Archive for the ‘holidays’ Tag

Lockdown

Well, what a strange world we currently find ourselves in. In the UK we are now in the seventh week of lockdown. I think. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what day or even what month it is.

The beginning of March started ordinarily enough. Covid-19 (which I refer to as the C-virus) was in the news every day, but no one seemed particularly worried about it. On 7 March we flew off to Argentina for what was going to be an amazing two-week holiday. It was amazing, but we had to cut it short. For about a week or so everyone in Argentina was incredibly relaxed about the C-virus, and they are a very tactile people, with men and women alike greeting each other with hugs and cheek kisses. But then, on Sunday 15 March, we got an email from the airline to say our flight the following Thursday was cancelled. We somehow managed to get seats on the last flight to London from Buenos Aires the following day. There’s a lot more to this story and I will save it for another blog post. The day we left Buenos Aires, I noticed that the locals were no longer greeting each other with cheek kisses – they were using elbow bumps instead.

The short version is, we got back into London the morning of Tuesday 17 March. Since that day, our house has not been empty. The UK wasn’t in lockdown at that point, and we had not been told to self-isolate having been out of the country, but we tried to stay home as much as we could. We did have to go out foraging for supplies. Panic buying was in full swing. There was no toilet paper to be had anywhere, no fresh fruit or veg, and most places had sold out of bread. Over the course of three days, with the two of us taking it in turns to visit as many grocery stores as we could get to, we managed to find enough food to keep us going for a week or so.

I was in contact with my colleagues, who had heard about Argentina going into lockdown and worried we got stuck there. I reassured them I was safely back in the UK. Initially I was going to go into the office to pick up my laptop so I could start working from home the following week. Things were changing so quickly it was soon decided to courier my laptop to me so I wouldn’t have to go in.

Hubby’s office had already decided to close down their London office, and he keeps a laptop at home anyway, for home working. So the week of 23 March saw us both setting up work spaces at home. He was working from the dining room table. I moved my personal laptop out of my writing den and set up my work laptop there, on the strength that I had a desk and proper chair in there, and I know from experience that if I spend hours working on a laptop on a stool or dining chair, I get backache. And so, ever since then, this has been the arrangement. It has taken some getting used to. This is a new way of life.

There are some positives. I am not on the train every day to work so I don’t have to get up so early, and I am saving a lot of money by not having to buy rail passes every month. Hubby and I have actual conversations during the day when we have lunch and tea breaks together. In pre-lockdown life we would largely communicate by email during the day. We are both still working, and largely able to carry on our jobs from home, although adjustments have been necessary. A lot of people are out of work. There are two of us, and we have a four-bedroom house so there is plenty of space for us both to be able to work without disturbing each other. We are spending less money, because there’s nowhere to go to spend it.

But on the whole, it’s been difficult to adjust. I miss not being able to go out and meet friends in a restaurant or a bar for a meal or a nice glass of wine. All the things I was looking forward to this year – weekends away; gigs; open mic nights; conventions – have been cancelled. Although we were lucky enough to get our holiday to Argentina, or most of it – a lot of people have lost their holiday completely and are still struggling to get the money back.

I am particularly missing my swimming. I had a good routine going, and I had finally found an exercise routine I could stick to. I am probably eating too many cakes and drinking too much wine because these are the only pleasures I seem to have left in lockdown.

It’s been over two months now since I was last in the office and I am finally starting to get used to this new routine. I am going out for a walk on a daily basis. We go grocery shopping once a week, and put up with the socially distanced line that is necessary in order to get into the supermarket. Generally it’s me that goes to the grocery store while Hubby cleans and vacuums the house. I am OK with this arrangement. I hate grocery shopping, but I hate cleaning the bathroom more. We are buying a lot more food. In our pre C-virus life we generally both ate breakfast at lunch at work, so the only meal we’d have at home was dinner.

But as well as struggling to maintain physical health, mental health is a struggle as well. I found this article from the Harvard Business Review online in the first week, and it helped me realise that the feelings I was struggling with were a form of grief. Mourning for the life I used to have, that is probably gone for ever. I’ve also been having a lot of really weird dreams. Apparently this is common amongst people trying to cope with lockdown as well. It’s our brains trying to deal with the general anxiety of the situation. Some days I end up feeling really down and crying for no particular reason. Some days I am OK. This week, I feel I should add, I have been largely OK.

But the writing has been non-existent. In the first week of lockdown I got up at 6:30am and attempted an hour and a half writing session. I managed less than 700 words in that time, and each one was a painful struggle to get down on the page. I’ve been avoiding writing ever since. Six weeks now, and I haven’t written a word. And that really bothers me.

