Friday, 22 May 2020

Getting to know myself during Covid 19

It’s hard to find something to post about when you do nothing but spend time at home. We’ve had glorious weather and I’ve been working like a madwoman in the garden, physically exhausting myself in the process. The more I work the less there is to see, the more dry brown earth emerges. The more I dig the bigger the piles of plastic sacks filled with weeds grow, ditto the piles of brush, shrub prunings and whole uprooted shrubs lying in corners which should, by now, be attractive and tidy areas for sitting and watching the garden grow. I shall be ever so cross if I die before I can replant everything next autumn or spring; all that work for nothing.

There is a good thing about being physically active outdoors: it makes for a cheerful and happy state of mind, so maybe it’s not all for nothing. Paul still comes once a week, but now only for two hours, his energy doesn’t last for longer. I almost exclusively reserve the jobs which are too hard for me to do, nothing routine like weeding, he still has strength, even if his stamina leaves much to be desired. Agewise, I could be his mother yet I work harder than he does. I am glad that he officially stops work after two hours and doesn’t drag out his time with me to three hours, as previously, with a rather long tea break in between. There’s no tea break now and I only pay him for two hours. I like Paul very much, he is a nice chap and knowledgeable about plants and I certainly hope he continues to come.

There’s a chill wind today, I’ve allowed myself a day off. Once or twice, during the hot and sunny days, friends have come to call, by invitation, one or two at a time, and we’ve sat in the garden in late afternoon, at a distance of no less than 2 m and enjoyed a glass of wine over a natter. We are all very sensible and do not meet in each other’s houses yet, as per government directive. The incidence of Covid 19 in Valley’s End is minimal, less than a handful of cases and no deaths. Many of us are of retirement age and therefore vulnerable. There is one dog walking acquaintance who turns up once a week or so, who explains her uninvited presence by saying that her dog has wriggled through the bars of one of my gates and insists on raiding my garden. So, naturally, she has to follow him, scoop him up, apologise for her invasion by blaming the dog and look longingly at the chairs on the terrace. I must ask her to come on a specific day, she is obviously lonely.

Which brings me to a question I’ve been puzzling over. Ever since I’ve understood the meaning of the terms introvert and extrovert years ago I’ve thought of myself as an extrovert. I am not shy in company, I face meeting new people with equanimity, I am lively and chatty at parties, I talk to people before they talk to me. At the same time I can take or leave people and find solitude nothing to be afraid of. Sometimes, I am lonely because I lost my soulmate but, otherwise, my own company is sufficient for my needs most of the time. I even talk to myself.

But that is surely not how an extrovert reacts to the present lockdown? I am always reading about people who are terribly unhappy and longing for hugs and face to face conversations, whose loneliness cries out for human contact and who are in danger of becoming mentally ill. These people have all my sympathy, so many are old and alone, feel abandoned and shut out, but I simply do not feel that way myself. What is wrong with me?  When I read these sad stories I question my capacity to empathise, I have no idea what it feels like to be in their shoes. Solitude to me is something good, something to be welcomed. Does that mean I am an introvert after all? Or even more fortunate, I am an introvert/extrovert whenever either state suits me?

Considering that I’ve had nothing to post about I have used an awful lot of words to post it. That’s what Covid does, it makes wafflers of all of us.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020


Last night I had one of my I-absolutely-cannot-be-bothered-to-fall-asleep-nights. I went to bed at the usual time, read a bit, switched off the light and waited to disappear into the arms of Morpheus. Morpheus wasn’t interested. Wasn’t having it. Any of it. In spite of a generous helping of sleeping pills. Nothing doing. On these occasions it’s almost as if I really don’t want to sleep, like a horse refusing a jump. What I did, however, was gardening, in my head, all the jobs waiting to be done, in detail; had it been light I might actually have got up and done them. Or that’s what I told myself.

Instead I got up, fetched a packet of crackers and a glass of sweet sherry and read a magazine for an hour. It was about 4.30 am when I went back to bed. The birds were up and singing.

This morning all those gardening jobs were still there, waiting to be done. Of course, I was too tired, after my mostly sleepless night, to tackle any of them. I am a daemon for sorting things out at night, come daylight, not so much.

