The fresh start of September

I do like the September feeling of a new academic year.  And this year I had expected the academic element would be totally irrelevant for us.  One son should have been living in a houseshare and the start of school where he works would have been something observed from a distance.  Younger son would have been firmly ensconced in the workplace element of his apprenticeship.

Would, could, should – they are the themes of 2020 aren’t they?  Instead of what should have been happening…

Everyone lives at home.  And we’re witnessing the return to a school job and it’s the basis of dinner time conversations this week.  The apprenticeship led to furlough, combined with a college course taking place over the summer holidays instead of the term.  And then very suddenly the furlough ended and it was back to work this week (literally he was informed on Friday!).

The expectation of last September that that was our “last academic year start” have been confounded.  Like so many expectations this year.  This one is very minor and actually is a huge positive.  I had missed all this energy in the morning, the constant stream of people moving around our relatively small house in a short space of time.  Turns out it was this feeling of movement and energy – and frankly the need to be out of the way of the movement – was needed to drive me to write.

Today is the day many youngsters head back to school.  Good luck everyone, from what I hear over dinner, schools have put so much thought and care into keeping everyone safe, I am sure it’s not going to be an easy morning for many, but I wish you the energy and patience you need to get through it.

Making my own way

So far so good this month, I am slowly coming out of the lockdown, both the one imposed by government, but most importantly, the even bigger lockdown self-imposed by someone who is scared of catching the virus and who is very risk averse anyway. But I am in conflict as I am also a rule obeyer.  Almost regardless of the rule, it does not occur to me to question it.  This new reality where I am not sure I trust the rules any more – things seem contradictory, illogical and the virus seems to be increasing again – is a real challenge for me. 

I am left to negotiate a path through this complication which fits my risk appetite.  That is difficult, but it’s not a bad exercise to make me rely on my own abilities and confidence to assess a risk.  Staying outside seems sensible.  I have given up on some of the coffee shops I visited earlier this month, as there was not enough ventilation and other customers seemed much less concerned about social distancing.

We are travelling away from home so much more.  It feels important for my own wellbeing to feel free, or at least more free than we have been.  In a very middle-class response to life I joined the National Trust, and I have to say I have been very impressed.  The downside is that I need to lean into my planning skills and make sure I book tickets in advance. But the upside is that their recommendation is to stay 2m apart from people, even outside and their coffee and cake is excellent.  

We are seeing many more people, again mostly outside, it is great to alleviate the reliance on video conferencing when that remains the main way of communication at work. My aim for the month was to shift from my lockdown mentality to something much more open.  The pinnacle of that shift was to be donating blood, in the city centre.  That appointment is this afternoon.  I am nowhere near as nervous as I thought I would be, so I am taking that as a signal that I have successfully made my own way out, psychologically speaking.  Obviously, I am still aware that I may catch the virus whilst emerging from the safety of a lockdown, but I am becoming more comfortable managing that risk in my own way.

Stepping out and stepping up the courage

As I wrote last week, July is about me moving out of the fearful, home-focussed me – actually it’s been more “home-captive” – into the normal me, who is out and about and seeing life. 

This long weekend (my weekend includes a Friday) has been a great start.  I am still a bit nervous, I have to admit, but I am pushing myself ever so slightly and hopefully I am taking enough precautions to not contract coronavirus, whilst also working on reducing the fear that will only become less helpful as time goes on.  So far the adventures have, as predicted, been small yet memorable, but there have been quite a few.  

I started with a long walk with one of the offspring in Wyre Forest park, which is about 45 minutes drive from home.  I have not been that far away from home since the start of March, never mind about driving there myself. We treated ourselves to coffee and cake from the takeaway café at the end of a good march around the forest in the rain.  The first food I have eaten out of my house/garden since 15th March.

Saturday was a huge step as we decided to go back to our favourite café in the village to give them a bit of support on what they admitted was a nerve-wracking day of reopening.  It was just coffee, we were there as a family, supporting each other.  There was a grand total of 9 other people in the place, including all the staff and everyone was very well spaced out. It was lovely to be back, but it was far from normal.  

I have seen friends and family as well – but all outside, either in our garden or on a walk with our excited dogs happy to be out with more humans and a variety of dog treats – my dog claims everyone else’s treats are better than his own.

Possibly the high point of the weekend was an impromptu coffee and croissant early yesterday morning on our now traditional early Sunday morning walk.  The café was open, and it was a delightful interlude in our usual routine, and empty cafes seem like a good way to build up courage and some mental resilience.  

