Random Musings: A year ago this weekend

A year ago this weekend husband and I travelled to Cardiff on a planned city break. Our younger son was at university there and we looked forward to spending time with him and continuing our exploration of the city. We had booked tables at restaurants to take him out for good feeds. We also packed running gear to enable us to take part in the Bute Parkrun on Saturday morning. For reasons financially careful husband would justify, we went by train rather than driving.

Rumours were circulating in the media of some sort of proposed lockdown – whatever that meant – in response to a virus spreading from China. When our son told us a day or so before the weekend that he was feeling under the weather we decided to bring mostly empty suitcases that he could pack what he needed for exam preparation, returning home with us for an extended Easter break. I did not like the thought of him struck down in his halls of residence, alone and unwell. Husband and I had both recently suffered a particularly nasty flu that left a lingering cough it took weeks to shake. We didn’t want our son suffering as we had without support.

The weekend did not go as planned.

Eating out on the Friday night we learned that all restaurants in the city were being closed down, effective immediately. Staff at the Bella Italia we had booked – mostly empty which was highly unusual – had been invited to help themselves to perishables from the kitchen, that would otherwise go to waste. Already the impact of fearmongering could be felt in the emptying streets that were usually thronging with loudly partying tourists.

We learned the next morning that all Parkruns had been cancelled. We ran in Bute Park anyway and were amazed by how empty everywhere felt. Streets were devoid of people. There was little sign of traffic. Our hotel was the only place that would feed us on the Saturday. Our son walked back to his halls that night through a city that had unexpectedly grown feral. For the first time he reported feeling unsafe, the homeless the only others around and they actively shouting abuse as he passed by.

It was a sunny weekend so we had walked down to the harbour area where families were enjoying the spring air. It was the city centre that felt eerie, the few people around scurrying from proximity.

We packed our son’s essentials on the Sunday, leaving his room ready for his return. Since then he has been back to Cardiff just for an afternoon, last September, to move his remaining belongings to the room booked for the next academic year. Foolishly, we believed the assurances that teaching would be happening in person rather than remotely. It didn’t happen and his rented room has served only as an expensive storage facility. Nevertheless, when the media reports of students confined to halls aired, we were grateful he remained here with us.

On the weekend of our escape – for that was how it felt at the time – we boarded a mostly empty train to Bristol encumbered by our many bags and suitcases. From there we learned that trains were being cancelled without notice, including our connection. We watched the ever changing departure boards carefully and decided to catch a train to Swindon from where we could get a bus home if necessary – assuming they were still running. In the event our daughter, who had travelled from London the day before, was able to come rescue us in my car.

And lockdown began. The reports from around the country made me thankful my little family had made it home where we could be together. I felt comforted that we had each other and lived in a rural location.

There were initial benefits. The roads emptied. The skies cleared of contrails. The weather stayed mostly fine. I own a bike and was able to enjoy long cycle rides along routes normally besieged by fast moving motor traffic. I ran regularly and built up my stamina to tackle lonely half marathons. We have long had our grocery shopping delivered and this continued, albeit with regular replacements of certain staple goods that caused more amusement than hardship. We were lucky.

The months dragged on. The lifting of the first lockdown was not a return to freedoms we had never before considered at risk. We ate out twice before deciding being treated as a biohazard spoiled the experience. I discovered that wearing a mask brought on panic attacks. I carry a lanyard announcing my exemption but being unable to read others’ expressions upsets me. The only place I felt welcome – until it was closed again – was the town gym I joined when my local facility introduced measures that made attendance unappealing.

I look back on how life has changed. With travel curtailed it feels as though we have gone back a century. It seems only the very wealthy leave their home environs – that they may still travel abroad with impunity. Meanwhile husband’s car is taken out only occasionally to ensure it still functions. We venture as far as leg power can take us.

I worry at the legal powers given to the police to ensure compliance. I wonder if these measures will be revoked when – if – we are allowed to roam free again. The latest pressures coming from on high revolve around the new vaccines. With threats of travel bans for the non compliant, and eternal mask wearing, I harbour a fear that last year’s trip to Cardiff may have been my last holiday, my last enjoyable visit to a restaurant.

The death toll has, of course, been high. On a personal level this plague brought forward the deaths of my elderly parents. What cannot yet be enumerated is the ongoing cost to the many who, for now, remain alive.

Jobs have been lost and others created – not necessarily in chosen specialisms. Fear has polarised opinion, at times dividing family and friends. Unable to get together as previously, mental health issues are exacerbated. With healthcare focusing on Covid, other potential illnesses – some of which will bring forward deaths – have gone untreated.

Husband works from home now, something he railed against at first, missing the office camaraderie. We get used to so much when choice is removed. We adapt as best we can.