February was the last time we went to see a performance by The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-on-Avon. I took this photo of the phone box and post box then, they are both outside the Festival Theatre itself. Theatres may not reopen until next spring. Balls, indeed.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Afternoon all,

how are you doing? Getting a bit fed up? A bit bored with your own company? I am. Not madly depressed or sad, just a bit bored. Mind you, would I be any better off if I had a family now, maybe a few brothers and sisters, an aunt or uncle tucked away somewhere? Kids closer by, kids that actually liked me enough to want to live close by? Who knows. But then I was the one who moved far away from everybody.

A time like this concentrates the mind, come the rainy day and there’s not much else but dandelions around - it’s dandelion time in the garden and the hedgerows and verges - and all the family you’ve ever had is either dead or they’ve forgotten about you and live a life that's neither more nor less happy and contented than the life you yourself live. Once I had a lovely aunt, she’s the one I remember with affection; she was poor, with a husband who cut hair for a living in a tiny rural hamlet. Not much money to be made there. Auntie loved life, laughed a lot, celebrated every birthday, every occasion that lent itself to celebration and some that didn’t, and always had a plate of Dutch cheese open sandwiches ready to share. Auntie is long gone, I wonder what she would have made of it all now? Laughed, raised her shoulders 'what do I know’, and said, "it is what it is”. I know what Mum’s sister, my other auntie, would have done. She was the one much given to bursting into tears at the least opportunity, everything that ever happened was chosen by ill fate and aimed directly at her. Both of them are dead now but I know which one I’d rather sit with round the kitchen table.

They are all gone now, Mum and Dad, the aunties and uncles, even some of the cousins, not that I ever had many. Two kids max. per household was the going rate in the family, at least the side of the family I knew. And some only had the one, like my Mum and Dad. All of that generation had a hard time of it, two world wars, hungry childhoods and not much prosperity until much later when things generally got better. But they never experienced a pandemic, Spanish flu, avian, swine, HIV/aids, sars, mers, all scourges of the last 100 years, passed them by. Would they have borne them as stoically as they lived through their own times?

I miss them and, most of all, I miss Beloved. Not that I would want him as he was at the end, but the way he was when we sat opposite each other in the kitchen, when one of us would ask a question and so a conversation would start about a wide range of subjects, subjects which would need exploring in detail, whether we knew the answer or not.

I miss the old people and I miss Beloved. Often now my thoughts turn to the past and I want to ask what they think about this and that, do they have any advice to give or do they know as little as I do. The latter probably, but it would be good to find out.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Just Saying . . . .

I made a disappointing discovery: one of my friends, someone I was not only fond of but admired greatly, has turned out to have feet of Covid19 clay. Supposedly, we are all in this together, but some of us are further out on the periphery than others, able to dip in and out at leisure. Looking around me I have judged that this one or that one would maybe not stay the course, crack under the strain of isolation, break the rules and get out from under without considering the consequences. In some cases I was right. But this particular friend I judged to have excellent self control, determination and staying power, yet this is the one to break the rules in the most spectacular fashion.

We are all only human, we all make mistakes, we are all getting fed up and nobody wants the situation to go on for longer than it needs to. But to flout the rules deliberately and claim special status for reasons of personal convenience is just despicable and highly irresponsible.

Maybe that friendship has run its course.

We have to pretend, said Old, we have to pretend about so much these days. We have to pretend to like things we don’t like. We have to try so very hard to be non-judgemental.
The Dept. of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

Instead of sitting in judgement and feeling disappointed I should just continue to do what I’m doing, get into the garden more or less every day for at least two hours. The longer and harder I work the less attractive the beds are. More and more naked earth appears. I used to accuse Beloved of pursuing a ‘bare earth policy’,  he was keen to strip the beds back to basics and proclaim lots of my favoured plants to be weeds that needed clearing when we first came here. Now it’s me who does that. I have ordered a few pots of herbaceous perennials and some colourful annuals to close the biggest gaps once I get to replanting.  Luckily, the garden has a respectable 'bone structure' in the form of shrubs and trees. Spring flowering clematis like the one in the picture help too. Paul is coming tomorrow, I hope that together we will knock a few more weedy problems on the head.