The government in the UK is now talking about ending the lockdown. We need to be cautious, no matter how desperate we all are to regain some semblance of normal life. It’s going to be a long time until places like bars and concert venues will be able to open again, and there is no doubt that even when we achieve some degree of normality, life will not be as it was. I will certainly be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, as our Chief Executive has already informed us all that she expects it to be ‘several weeks, if not months’ before the office can open again. It’s the getting to the office that is problem – most people in the London office travel by train or tube, and you can’t social distance when you are in a carriage so crowded your nose is in someone’s armpit. And I really can’t see a solution to that any time soon.

So, like everyone else, I am doing what I can to get through lockdown. We are spending our evenings watching a lot of films and TV shows. We are looking for fantasy and escapism; we have discovered that right now we can’t deal with anything that features a dystopian world (like The Walking Dead, for instance). Last week we went through the entire Lord of the Rings extended DVD trilogy (that’s nine hours of viewing). Video chats with friends on Zoom and other forms of video calls are really helping. I can’t meet my friends for a glass of wine, but we can talk to each other while we drink wine at home. We are even running our D&D games using video calls – not ideal, and you have to shout a lot at the screen to make sure everyone hears, but it’s better than not playing at all. And everyone needs the escapism of being in a fantasy world for a while.

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time on social media, enjoying the rather ingenious lockdown videos created by people with far too much time on their hands. I leave you with this rather ingenious stop motion Lego creation, to the tune of Abba’s ‘The Day Before You Came’.

This, too, will pass, and one day we will all be able to see each other again. But until then, stay safe, friends.

My Life in Music: 1973

As has been evident in my previous posts in this series, the music that made an impact on me in the early years of my life was influenced by my parents’ tastes in music. The song for this year is from my mother’s music collection.

It’s from an album by the Carpenters, called Now and Then. The album is effectively a mix of old songs and new, with one side being original Carpenters tracks and the other covers of old songs, set up on the album to sound like they were being played on the radio, with a DJ between the tracks.

The Carpenters were a big influence in my childhood, because my mother had most of their albums. I thought Karen Carpenter had a beautiful voice, and of course she was a drummer before she was a singer. Women drummers were rather rare in the 1970s and I’ve always been drawn to women who dare to venture into worlds traditionally occupied by men. It has been pointed out that Karen’s anorexia, triggered apparently by media criticisms of being ‘chubby’ in the early days of the Carpenters, perhaps is evidence of the fact she was never very comfortable being in the limelight, and might have been far happier had she stayed hiding behind her drum kit.

I do remember that when she died, in February 1983, my eighth-grade English teacher used the event to trigger a discussion about anorexia in class.

The track I’ve picked for this year is not my favourite track off the album but it is the most evocative. We listened to it a lot, and we must have had the album on tape, because when I hear this song it reminds me of being in the car with my mother, driving through Mossley, the town in Lancashire where I lived for the first ten years of my life. The tape had a ‘wobble’ in it partway through this song. Those of you who are the same generation as me will remember that a hazard of cassette tapes – the only portable medium of music we had in those days – was that tapes would often get ‘chewed up’ by players, and they never played quite the same way again.

Sara in Portsmouth, Summer 1973

And the photo? My album says this was taken in Portsmouth. Evidently it was summer, which means I was probably a couple of months away from turning four. I was all skinny legs and knobbly knees at that age, but I’m wondering now if it is actually 1973. All the childhood photos I have of me I gathered together before I moved back to England from Canada in 1988, neatly arranged in an album in order of year, but I am starting to wonder if the year is accurate in all cases.

I do vaguely remember this holiday, though. My grandparents lived in Portsmouth at the time. Being a naval town, Portsmouth had big black anchors arranged as sort of sculptures in the town, and I remember climbing all over them. Well, I remember them being giant-sized anchors, but I was very small back then. In this photo I am standing on a narrow wooden post on the beach. It was hot. I was very good at balancing on things when I was very young – I lost the ability to do that a few years later, when the fear of falling kicked in. I do remember it was the only time I had my hair cut very short, during a summer that was rather hot (though not as hot as the British heatwave that kicked in a few years later). I decided I really didn’t like it short, and I refused to have it cut that short again. Even as an adult, I’ve always worn my hair fairly long.

Anyway, following this collection of memories which appear to span quite a number of years, here is the song for 1973, which definitely was released in this year – ‘One Fine Day’ by the Carpenters.