I read of rats invading empty office spaces. I read of scams being run by those eager to profit from others’ fear. I hunker down and nurse the injuries my body suffers, probably from over exercise – my way of coping with anxiety induced by so many changes. I watch more TV now than I could ever have imagined – a way to fill a dark evening. As one who lived by the mantra of making the most of every day as it could be my last, this past year feels a waste of what is limited time alive.

Only hindsight will tell if the reaction to Covid has been as cataclysmic as it sometimes feels.

I wanted a memento of the year. To forget is to lose the chance to learn. I chose a book – no surprise there – and was also gifted a furry companion. My cuddly plague nurse, pictured below, never fails to make me smile.

My review of the book, Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, will be posted tomorrow. For now we continue this stymied existence through strange and concerning times.

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Ghost

I feel as though I am floating, uncertain and alone. The tethers that once anchored me have come loose. The lines between the life others see, the books that I read and the stories that I write are becoming blurred. These are all my experiences, a part of what I am. How much of my life is real, how much imagined? An individual’s perception is his reality.

I wrote a piece last week about life on line. I wrote it as fiction and yet, when it was finished, I realised that I had created something personal. When I look at the life I am living it has lost its solidity.

I read books to escape from the rejection. I write to cope with the hurt. I no longer fit into the worlds of those around me. Now that my family has grown they have their own interests. They are kind to me, humour me but do not seem to understand what I am.

I am a ghost, not quite here. I drift through my days. I read and I write. I exist on the margins.

 

A grand day out

“We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”  (JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit)

So yesterday I went on an adventure. Not a trip to Alaska such as my neighbours are currently enjoying, or even a trek to some misty mountains such as I used to enjoy with my husband. This adventure involved a drive of less than two hours to the city of dreaming spires, where I had arranged to meet up with a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in over twenty years.

If you have been following my blog for a while then you will understand what a challenge this was for me. I chose to drive to a city that I did not know. I chose to spend time with someone outside of my immediate family. I chose to do all of this on my own.

Naturally I planned as for a military campaign. Maps were googled, routes and alternative routes noted, car parks checked out along with buses and exact charges, so that I could ensure I carried the correct change. I was nervous but determined. I felt like a right woose for finding it such a big deal.

In the event all went smoothly, even the weather smiled on me, and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my friend. It was interesting to see Oxford, even if it did seem stupidly busy and full of people. I guess I am not a city person. We walked, explored, had a delicious lunch in a lovely, old pub, and we talked and talked and talked.

Each time I do something like this I wonder why I do not make the effort more often, yet time and again I find reasons to stay at home. In many ways it is easier for me to go off on such adventures on my own. When members of my family are with me they will often criticise my nervousness, which exacerbates the problem. On my own I can check and double check everything without fear of irritating. I can miss a bus to walk back to my car and check that I locked it, thereby enjoying my day out more, knowing that all is as it should be.

So many of my friends live lives filled with travel and activity, I love to hear of their experiences. I keep my life sheltered in comparison, exploring little other than my little corner of the world on foot. I reach out via the internet, but it is not the same. I cite cost and family commitments, but suspect that these impediments are not as insurmountable as I sometimes suggest. I am making excuses, even if only to myself.

The adventures that my friend talked of involved sea water kayaking along uninhabited coastlines, remote mountain skiing, encountering bears in their natural habitat, finding wolf prints outside his tent. As someone who is scared of cows and off lead domestic dogs I would not wish to indulge in the activities he enjoys, but it did make me feel that I should be able to find the courage to at least leave my home more frequently.

In many ways though I found it easier to explore a city where I would know nobody. I like to be invisible, to go unnoticed. My fears revolve around criticism and letting others down. Too often I feel that I am not being whatever it is that they want of me, and I react by trying not to be anything at all.

Meeting up with an old friend I could relax. We were meeting to catch up with each others lives so I could be what I am, it was that which he would be interested in. With no expectations to live up to, and no plans to spend time together regularly (although hopefully we will get together again before another twenty years have passed) I could be myself.

I would rather spend time alone than feel obliged to act a part. Being able to relax in such fine company was fun though. I have interesting  friends; it would be good to spend more time with them.

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Moods

Riding this roller coaster of moods is exhausting. Yesterday I woke up feeling low. By late afternoon I had cheered up sufficiently to pour myself a glass of wine and start my Christmas shopping. An hour or so later I was feeling festive and regretted not decking the halls as my youngest had requested. Yet a short and innocuous enough exchange with my husband whilst preparing dinner brought me close to tears again. I can’t be doing with this. It makes no sense. I retreated under my duvet early last night, I mean really early. I will try to do better today.

First though, an observation. I seem to have lost the ability to talk sense. As can only be expected, my family discuss an eclectic mix of topics. Space travel, chemical reactions, medical issues, the latest innovations in computer technology, and television programmes that I do not watch were all covered this weekend. There was little that I could join in with. I try to follow what is being discussed in the hope that I may learn something, but trying to take part merely shows up my ignorance. It is therefore galling that, on the rare occasions when I should know what I am talking about, I can still spout nonsense and allow myself to appear witless.