Last night the outer scab came off my lip, quite naturally. The inner scab came off a few days earlier, the inner scar healed very quickly, I am glad to say. No infection anywhere. There is a small visible scar and a small patch of scab left, but nothing to spoil my beauty. I’m relieved.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Glück im Unglück (A Blessing in Disguise)

Oops, there she goes, falling like a sack of potatoes, spilling herself all over the stairs.

After a day spent largely in the garden, evening came with its normal quota of tiredness. Happy and contented tiredness. Eleven at night and time for bed. Had I shut the shed and garage? Better check. Yes, all safe and sound, no need to worry. Locking the inner door to the shed was the last thing to do before climbing the stairs. I hadn’t bothered to take off my thick-soled, non-slip trainers; that was my downfall. Literally. Turning on my toes my right foot refused to move, my left foot was in too much of a hurry, stumbled over the right and there you have it, I shot forward, unable to brake and came to rest on the stairs, my chin hitting the step with an enormous crack. Instantly blood came gushing out, with me in serious pain.

Eleven o’clock at night, on your own, is not a good time for an accident of that nature. In the mirror I saw that my own teeth had cut my lower lip from inside to out. I googled “how to stop bleeding of the face and mouth”. Ice packs should do it in twenty minutes, Google said. Three ice packs later I was still bleeding. It was two am by now. I decided to ring 111 for advice, the service for non-emergency help. Initially I spoke to someone non medical, after a whole raft of questions they referred me to a nurse, who actually rang back a little later. Another raft of questions which I answered honestly, without making too much of a meal of it. All I wanted was advice on how to stop the bleeding. Halfway through the call the nurse said  ”the ambulance is on its way, you shouldn’t have to wait too long.” What? Hospital During The Time of Covid 19? Not bloody likely! I’d rather bleed to death in the comfort of my own home!

Anyway, the ambulance did indeed turn up fairly soon. The paramedics weren’t even inside the house yet when I informed them that they had had a wasted journey, the bleeding was lessening and under no circumstances was I going to hospital with them. “There there,” they said, "first let’s have a look at you.” They did what they called ‘obs’, (my blood pressure was off my personal scale) wrote it all down, both of them sitting on the floor, operating their various machinery, attempting to calm me down. We actually had quite a pleasant chat.

By about three am the bleeding had most certainly lessened. Finally, the paramedics agreed that there was no immediate need for me to go into any hospital; instead they advised me to visit the local minor injuries unit the next day. I didn’t even do that. I’d rather spend the rest of my life with a deep scar on my lip than contract the virus and have no life left.

Before they left they admitted that I was doing the right thing. “To be honest”, the female paramedic said, “before now, we have taken people to hospital for different reasons, without a fever, and the same people have come out with a high temperature.”

Today, two evenings on, I have recovered somewhat from both the accident and the shock. Yesterday I spent the whole day dozing, taking painkillers, not even getting dressed. Today, I am feeling much better, I did a bit of gardening with Paul, and tried to eat on one side of my mouth. But the fat blue lip has already gone down, there is a bloody scab closing the wound, and I am hoping that there will be no inflammation. I might ring my surgery doctor for some advice on how best to avoid that.

Wish me luck.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Just Thinking . . .

strange though it may seem to you, there is something liberating about being in lockdown. “I’m loving it,” says Jay who rarely stays at home at any other time. “It’s amazing" says Sally, who can hardly ever be reached because she is literally always attending some local group meeting. "I’ve got clean kitchen cupboards,” she marvels.  Pauline says she’s gone through her wardrobe and chests of drawers, finally sorting out items she’ll never wear again. “I’m getting bored and would love to see a friend for a meal”, Pauline adds, “but I’ve got plenty to do anyway.” Mary enjoys her solitary walks and the freedom to watch hours of opera streamed by the NY Met and the London ROH.

All the daily tasks that normally make me feel guilty for neglecting have disappeared off my radar. Many times I have told myself ‘it doesn’t matter, nothing matters very much except to stay safe, stay well, stay in touch, stay hopeful.

Soon we’ll all know the natural colour of our hair, mousy for the younger ones, grey for the older. I can lick the long hairs in the corners of my mouth,  time to get the magnifying mirror out and pluck.

