means doing nothing, or sitting in the garden and drinking wine: and that’s fine too. The vast majority of us can just take our time at the moment.

2. Why, just because there are fewer cars on the roads, are people driving like complete loonies? If they crash it’s just going to waste NHS time; and why not just enjoy the fact that for once there is no need for anyone to rush anywhere (apart of course for ambulances). Likewise who are all these extra people who now think it’s OK to leave dog poo lying around wherever they feel like it?

Not quite sure what’s going on with the formatting…

3. The rhythm of my life has changed this week. I’m not getting up as early as I was; I’m doing yoga nearer to 10 a.m. than 8 a.m. Having the kids here has meant I haven’t exercised as much as I do when they’re not here, and I haven’t done any singing practice: but it was nice to have them here and things felt calmer than they do sometimes (less churned up). They’re all now back with their Dad so I’m trying today to start getting on with improving my italian – starting by revising some verb endings.

4. A friend’s brother died last night; other people I know have lost family members or friends, or have had the illness themselves. Yet – and I feel guilty saying this – I don’t understand why people say they are ‘scared’. Obviously I hope I don’t get the virus; if I do get it I hope I don’t die; my biggest fear is one of my children getting it and dying, and I think for the vast majority of the people I know it would be the same. So we’re following guidelines: there is nothing else we can do. I think our fear is primarily for ourselves: that it will hurt to lose someone we love; that it would be utterly devastating to think of them suffering without us being able to see them.

Another comment was ‘what a waste of life’. Is it though? Is any life, however short, wasted? It’s desperately sad when someone dies before their ‘alloted’ time and when he or she might have been able to do yet more for other people, but if they’ve led a productive life and have been of help/use to others, how is that life wasted? No life is wasted, surely – the child who has died young has at least brought some years of happiness to his or her parents and others, even though it is utterly unbearably sad that he or she has died. Perhaps it’s more the wording than the intent of the comment which doesn’t ring quite right.

I guess particularly since turning 50 I’ve been aware that I’m at least, or more than, halfway through my life – and that I therefore should make the most of what’s left. That, and the fact that this is such an amazing world and that there are so many incredible people out there, is what drives me to do all the things I do. I don’t want to die saying ‘I wish I’d done such-and-such’. There will always be languages I didn’t learn, places I didn’t visit, books I didn’t read: but at least I will have visited a lot of places, read a lot of books, learnt languages, appreciated the fantastic countryside we have in Cumbria and nearby, and enjoyed my life: I hope not at a cost to others.

A bit morbid, my ‘snippet’ today: but I think the saying about “living each day as if it were your last” is so wise – so long as it doesn’t lead you to go mad spending tons of money you don’t have, or doing something you really shouldn’t!

Meanwhile this afternoon I had a lovely and life-affirming run, so I’ll post some photos here. I am very much looking forward to being able once more – after lockdown – get to the top of that hill in the centre photo.

5. I’ve found I need to keep a diary! This seems bizarre when I’m not actually going anywhere, but I did in fact miss a CPD (continuing professional development) webinar the other week as I’d forgotten about it. An example of Friday was: 10 a.m. – Italian conversation group on Zoom; 12 noon – singing lesson via Messenger video; 5 p.m. yoga via YouTube; 6 p.m. speak to a friend via WhatsApp video. In between times I spoke to another friend, went out to the hardware store to find stuff to get rid of cat fleas (sigh – my ankles have been bitten to shreds) and to post some parcels, and went for a bike ride. Oh, and also did tons of washing and hoovering to try to get rid of said cat fleas.

6. I woke up feeling low and demotivated on Saturday morning: I’m not sure why as I have absolutely nothing to be unhappy about. I’d arranged to do a very long run ‘with’ some friends, but I just didn’t have the motivation to do it. I fell back into cutting-myself-off-from-everyone mode and, having read that Police advice is now that it was probably OK to drive just a short way for a long walk/run etc., I decided that I would drive the ten minutes or so to walk up the hill in the photo. It’s one of my favourite places ever and has been described in this blog many times. You stand at the top with the wind in your hair and gaze over to the Lake District, Scotland and Northumbria. Fantastic.

It’s a walk/run where I always notice the sounds around me – it’s amazingly noisy. Firstly there’s the river (the Gelt, which flows later through Gelt Woods nearer to my town, and then into the River Eden, which flows into and through – and sometimes floods – Carlisle); the birds are always singing loudly; sometimes there is a dog or two barking; and once upon a time at least one or two planes would go over head; then there’s the noise the wind makes in the grass at the top. I took the kids up there a couple of days later: it’s far easier to do social distancing up there than on the paths around the town.