We have plenty of areas of mutual interest but they rarely get raised around the dinner table. I seem unable to present my thoughts in a way that generates curiosity. I no longer seem able to contribute anything coherent enough to be worthwhile. It is frustrating for me that I am turning into the foolish old woman that my children see me as.

What happened to the clever young thing that I used to be? Despite attempting to exercise it regularly, my brain appears to have atrophied. It exasperates me that I seem to be contributing to the low opinion my children have of my mental abilities each time I speak.

However, I must learn to live with what I am and seek to improve when I have the opportunity. Today is Day 2 of my countdown to Christmas and I am looking for positives in my day.

Our weather continues to be dry and not too cold so I decided to work outside. This view from the bottom section of my garden, even on a dull December day, is cheering. There are still enough leaves to add colour, but the view over the fields has opened up as the foliage descends.

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It is this descent that I was tidying up. Barrow load after barrow load of leaves were raked and lifted into sacks for disposal. I am sure it must be a great workout. As my husband has taken my little car to work, something that he does fairly regularly to keep it ticking over as I use it so infrequently, I was able to fold down the seats in our MPV and use it to cart rubbish to the recycling centre. Thus our garage is no longer clogged up with an old mattress and the broken door and bed end that have been gracing the front of our house for well over a month have now gone to be turned into…  I do wonder if the myriad of rubbish that is so carefully sorted and transported to the recycling centre actually get recycled.

I enjoy a good clear out though. It has been a tiring but fulfilling day, I am well exercised and my garden looks a lot neater. I will put my hens safely back in their runs and prepare for the return of my children from their long day at school.

Then I just need to make sure that I hold on to this positive mood through the evening. That would make it the good day I am aiming for.

Autumn

Autumn is here. Today is a typical, October’s day here in England; it is dark, dreary, wet and windy. Having opened the windows a crack to air the house this morning, I now have a whistling draft disturbing my peace as the gusts of wind push their way around the house. I love this time of year when the weather is dry and I can go for long, sunny walks with crackling leaves underfoot and glorious colours to admire in the trees that surround our village. On a day like today though, I am tempted to stay snug, warm and dry indoors.

The BBC failed to forecast this weather on line last night. Younger son had arranged with a friend to cycle to school if the weather was dry and I was informed that it would be. The ground was wet but it was not yet raining when they set off in the dark this morning. I was unaware of the unpleasant conditions to come; I wonder if this will put them off repeating the exercise. I would like my children to cycle to school more often, but not in weather like this.

Younger son has developed a minor cold that he has been sharing with the rest of us. Sitting around in damp clothes is not going to improve his ailment. Perhaps it is as well that the teachers have arranged to go on strike tomorrow, giving the children an extra day’s holiday. A day of rest may help him to recover.

I have been struggling to keep the main living area of our house warm this last week. Temperatures have dropped significantly so we switched on the heating only to discover that part of the system is no longer working. A plumber should be calling with us today; I hope that he can quickly rectify the problem and return us to comfort throughout the house.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon baking which helped to warm things up. I have been doing my reading and writing wrapped up in a duvet to protect against the cold. My elder son is impatient at such necessities; when things stop working he cannot understand why I do not act immediately to get them fixed. I can give him no logical answer.

Yesterday I was required to stay in to sign for a parcel. I was impressed with the communication I received from the courier, reminding me the night before and on the day that I needed to be here. In the event, the parcel was delivered but left on our doorstep. There was no knock to inform me that it was there; I could have gone out after all. Yesterday would have been a fabulous day for a walk; today is not.

Despite the weather, despite the cold, I have maintained a more positive attitude to my life recently. I am still jittery; walking in sunlight but always on the edge of a dark void. Long, bony fingers reach out to try to pluck me down into the abyss; I glimpse them out of the corner of my eye but will not acknowledge their presence. If I keep moving forwards, pay them no attention, they will not get me.

There is talk of Christmas amongst some of my on line acquaintances; I am trying to avoid this spectre. Christmas was a bad time for me last year and I need to build up my strength to cope with whatever it may bring this time around. I lose control at Christmas. I am not good at dealing with expectations and demands; going with this type of flow erodes my well-being.

For now though we are approaching Halloween; a festivity that offers family fun with no need to interact with the world. My daughter has many plans for the holiday, some of which clash with my husband’s wishes but none of which seem insurmountable. I am looking forward to the break from routine.

I am discovering new ways to live in my world that challenge and excite me; new paths to walk that are mine. I like this feeling, that I am finding my own way without coercion. The newly discovered independence of thought and action wraps around me like a warm blanket. I wonder where I will find the armour that I need to protect it.

the tired old wizard & his dragon