The fear that I have caught the virus is still there in my mind, but I am soothing the agitation with the knowledge that I was not back to normal contact with people by any stretch of the imagination and that this worry is probably very normal after three months of being safe in my house with very little contact with the outside world.  

New month thoughts

It’s a new month.  Another one.  How fast is time flying this year?  I am sure for those who are grieving, it is not, and it seems that we are speaking ever less about the fact that all the headlines and statistics are about human beings who are very sick, or who have lost their lives and all the humans who knew and loved them.  For them I would think that time is going very slowly.

For me, it is whizzing by.  It proves that the more you do, the slower time passes.  Being mostly at home is making the time flow by at great speed. But a new month gives a sense of a new start. Although it really did not in April and May I must admit, that was a very odd time where new months felt utterly irrelevant.

It is different this month, it really does feel like a whole new phase of life as we move out of lockdown.  I am embracing that cultural feeling of change and adopting a sense of shifting (thanks to Yoga with Adriene’s monthly calendar).  I have to consciously adopt this sense of change, because frankly, I am one of those who is less keen on being out and about.  The R rate is at 1 in the Midlands where I am.  I am hopeful that that is because the region is very large and that does not mean it is 1 in Birmingham.  But I cannot find any data to tell me what the R rate is here in the city.   And I am very used to being at home, it’s been about three and a half months now that I have been mostly home – except for exercise and two other trips elsewhere (for the record – the bank, the dog groomers).  So I am accepting that feeling a bit reluctant to change is normal.

Monday was the first step and we walked to a local coffee shop and bought a take away coffee.  I even hung around in the queue for Boots whilst one of the offspring waited to go in.  and had a browse in the jeweller’s window.  I can remember every moment of the trip to my local high street.  Which is odd – hopefully it will become less impactful as I do more this month.  I am not quite sure what the next adventure will be, but I am sure it will be small and yet memorable.

Still running

As coronavirus became a reality in England way back in March and staying at home became a possibility I started to worry about my fitness levels.  They weren’t bad, but I had the nagging feeling that having a good level of cardiovascular fitness may help me if I were to catch coronavirus.  On Monday 23rd March I decided I ought to definitely go for a run, and go for a run every day until either I caught the virus or someone in the family did and we would all have to isolate.  Thankfully none of us have caught the virus – yet.  

And so I am still running every day.  (Except Sundays, on Sundays we go for a long walk to make a Sunday feel different). I am still nowhere near being an actual proper runner.  I run a short distance, slowly. And that lack of “proper” running has been the key.  I run for about 20 minutes, on days when that feels too hard, I run less.  I stop if I find someone to chat to, so it’s rarely 20 consecutive minutes.  I am sure I could do better and more, but I do not want to.  It’s a low bar and so is achievable, even after one glass of wine too many, a sleepless night, when it’s too cold, or too wet, or as in the run ahead of me today – too warm. 

And so this week saw me reach three months of running every day.  Me.  Not a runner.  The girls who got out of every PE lesson she could. Who did not start running until her 40s.  I run every day and am about to buy more trainers because I am wearing these ones out. This week I am feeling a bit amazed, but proud. 

What have I learnt so far

At the beginning of the “stay home” phase, there were a lot of articles about what we could all achieve in this time of lockdown.  There was a much-quoted theory that Shakespeare wrote King Lear whilst in isolation.  The implication was that being locked into our homes meant we now had the time and space to achieve all the great things we have failed to achieve so far in life because, so the articles implied, we have too much freedom and too many friends and family to hang out with.  I have not written my version of Lear, or anything else for that matter.  Everything I have learnt has been much more introspective.  

I have learnt that we get on well as a family.  It has been a while since we all lived together for any great length of time.  But we enjoy being together and we laugh a lot. 

I have learnt that we all have a good level of emotional intelligence, we can recognise when someone is down or frustrated and we seem to be able to help each other intuitively. 

We all have a strong work ethic, I think I knew this before this started, but the lack of work for some members of the family has really affected mood and wellbeing.  The fledgling plans of returning to work have been greeted with a real uplift in energy.  We are definitely a family that likes to work.

I have learnt that singing helps your mood and that I cannot sing a harmony. Whatever the person next to me is singing is what I can sing, I have no independent singing ability. I am enjoying my virtual choir experience, but I am not likely to be welcomed in a real choir any time soon.