And so I finish this blogpost with some hilltop photos – sadly not with the video of the river as apparently I have to be on the premium plan to be able to upload that!

And that’s a 4th week of lockdown over.

My Lockdown diary week 3

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst” (William Penn).

From the Davidstow cheese advert. on classicfm.com………

I wasn’t going to talk more about my daily exercise, but one advantage of the children having gone back to their Dad’s (or rather, their Dad’s girlfriend’s house) is that I can now get out for exercise at my own speed! The weather has been so gorgeous that it’s been a relief and a delight to be outside, even only for an hour or so each day: and I’m regularly and frequently reminded how lucky I am to live in the countryside. In fact I said to some friends in a Zoom meeting (virtual drinks) yesterday that if I had ever had any doubts about moving to Cumbria (which I haven’t, despite some salacious press about me several years ago), they would have been wiped away by recent weeks.

Running or daily exercise is one of the things which for me means making good use of my time. I’ve now heard that I’m to be furloughed (put on 80% of my pay and not expected to do any work whatsoever) for 6 weeks from 14th April until the end of May (subject to revision). I then came across the above quotation – in, of all things, an advertisement and competition for Davidstow cheese! It struck me that it was totally appropriate for the current situation.

So, how will I use my extra time? The time I’ve released by not commuting has been used for yoga, running and singing practice; I also quite often use some of the time when I wake up in the morning to have a coffee and read, rather than having to leap out of bed and rush ahead with the day. I’m currently reading God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens, as well as some short features in Italian, and having just finished The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather. There is a big pile of books next to my bed and a friend has just promised me some more when she comes over to deliver food to her father – so my reading and the expansion of my mind (I hope!!! though that sounds somewhat pretentious) will continue.

This still, however, leaves about 7 hours a day when I would – at least 3 days p.w. – normally be working. What am I going to do with my time? I’ve already mentioned my garden project: that has progressed a little but at least I have the time to do it properly, and also to tidy up my garden a bit. But I was also thinking that it would be quite good to be in a regular morning routine of doing computer-based stuff after yoga. I’m attempting to write two books; I can email or better still video call friends and family; I have a photo book to compile; and I could do some daily Italian practice. In fact my italian conversation group is going to be setting up a twice-weekly zoom chat, so that will give me some impetus on that front.

I also have a ‘challenge’ with some friends where we each plan a route, not using air travel, of two months touring places on our ‘to see’ wishlists – as much as anything I thought it will be interesting to compare notes about where people want to go. I’ve just ordered a map of Europe from Stanfords to aid me with this, as I could do with something larger and more detailed than my world atlas. I’ve also been setting competitions for people at work and now need to dream up some fresh ones – competition 3 is ready to go once competition 2 answers are in!

I’m still waiting to see what the kids think they’re going to do, as if they’re here I’ll be home-schooling. Whatever else furlough brings, I’m resolved to try not to waste the precious extra time.

Monday 13th April – end of week 3

The children were here from Friday until yesterday, and Bella has stayed on for today and tomorrow – Edward has informed me that he’d rather be home-schooled at David’s, and at least Jo (David’s girlfriend) is a teacher, so they’ll be in good hands (though I’m not sure whether languages will feature, so I’ve suggested they are with me on a Friday for languages and other humanity-based subjects).

My focus changes when they’re here: trying to ensure that they get out safely and get some fresh air, sunlight (or daylight at least) and exercise; trying to create meals that they’ll actually eat and which are also healthy. I did a bit more to the garden and have decided to extend the lawn and create a border in the sunny corner, and a pond in one of the areas which is quite shady and where the grass doesn’t grow well. The blackbirds have been really excited by all the digging and the number of worms that are being revealed. And there’s a lot of recycling going on: turf being moved from one area to another and paving slabs in the other direction (I don’t like these concrete paving slabs – the sandstone flags of the patio are far nicer – but I’m not going to throw them away and buy new ones).

Bella wanted to walk down to her school last night, which is of course closed (and in fact the large entrance hall is being used for people to pick up prescriptions). We bumped into one of her teachers there, which was nice for her – she was saying how weird it was and how quiet the town was (and, coming back up the motorway from dropping the boys off, I was initially the only car driving north, which was weird). The teacher’s father in law had died of coronavirus but on a more life-affirming note there was a sheep about to give birth and chicks about to hatch. It reminded me of W H Auden and his poem Musee des Beaux Arts (see below).