There’s nothing any of us can do to fix this. We worry about ourselves, our family, friends and neighbours. We are anxious and stressed, sleep is disrupted, we dream fearsome dreams. What we can do is start to control how we act. I cannot stop the worldwide spread of Covid-19 but I can control how I react to it in my own small world, in my mind. There is freedom in that. I can choose to eat healthily, take my allowed exercise, stay away from the relentless news bulletins, particularly before bed.

I can decide to concentrate on the lighter side: I choose books, movies, documentaries which make me laugh or entertain me. I choose to listen to music whenever I feel like it. I enjoy a glass of wine, but not to excess. I don’t overeat.  I choose to resurrect my diary, write down my thoughts, focusing on the upside of my current routine, what I can do rather than what I can’t.

I keep in touch with people, my son and I have a phone conversation once a week now, before lockdown we spoke maybe once a month. I’ve tried to renew contact with my daughter by sending her an email inviting her to forget and forgive, on both sides. She didn’t react. I can control my action towards her, I cannot control her reaction; what I cannot change I must accept. And move on. Lots of friends call, even those I hardly ever meet. I am happy to contact them in return.

I try to keep active. For nearly five years I have felt bored with gardening. Looking after Beloved, then mourning him, took all my attention. Now my interest is back, gardening has become a pleasure again, I go out whenever the weather is nice enough and I get dirty, arse over elbow, digging and dividing, weeding and pruning. All the nurseries are closed, plants cannot be had easily; instead of replanting and restocking I am busy trying to eradicate pernicious, perennial weeds, like ground elder and celandines, which have colonised whole beds during the years of neglect.. Large empty patches don’t matter, nobody is going to see them and when the nurseries reopen I may have cleaned up the beds enough to replant.

Above all, I try to keep positive, a wholly new departure for me. I allow myself to do only what gives pleasure, everything else I ignore. The day will come - I hope - when the luxury of feeling guilty returns, it doesn’t matter now. For now, nothing matters.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

And Now For Something Entirely Different.....

the end of culture as I know it, for the time being anyway. I hope.

Creativity is in short supply in my household, all I can think of doing is unravel the rugs and knit face masks with the proceeds. That is if I knew how to knit. Years ago I gave away all jigsaw puzzles, half finished embroidery tablecloths went down the charity route and painting by numbers has never appealed. Reading is a habit I won’t tire of anytime soon, unfortunately the last book I picked from the long list of “waiting to be read” is Isabell Allende’s “In the Midst of Winter”, too good to be put aside but also too deeply harrowing to be read without frequent recourse to a sip of wine and a piece of chocolate. I really need to forget about the improving kind of reading material and go back to the shelves of old favourites for a laugh. For a little light relief I watched the first two episodes of the new Sunday night costume saga “Belgravia”, Downton Abbey in the time of Waterloo; Mr. Fellowes, do you really need more dosh that badly?

However, to culture, the high brow variety.

Have you ever sat among an audience, clinging to the armrests of your seat, trying to prevent yourself shouting at the players? That’s what happened to me during “The Whip”, a brand new play about the abolition of slavery in 1834. On the surface, the achievement appears to be a heroic victory for human decency, in truth, slavery was followed by the appalling 'apprenticeship scheme', slavery by another name, with worse punishment. Slave owners were compensated for the loss of their ‘property’ with a multi-million pound Sterling windfall; in 2015 the money borrowed for this ‘bailout' was finally paid off by the British taxpayer. What made me want to shout and climb the stage was the naked greed, the inhumanity, corruption, mendacity, portrayed by the actors. I believed it all, and it reminded me forcibly of our own times.

How different was the National Theatre’s “Cyrano De Bergerac”. Until quite late into the first scene I was still waiting for the play to begin, confused by a lineup of actors rapping at a fast and furious pace. This is a radical reboot of Rostand’s 1897 ‘wooing-by-proxy’ romantic classic and, once I understood what was going on, I loved it. James McAvoy was a fierce, proud, word-intoxicated Cyrano, never stumbling, never missing a beat. Yes, I loved it.

And that will be that for the time being. All theatres are closed, as are all cinemas. No more live shows, no more streaming. Tickets already bought and paid for are invalid; I have no idea if the Royal Shakespeare Company will make refunds. The probable loss of money is not my first concern, I am more saddened by the loss of one of my favourite pastimes. My friends and I have tickets for performances at Stratford for two consecutive days in May, with an overnight stay at a fancy hotel.

Ah well.