I have learnt that I am good with change, I am happy to try things out and tweak and amend to make things work, or just abandon things and move on.  We have done this a lot with various home routines and work has involved a fair amount of this.  I have also learnt that continually changing is tiring. I have also learnt that many people do not find this easy at all.

I know now that seeing people in the flesh is much better than seeing them on a screen.  Screens are just not the same.  Even seeing someone from 2m away is more soothing than seeing them on a screen.

I have learnt that listening to the news all the time does not help you adapt to a new way of life, in fact it makes you less able to adapt as confusion abounds as we get deluged with not just official guidance, but everyone’s commentary on what that could mean.  But it’s ok to occasionally get swept up in the news cycle, as long as you can get out of it fairly quickly.

I have learnt that I genuinely need a good level of physical activity to make me feel well, being sedentary all day is very unhelpful.  I feel that much more now that there is not even a sense of movement which I get from being in a car.  The days I achieve closer to 15,000 steps are better than the ones where I graze the 10,000 total.

On a more practical side I have learnt to use many more video conference platforms.  I have learnt to make facemasks and laundry bags.  And the reigning lesson has been making sourdough.  A very delicious thing to have achieved.  It may not have the gravitas or the legacy of a great Elizabethan tragedy, but hey, it is making life much tastier at the moment.

What I would like to keep

The loosening of the lockdown has our thoughts turning to it finishing altogether.  A subject fraught with emotion, science, politics and completely out of my control.  But what is in my control is what I choose to keep from this strange period of my life.  And there is lots that I have enjoyed and would love to keep hold of.  

Working from home.  I am enjoying being at home generally.  Spending what was commuting time in exercise or chatting to family, or cooking something healthy is a great swap. Being able to sit outside at lunch times, or to stand in the garden for a few moments whilst the kettle boils are precious stress reducers in the day.

Video conferences for Scouts and church meetings.  Don’t get me wrong, I am missing the interaction with people a lot, but I have to admit that finding the time for various meetings in the evenings and weekends is so very much easier without also having to negotiate for the car and factor in travel time.  Especially when the travel time for work happens too.  It really does feel like some meetings are much more efficient via video call.

Doing much more craft.  I am not a natural crafter, but since lockdown we have had a designated craft night every week, I have had some crafty video callswith friends and various bouts with the sewing machine to stitch up laundry bags or face masks.  All of them have been enjoyable and I like pottering about with various little projects.

Games and jigsaws.  We own tons of them and rarely play them.  Jigsaws are reserved for Christmas holidays pretty much and board games for family gatherings.  Until lockdown, when they have become very much a part of the week.  Hugely enjoyable and actually do not take much time.

Spending time in my garden.  My garden is made for sitting in, not weeding.  By which I mean, I deliberately grow weeds and enjoy doing so.  Except that I have been gifted lots of lovely vegetable seeds and plants this year – so I have a mini allotment in pots alongside the weed beds.  Lush, green and productive.  Perfect garden.

Running every morning.  It started as a way to make sure my lungs were as strong as they could be before they were inflicted with a respiratory virus (no I have no medical or scientific basis for this actually helping in any way, but it helped me feel that I was doing something to stay in control) – or someone else in the family was afflicted and we would have to isolate, or the government would ban all exercise outdoors.  I was sure one of those would happen within a couple of weeks.  Eight weeks later and we have run every day except on Sundays.

Long walks early on a Sunday morning.  Ironically once churches open for worship these walks will have to get earlier, but I am loving a pre-breakfast walk through local urban parks and country parks, or a little further afield now that driving is possible.  And the fact it is not a run makes it all the more delicious, so it is dependent on the previous point.

Better food.  Having more time at home means I am cooking even more.  I hate sandwiches and having the time to have a proper lunch is just lovely.  Our fruit and vegetable consumption has increased greatly – which started as another obsession to build our immune systems ahead of the viral attack.

Great sleep. All of the above is possibly contributing to my sleep being better than it has been for years. Keeping this post lockdown is maybe dependent on keeping everything else in place.

Being at home more.  I like being at home.  Which surprises me, as I spend so much time out of it usually. 

Just start writing and see where the end of the sentence is.

This is not the way to write a blog, in fact it’s not the way to write anything at all.  You are supposed to start these things with a clear message or theme or subject that you wish to tackle.  You should have a clear idea of your audience and what interests them and what style of writing they prefer.

Instead I am starting an attempt to write a blog a day for a whole week – mainly to get me back into the habit of writing any blogs AT ALL.  And it’s late (by my standards, the offspring are adamant that 9.30pm is not late, but then they are also adamant that waking up at 6am is not possible, in fact it is not even a thing, just a weird hypothetical concept dreamt up by their mad mother). 