It was then the final zoom meeting of my ‘main’ work team: out of 7 of us, 5 of us are being furloughed. I know we’ll stay in touch but it made me feel sad; and I hope the two left holding the fort won’t be too overwhelmed with work. However it also highlights how very expendable we all are, ultimately: in the irony of this situation some of my friends are incredibly busy but it’s amazing how much human industry can be stopped or cancelled and we still carry on living, eating and socialising via social media (it also says something about where I live that almost every time I go out for a walk or run I bump into – from a 2m+ distance – at least one person I know).

Meanwhile I hope I am not breaching any copyright laws by quoting Auden’s poem, which I first read as a teenager and which has stayed with me since (there was another painting used to illustrate it in our poetry books, which I can’t now find – but I also have always loved the painting Hunters in the Snow, which I think was used to illustrate some sort of wintery poem):

Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

My Lockdown Diary – week 2

The working week

Week 2 didn’t start well. I went to do my washing up and found the sink was full of dirty water which hadn’t drained from the night before. Even prodding around with a brush and a knife didn’t help… I undid some of the pipes, dirty water splashing into and around the bowl I put under the connections, and trying to work out where the blockage was. I went down to the hardware store (still open) and got some nasty chemicals – a big bottle of Mr Muscle – and stuck half down the plughole and half down the plughole in the shower upstairs, which had also been running slow.

That didn’t work in the kitchen sink and despite the fact that I was also trying to work, I spent my lunch hour sending desperate messages and receiving helpful hints via various whatsapp groups about what I could do. In the end I gave up, leaving a pool of disgusting water in the sink, and decided I’d go away and leave it until the end of the working day. I guess it’s a bit like turning the computer off and walking away from it, when that’s not behaving.

Sure enough when I went back after work the sink had, miraculously, cleared. I was a bit doubtful about whether this was a lasting ‘fix’ but I’m pleased to say that two days later it’s still running free. I should also add that I am EXTREMELY careful not to put loads of nasty stuff down the sink nor into the dishwasher – years ago when I worked at Railtrack we had a catering business tenant who didn’t have grease traps in his drains. He almost undermined a whole railway embankment at Finchley Road, and next door’s toilet was backing up due to his blocked drains. Yuck. That was the first time I served a s.146 notice on a tenant.

I’ve been doing my morning yoga regularly and really enjoying it. About 20 minutes is the perfect amount for me, and it sets me up ready to work. On Tuesday I missed going for a run as I didn’t have time – although my singing lesson also got cancelled as my teacher’s boiler had split (it was obviously one of Those Days). And the CPD webinar I joined was booooorrrringggg…

That’s the great thing at the moment though – there is loads of free stuff online, far more than usual. On Wednesday I joined a webinar about co-working. Nothing terribly mind-blowing but a good webinar (and an hour’s CPD), and it made me wonder again what will happen when this is all over. I actually think this is the final death-knell to our high streets as people will have got used to shopping online and to home deliveries: unless everybody goes mad when we’re finally released and hits the high street with all the cash they’ve saved from not going out (?). Have you? Are you saving much money being at home? I am, but the temptation is to go mad online.

The frenzy of whatsapp seems to have died down – I wonder if, one week in, people are becoming a little more relaxed about keeping in touch with people. I’m trying to phone them rather than just whatsapp or email, but I have to admit that so far I’m quite relishing not having the commute to work (I maybe said that last week as well). Today, for example, I did yoga before work, started about 8.30a.m., went for a run at lunchtime, and then worked until about 7p.m. when the National Theatre’s free streaming began.

I think this is such a great idea, and they showed a slightly slapstick comedy which in some ways was a little trite, but I think was exactly what was needed at the moment. I really enjoyed it and am going to try to ‘go to the theatre’ every week. A lot of it would be stuff I wouldn’t dream of buying a ticket for, and other than being tempted to go out into the kitchen to cook dinner in the middle, it’s very pleasant being able to sit in your own home and watch top class theatre. It’s not quite the same as live streaming of opera, plays or ballet in the cinema – it doesn’t have the same sense of occasion – but even so I made sure that I’d put my laptop away and my phone to one side.

Tomorrow the kids will be here – or some of them should be (if I’m going all the way down to Penrith I very much hope they WILL be here) and Bella and I could watch ballet from the Royal Opera House. But until then, I’ve opened and drank far too much of my ‘interval bottle’ of prosecco, and feel ready to fall into bed and slumber.

Sunday 5th April

On Friday morning after yoga and a short run I headed down to Penrith to fetch the children, stopping at Cranstons Penrith food hall en route (which was incredibly quiet – certainly the desperation for food and other necessities seems to have calmed). The kids seemed content to be heading back with me and Bella and Edward in particular were talking about how excited they were to see our cat, Artemis.

Once the kids were here I realised that the ‘loneliness’ I sometimes feel, and which can make me feel really low, isn’t so much from being alone as from feeling unloved – something which I think most parents feel to a greater or lesser extent. Almost as soon as they came in the house, and after they’d made a fuss of the cat, one of the children started demanding to be bought things. My arguments that I don’t know whether I may be furloughed on 80% pay, can’t keep going out to the shops (and don’t want to) and don’t want to run out of this month’s salary too soon, fell on deaf (teenage) ears. True I’m not paying for train fares and various lessons, but I don’t feel I can just go out and spend willy-nilly.

So having wondered why on earth I bothered to fetch them, there was then the pleasure of going for a walk with my two boys – even if the younger was being painfully slow and making a meal of it – and of doing sewing and then watching TV with my daughter. I guess the other thing is that they all want to do, and are capable of doing, such different things. And, whilst I don’t want to do the whole ‘it’s hard being a single parent’ thing, it is definitely far more difficult trying to deal with three kids on your own than when there are two (or even more) adults around: I’m definitely ‘Outnumbered‘.

Having taken this coming week as annual leave, to have the kids over the Easter holidays, it now looks as if none of them will be here. Bella complains bitterly if I ever go abroad without her (I can’t afford to take all the children – even my own holiday to Finland earlier this year was all paid for by credit card and is still being just slowly paid off (something I was hoping to pay off a bit more of if I was able to spend a bit less this month and next)), but I now feel that I may as well use my annual leave for myself if all they’re going to do is be at David’s when I’m in my house on my own while I’m on leave. The last 10 days or so have shown me that I can cope quite happily on my own – in fact the sad thing is that it’s a lot more tranquil when I’m on my own. I love my kids to bits and even though they drive me bonkers I still think they’re amazing in their own, very individual and completely different ways, and it makes me sad that they churn me up so much.

Speaking of being churned up, there’s now the fear of a more strict lockdown being enforced, as crowds of stupid people have been out in parks sunbathing. I’m somewhat less worked up about this than I was about the initial lockdown, but – what idiots! I can completely and utterly sympathise with people in city flats wanting to get out, but as someone said, why not just go for a walk and avoid other people, rather than sitting in a park making it obvious that you’re ignoring social distancing rules. I have been really enjoying my daily yoga and daily bike ride or run and feeling fitter and healthier than I have for ages; I shall be gutted if those of us who want to keep fit and healthy have to stop because of some selfish minority who think they’re not affected by the rules the rest of us are living by (and what about the Scottish Health Minister – what a twit, and what arrogance! She should be sacked. She doesn’t even deserve two houses at a time when some people are facing all sorts of financial problems).

I wonder how many circuits of my house would make up 5km? Would Strava even be able to measure such a short lap?

Monday 6th April – day 14

Well, that’s a fortnight gone, and no rumours on today’s News of lockdown getting more restrictive (I wonder how a sunny Easter weekend will affect people and lockdown, though). My children have gone back to their Dad’s. I did at least manage to get the boys out for a walk again today, and Edward helped a bit in the garden earlier. It’s been such a gorgeous day I’m amazed they weren’t champing at the bit to be outside all day. Edward’s hair is getting curly at the back as it’s getting longer; Alex is developing a floppy fringe in contrast to his normally acutely short ‘army cadet’ cut. I like them both with slightly longer hair!

Having dropped them off I decided I’d drive back on the country roads – along the lower slopes of the north Pennines, up through Lazonby, Kirkoswald, Croglin, Newbiggin and Castle Carrock. For a start it stopped me being tempted to nip into the Co-op for wine and chocolate; and also it’s a beautiful drive. I had ClassicFM on the radio, and passed plenty of people out for their evening exercise: we are so lucky living up here, surrounded by hills and greenery and gorgeous views.

I haven’t done much exercise myself the past few days as it doesn’t fit in with having the kids, and I’m getting itchy feet to be out on my bike. I need to fetch some toilet rolls at some point so if the weather continues like this I will fetch them by bike rather than in the car!

As I drove back I heard the news for the first time in ages. There were fewer deaths from Covid-19 today than yesterday but the Health Minister or someone said it’s too soon to speak of relaxing lockdown (clearly). It brought me up with a start: having been so worried about the restrictions of lockdown, I suddenly realised that I’m not ready for it to finish yet! The status of our lockdown at the moment – where you can still go to the supermarkets etc. for necessities, and when you can go out exercising once a day – has been suiting me fine. I’ve altered my pace of life, and want to be able to continue to do yoga every morning before work and to go for a run at lunchtime or in the evening, and a bike ride on the days when the kids aren’t with me!

People I’ve chatted to are already saying possibly this will change the way we live. I hope so; I really hope so. I’m somewhat sceptical about human greed though.