Where was I?  Oh yes, it’s late, I do not write coherently when it’s late.  As you can tell, I do not really hold a train of thought.   Anyway (if you’re still reading by this point – seriously, why? – cereal packets are better worded than this!), it’s far too late for me to be thinking up themes, but I was going to write a blog every day this week and Monday is a day in this week, so here I am, writing a blog.  And the title is the thought I had when I started it, so let’s just stick with that.  

It has been an excellent day, in no small part because I have chatted to friends over coffee on a video call, to a good friend on the phone, to my Mum on FaceTime and been for a now-allowed socially-distant walk with a friend on her birthday.   And I spent a bit of time in the garden repotting mint (possibly killing mint, but as I have no proof of that yet, I’m going with the term ‘repotting’).  And we finished a jolly hard jigsaw which had been lying around taunting us for a while.   All in amongst working and doing two workouts.

And I wrote a blog.  Job done.  Goodnight.

My batteries are running out

Good morning.  “Write blog” has languished at the bottom of the goals/to-do/things-that-would-make-me-feel-better list for a long time now.  As I wrote last time this is partly because I think I’ve said it all, not much is changing.  On reflection though, I am changing, of course I am, we are all going to be changed by this experience, so there must be things I can write about.

It feels more like my batteries have run out.  I am an extrovert.  I gain my energy from being around other people.  I am very busy at work, I have plenty going on at home, I have developed new routines and hobbies that make me very happy.  I am speaking in some way to people every day, pretty much all day.  I am video conferencing, texting, phoning and so on and so forth. I live with three lovely people.  

But I am exhausted.  I have plenty of rest, I am sleeping really well, eating well, exercising well, but still tired.  I have come to the conclusion that although I am cherishing every conversation, loving every interaction with someone else, it is just not the same in its ability to replenish my energy.  Don’t get me wrong, without all the communication I would have crumbled weeks ago.  But the screens bring their own issues.  I have struggled with eye strain, one of the reasons I have been reluctant to get my laptop out to write blogs, as I try and rest my eyes around work and social times.  Video conferences are much more intense than physical meetings, so more tiring.  

But most important, I don’t think seeing you on a screen is the same as seeing you in person.  A coffee with friends on screen is just not as reviving as a coffee in our favourite coffee shop, going to church via a screen is not as fortifying as being on a pew with other people, catching up with the family in a chaotic and fun video call is not as replenishing as having a houseful of people cooking lunch together.  Finally, I get to feel what being an extrovert is about – getting energy from other people.  And without them, I am beginning to fade.  But thank you to everyone who is spending lots of time keeping me going with your messages and calls.  Long may they continue until we meet again.

Running out of things to talk about

I am not really running out of things to talk about – never fear, my garrulous self has not changed, I can talk about nothing really.  I am struggling to find things to write about here though. There is less happening and so less occurs to me to talk about.  There’s a lot of emotion, but let’s be honest, that is a response to the news and worse, fears about a future which feels very uncertain.  Neither are actually things that are happening.  Worrying about the news or getting too caught up in my own concerns is a good way to anxiety.  It’s a balance to start planning for what the world may look like after lockdown and not worrying too much about what the world will look down after lockdown.

In fact lots is happening, my days are full and busy and I speak to a lot of people every day.  So I have many stories and other experiences filling my mind, but this blog is not the place to be telling others’ stories. 

What is lacking is the usual wealth of experiences that my life is blessed with.  Travelling to other places, being in other locations, even the local shop, feed my mind and give me something to write about.  The longer I am at home (it’s been nearly 7 weeks now), the more I am relying on others’ stories and the arts to give me a window on the outside world.  I am more curious about others though, which is a good thing, hearing how everyone’s day has been at dinnertime is a real treat.  I really relished in seeing the scenery of Northumberland and Yorkshire on this weekend’s TV faves of Vera and Last Tango in Halifax.  Books take me to a different place entirely and plays streamed on TV transport me to a different time and experience.

All of this is keeping me amused and distracted, but of course is not replacing actually being places.  In the same way that a video call is not replacing the personal contact with other humans. 

I wonder if the feeling of running out of things to talk about is also a response to the fact that I am generally much calmer at the moment, because I have no trains to catch, no meetings to race to, much less juggling of places and people.  The days are getting blurry without the distinction of the usual low key kitchen sink drama of life.  This is probably all a very good thing.  But rather rubbish for a blog.