Meanwhile I’ve started a Garden Project so next week’s Lockdown Diary is going to be less about the logistics of lockdown and more about my garden. I should add that I’m not normally terribly keen on gardening, but this is an opportunity to do some major digging and redesigning (rather than just weeding): a bit like altering rooms inside the house. I’m thinking about a pond, although I know nothing about establishing one and last time I had a pond I killed off all the fish as I treated the water for algae bloom a little too vigorously. What I’d really love is some sort of cascading water feature, but I think that would be far to expensive and time-consuming to install and maintain.

Anyone got a spare bath?

Lockdown Running

So, what I dreaded came to pass. As crowds of people were too stupid to keep away from each other but instead flocked to the Lake District, Snowdon, Devon etc. in their hundreds over the weekend, on Monday night came the announcement I’d been dreading: lockdown.

My feelings over the past couple of weeks have, like so many other people’s, alternated between incredibly low moods (really not feeling like doing anything, wondering where it would all end, wondering how to carry on) and being fairly phlegmatic about it all. It didn’t help that I was running out of food (and it was getting towards the end of the month, so I was also trying to wait for payday until I went out for a supermarket shop). I was messaged a couple of times about whether I should have the kids with me and whether they were putting me more at risk – my immediate emotional response was one of ‘how on earth would I cope if I couldn’t see my kids’; I was also worried about my mental health if I couldn’t get out for a run or a bike ride.

By the Monday evening, just before the announcement, I was feeling annoyed with the scare-mongering and general panic. I deactivated my Facebook account and concentrated on other things. When my running group all decided not to go out running, even at 2m apart, I was devastated (and switched off notifications from them for a while – however it didn’t take me long to switch them back on again!). I felt like closing myself off from everybody – which sounds contradictory but is my standard response when I feel really low. I go into ‘shutdown’ mode.

What I really needed to do, of course, was get out for a run and do some singing practice. When I awoke on Tuesday and found a text from the government telling me I had to stay in, I read the details. Yes, I can go out to shop for food; yes I can do one bit of exercise a day, if I stay away from other people; yes divorced parents are allowed to go between each other’s houses to pick up their children as they would normally do. I had work that day, chatted to a friend who had been having similar mood swings, and that evening went for a run and then came home and did some singing practice.

Life seemed better. Lockdown had happened, but without the drama that I had feared. The energy to run and to do singing practice had come back and created the mental energy to look forward to doing so the next day; and the next.

Then my ex told me he’d had a dry cough and a high temperature, so the whole household was self-isolating completely. He felt absolutely fine and having spoken to him a couple of days later there was no cough to be heard. However it means I don’t get to see the kids for longer than I had anticipated. Perhaps because I had been out running and singing, and chatting to people, I didn’t react as I’d thought I might. I’d far rather we were all healthy and safe: and in fact what is now less than 2 weeks is only like them being on holiday. I miss them – their clutter is still distributed around my house, and rather than clearing it up as I normally would, I’ve left it around – but they will be back. I gave Edward’s panda a hug yesterday; I wander into their rooms to distribute cleaned and ironed clothes, sensing their characters in their rooms. Somehow they have left some of their energy and their imprint on those rooms; they’re not completely empty and devoid, just left in a rush, saying ‘we’ll be back soon and pick up where we left off’. I’m rather glad I haven’t tidied them up!

Of course what is so different about being closed away now – in comparison with the times when I’ve been really ill in the far distant past, pre-marriage and children, and was living alone – is that technology keeps us all in touch with each other. Even when the work emails crash, whatsapp works, or the phone. I can see people via zoom or skype or any of the message-calling services; something which I couldn’t conceive of when I first started work (when we didn’t even have email).

I am also incredibly lucky. I have a job and am being paid my salary as normal, so far; I have a house with a garden; I have countryside on my doorstep, with space enough not to be close to people and to still go out running or cycling or walking; and my children will be back soon. It is scary in that it feels as if the virus is getting closer – Cumbria has had quite a high incidence rate, especially bearing in mind our small population – but I am so glad I’m no longer a city flat dweller and that I don’t have the worries of being unemployed or running my own business. And also, it could be worse: we could be in a war zone and thank goodness we’re not.

I’m still not back on Facebook and I’m not watching the news. In some ways I am living in a bubble, but it is almost impossible in these days of IT connectivity not to know something of what is going on. Reading Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harari) made me acutely conscious of what social animals we humans are. Whilst we cannot ‘connect’ physically at the moment, for most of us the opportunities to connect in other ways are possibly almost better than they ever have been.

Take care and keep safe, everybody. And don’t forget Syria.

These days will return: