Making the most of lockdown

Seven weeks at home and what have you been doing?  Of course, many of you will still be working, either at home or at work because you are essential workers.

For those who are going to work it’s a scary time.  You are interacting with the public, who may be infected, and then going back home and possibly taking that infection with you.  I don’t know how you do it, I really don’t.  Especially the low paid supermarket workers who are risking their lives, and the lives of their families, for what is often barely enough to exist on (exist, not live).

If you are lucky enough to do a job where you can work from home, your working life has changed beyond all recognition.  You don’t have to factor in the commute, you can make as many cups of coffee as your kidneys can take, and you’ve probably eaten way to many biscuits.

You might be having Zoom or Skype meetings, and you may have adopted a new dress code ‘at work’ for these.  Perhaps your company has relaxed the dress code, perhaps they’ve relaxed your working hours.  Maybe you now appreciate that teachers have a very hard job, and your offspring are not the delights to have in class you thought they were?

But what about those on Furlough?  That new word nobody had heard of until two months ago.  What about those who have been made redundant or now find their zero hours contracts really have zero hours?  Well, aside from trying to work out what to do to get by on anything from 0-80% of your previous income, you might be trying to negotiate the benefits system (and I wish you luck), or perhaps you’re discovering you normally waste a lot of money and can indeed live on 80% or even 60% of what you had before.  If you can, don’t get excited, it’s probably because you don’t have to buy lunch like you used to, or pay for your commute, petrol, parking, or those little extras that just make going to work more palatable; like your Monday morning expresso or hump day donuts.

These people have a lot of time on their hands, less of course if you have children, but you still have a lot more than you’re used too.  What are you doing with it?  Have you finally started on the long list of ‘home improvements’ or ‘gardening duties’ that you’ve been putting off?  Probably.  I painted the rail around the decking, but I haven’t quite got to the fencing yet.  First I ran out of wood paint stuff, then I ran out of enthusiam.

Perhaps you’ve had a go at baking, if you were able to get the ingredients.  Not sure I get the sudden obsession with home baking.  I mean, I’ve watched Bake Off as much as the next person, but I still have no desire to start making 12 evenly formed petit-pans, giant gingerbread houses, or even my own bread.  I’m not saying it’s not a nice way to spend the time, or that its not fun with the kids (albeit messy) but it just doesn’t appeal to me.  Beside, you’ve not encountered the ‘guess what temperature I’ve going to do today’ element of my cooker.

I am shopping local, and I am cooking more meals from scratch.  That’s enough time in the kitchen for me, thank you, unless I’m making coffee or have found a stash of biscuits.

I have been trying to get out on my bike.  Exercise is of course permitted, once a day originally and now whenever you fancy it (depending where you live).  It hasn’t always happened of course, the world is paved with good intentions.  My waistline would like me to go cycling a little more often, the aforementioned biscuits have seen to that.

There’s been a lot of jigsaws, and I find it a way to practice mindfulness and take me away from the constant barrage of (largely) bad news, coupled with the massive frustrations at the uselessness of the UK Government in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.

But a couple of weeks ago I thought I might do something more constructive when a friend sent me a link to the Open Universities open learning section.  Free courses, with certificates of participation or whatever they call them, all online.  There is a raft of these, and I’ve sat four so far:

Smart Cities, Level 1, 24 hours study

Systems Thinking and Practice, Level 2, 8 hours study

Mastering Systems Thinking and Practice, Level 3, 24 hours study

Campaigns and Organisations, Level 3, 2 hours study

It has been fulfilling to get the old grey matter doing something again.  It has been challenging at all levels with some new concepts and materials, and my memory is not that of a 20year old, that’s for sure.  I’ve rediscovered my ability to write with a pen, and quite enjoyed seeing my own handwriting again (I’ve been told I have lovely clear handwriting).  I have made a lot of notes, and even undertaken revision, something I was totally crap at when I was at school/college/university.

I picked these subjects because they interest me.  I am not a cyclist, but a woman that happens to ride a bike in the city because it’s quicker, and fun.  I also have a blog about it here

Cycling in a city has made me interested in infrastructure, policies, city development, the problems of different perspectives to the shared space, and the problems that people have in engaging with ‘active transport’.  I get annoyed I don’t feel safe, I get annoyed at the way drivers treat me, and I try to be a better driver because of it.  I get annoyed at the Council for not getting on and implementing temporary and permanent changes to facilitate more pedestrian and cycle access to the city.  The UK and Scottish Governments have been very clear on the message, governments across the globe are seizing the opportunities to keep the lower emissions, less pollution, clean cities they have now discovered as the smog cleared.

Edinburgh has got to the consultation stage; which means it won’t happen.  They’ve been at the consulting stage on a cycle path project for 13 years for one stretch extending Roseburn for heaven’s sake! Sadly, for the residents of Edinburgh, myself included, it seems we have a council paralysed by paperwork and procedures, and a desire not to offend anybody so they do nothing for anybody either.

I feel for the campaigners; they’ve tried so hard, for so long, and they were so optimistic that, with the new directions from Westminster and Holyrood, we might get somewhere. I feel it too.  Now I feel that familiar disappointment and that dark, sinking, feeling.

But, I am not going to sit here doing nothing.  I am studying to understand the problem, to get a new objective and a better all round view.  I am keen to be part of the solution, and not just wingeing on the sidelines (aka Twitter).

Hopefully my study will prove useful in my career development, or even just in helping the campaigns I believe in.  Who knows?  But at least I feel like my lockdown has been purposeful.  What about yours?

My trousers no longer do up

An unwanted side effect of the Stay Home lockdown policy has been the expansion of the waistlines in our house.

It’s not that we are eating more, or badly, far from it.  In fact we have better, fresher, less ‘pre-prepared’ food than normal as we have the time to make proper meals.  No, the problem is that we just aren’t moving enough.  Normally, I would be out the house and on my feet from 7.30-4.00 for three or four days of the week, usually four.  On top of that we would be playing golf at weekends, so plenty of walking, and I would also be cycling on top of this.

Since the lockdown, we’ve been walking gently with the dog (who is 13, arthritic, and doesn’t go far), I’ve taken a couple of cycle rides when I got brave enough to venture out in the loony traffic, and we’ve done a bit of gardening.  There has been some garden golf, with little plastic balls, and a bucket for pitching, plus some putting on the carpet in the hall.  It’s hardly 18 holes around a 6mile walked course.

I’m cautious about cycling because the existing cycling infrastructure in Edinburgh simply isn’t wide enough for any realistic social distancing, so I feel forced onto the roads, and my experience of that last week has not exactly filled me with confidence or appreciation for my fellow man.

You can read all about that here

Of course, part of my problem is not just this but the fact I wasn’t well to start with:  I have large recurring haemorrhaging ovarian cysts which result in massive abnormal swelling, excessive tiredness, nausea and even sometimes make me feel a bit faint.  There is also the frequent episodes of not inconsiderable pain.

I was due to see a consultant about getting these cysts removed, and probably a full hysterectomy into the bargain, when all this Coronavirus stuff started.  I’m just hoping that the cysts are cancerous…

Anyway, my trousers won’t do up any more.  I’ve gone from my nice fitting ones, to my emergency slightly baggier ones, to the “OMG I’m huge” ones that lurk at the back of the cupboard from when I was a lot heavier due to medication (steroids for Ulcerative Colitis sort of cured by having my colon removed).

I’m sitting here with a muffin top over my walking trousers, and I can’t even contemplate wearing pretty much anything that’s hanging in my wardrobe.  Could be just the cysts, could be I’m getting fatter (and unfit) too.  I think come the end of this episode the clothes shops and the gym membership profits will skyrocket.

We will certainly not get a hair appointment for love nor money.

Perhaps I shall take to running up and down the stairs if my 49 year old knees will let me. They’ve not been keen on running since I did the Skye Half Marathon last June.  They aren’t even that pleased with cycling at the moment.

All in all, I am falling apart folks, falling apart inside a bag of expanding fat and flesh.

Let’s hope we see the daylight again soon, if only so we can still be able to see our toes without a mirror.

Stay Home, Order Local, Save Livelihoods – how small business might get through Corona

When the outbreak of Covid-19 started there was panic in the supermarkets and people stockpiled and hoarded as if food was going to run out.  It hasn’t of course, and just a couple of weeks in and already the restrictions on the numbers of products any one person can buy are slowly being lifted.  This is largely in part to the hard working and largely low paid staff who are working tirelessly to keep shelves stocked, deliveries on the roads, and people fed.

It is, however, still virtually impossible to get a Click’n’Collect slot, let alone a home delivery.  But there is an upside to this: Small local producers and retailers who can offer a home delivery service are finding a place out with their otherwise sometimes very niche markets.  Wholesalers, who have seen a downturn in orders from their normal customers, such as restaurants and pubs, are looking to supply individual consumers.  They already have the vans and drivers, they just now have to make more elaborate journeys to more locations.  Good planning and offering a three day delivery (as in sometime in the next three days) allows these trips to made in the most efficient way.

My local butchers is delivering meat packs, minimum order £50.  Our local fruit and veg wholesaler is delivering veg boxes and trays of eggs, as well as some other staples as available.

Coffee companies are advertising on the internet as delivering smaller quantities, moving from their cafe/restaurant/retail markets into direct to the consumer.  Slowly, over the last week, I am seeing more and more companies making the most of the situation and marketing themselves online for these types of deliveries.

I’ve found an organic farm near my mum that can deliver a veg box to her, so from a distance of over 600 miles I have organised a local delivery for a women with no internet and no means of doing this for herself.

But, they are still missing the huge untapped market of self-isolating and shielding people who don’t have access to the internet, and perhaps cannot rely on relatives to do this for them.  How can these businesses make a difference to those people, and how can those people make a difference to those businesses?  Perhaps there could be a council led initiative to provide company names and phone numbers on a register available in a leaflet delivered to these vulnerable people?  I don’t know, I don’t have the answer.  But my mother was so excited to here she was getting a fresh seasonal veg box today you would have thought it was Christmas.  A purchase made in Edinburgh, helping a small farm based company, as well as a shielded person, in Suffolk.

Hopefully, the companies now turning to individuals, when we go back to whatever will become the new normal, will continue to offer this service and not revert to trade only.  Hopefully, the new buyers of this produce will keep their orders up and not resort to going back to the big supermarkets for all their groceries and good, but spread the love around a little more.  This will benefit so many isolated people who struggle to get to and from the supermarkets, as well as the businesses that struggle to find customers.

It is a case of matching the service supply to the customer demand, which is all it ever had been.  I think though that people, and businesses, have got a little lazy and shortsighted.  Perhaps sometimes we need to remember to look outside the box and explore new avenues, and we are now re-learning the benefits of not putting all your eggs in the one basket, as a business and as consumers.

The big supermarkets thought it was Christmas, they made more money in the last few weeks than they probably made in December.  Now is the time to spread a little love, spread a little money around, and save a few of the smaller companies and suppliers.

Hopefully, more small businesses will survive if they have consumer support.  We don’t know what normal is going to look like, but we do have the opportunity to help shape it, even from our couches and our home office desks.  Now, more than ever, the way the world works can be re-written and a new future is quite literally in every single person’s own hands.

Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives.

Stay home, order local, save livelihoods.

Can you concentrate?

I don’t know about you, but I am finding it really hard to concentrate with everything that is going on, or not going on, right now.

My partner is working from home and he likes to have noise around him because he is used to working in an open plan and sociable office environment.  I however, am used to quiet and solitude.  I’m upstairs on the desk in the spare room, and he’s downstairs having commandeered the dining table.  He has bar far the best view and is on the sunny side of the house.  I have a wall, a mirrored wardrobe door, and have to have a standard lamp on.

He has the radio playing and I have the door shut because it’s annoying me, and it’s still coming up through the floor.

But these distractions are nothing compared with the ones rattling inside my head; will I catch it?  Will I die?  Will my partner catch it?  Will he die?  What will happen to me if he dies?  Who will look after the dog if we both die?  What about my friends, my mum, my partners parents?  What about my job?  What about the two job interviews I had lined up?  What about social unrest if this carries on?  What is everyone going to do without money and access to essentials?  What are we going to do, financially, if this carries on for too long?

How much will the world change?  Will the change be for the better?  Will we see less migration and less flying, will be see cleaner air now we got used to working at home (where we can)?

What about cycling, will we still be able to do that next week, next month?  Some countries have already put in much stricter rules.  What about the erosion of the legal process, civil liberties, etc?

All these thoughts, and many others, rounding my head time and time again.  I am trying to keep my blogs going (I have two), and I’m trying desperately to get another chapter or two of my book written.  It should be the perfect time for both, but can I concentrate, or is the stuff coming out of my head a product of reduced sleep, which is a product of worry and lack of exercise?  Is it terrible?  Is it even remotely readable?

What will happen when this is over? When will it be over?

Can’t he turn the that down?  Does he need it that loud?

Where has the dog gone; is she downstairs, upstairs, or outside?

What’s left for lunch?  Oh my god will we have to go out to the supermarket, that’s go to the dangerous.

Will I ever get my hospital appointment?  Will I get my op?  Will this pain stop?

Why do I find the music annoying, it’s only what I play when I want the radio on myself It’s the same station I have in my car, and it doesn’t bother me there.

I could go back to bed. No, that’s defeatist.  And, if I do that again then I won’t sleep properly tonight, like I didn’t last night, because I had slept in the afternoon.  Why do I feel so sleepy in the afternoons?  I’m allowed to ride my bike, I like riding my bike, I’d feel better riding my bike, why don’t I want to ride to my bike?  What am I scared of?

How did Sherlock pull off faking his own death in Series Two?  Did someone kill themselves for him, and then switch the bodies, the other three scenarios don’t add up. Why am I even thinking about this?  Ah, the box set.  Is the world now watching copious box set binges, what will that do for our IQs?

Netflix must be raking it in.

Wow, the butchers delivery has come, fresh meat for the first time in a week. WOW. Steak pie for tea.  I miss being a vegetation but I can’t digest it due to having had my colon removed.  I don’t really like eating animals.  It’s not very nice.  Steak pie, I love steak pie, proper butchers made steak pie, with chips and gravy.

Shit, that was the last of the dark chocolate digestives, can you get dark chocolate digestives on Amazon?  You can’t get a supermarket delivery for love nor money.  I’m not risking catching Corona for the sake of a biscuit, I need to loose weight anyway.  We all will after this, and for once I might not be the palest person in the room either.

Shut up head.  For heavens sake, it’s only been just over a week for the official lockdown. Although I locked myself down two weeks before that, aside from essential travel.

I like this song…

Open the door, I can’t hear it properly.  It’s stopped, oh, he’s on the phone.  Typical.

Shall I do my accounts?  That’s scary.  No money in for several weeks.  Should be payday Friday but will I get my SSP?  Did I earn enough on the last two pay periods of my zero hours contract to qualify?  What if I didn’t?  Should I tell the doctor that in spite of his best intentions and my best interests I have to go back to work?  But I could get Corona.

Oh stop it head.  Stop rambling.  Concentrate.  Write your book, or your blog.  Write, something, even if it’s drivel like this.

Starvation or Coronavirus: Which one will get you first?

It is a question that has to be faced by many in the UK, and across the rest of the not very civilised world. As restaurants and shops close down, and the gig economy workers are finding it hard to get work, a great number of people with nothing in reserve will find themselves without an income.

Add to this the delay in getting any benefits, and the rising costs coupled with unavailability of everyday food items (due to hoarding and panic buying) and you have a lethal combination.

What the government of the UK is failing to realised, mainly because they have reserves, often millions, is that if you add a lack of income to a lack of resources, to national panic you will get civil unrest. Where you don’t get that, you’ll get starvation.

A nation gripped by a deadly virus, with no means to support itself, will cause death beyond that of the virus itself. Every day of inaction by the UK Government takes us one step closer to mayhem, one step closer to unrest, and one step closer to society breaking down.

Poverty, a legacy of the last ten years of Conservative rule, is already rife across the nation, millions go hungry every night already, tens of thousands are homeless and hundreds of thousands more are hanging by a thread. Take away their incomes and they will starve.

There will be many deaths due to the virus. There will also be deaths from starvation, from civil unrest, and from suicides where people simply didn’t have the capacity to cope anymore.

Yes, I look like the profit of doom, but I am being realistic. I went shopping yesterday, and there wasn’t a meat product in the fresh aisle, not a toilet roll, no pasta, no rice, and even the non-essential shelves were decimated. People are panicking and the only thing that will take away this panic is proper controls by the governments.

Store are limiting purchases now, but money is limiting the purchasing power of many too. Those that can are buying it all now because they fear they will loose their income and not be able to buy in the future. Those with little money can find very little left, and they will start to rely on charity soon.  The Government can stop this with a basic income plan for all.  It needs to be done, and it needs to be done for the poorest in society right now. It needs to be done for those in work on the knife edge, the working poor.  Roll it out to every single resident with a tax code or NI number, start with the lowest earners (the tax office knows who they are) and then roll it up to those higher up the income scale, stop at the point most in that income bracket should have reserves.  I don’t know what that figure would be but I’m guessing there are many organisations that do.

We need relief on a scale never seen before, and we need it now.  Then we need protection, from food shortages, but sensible rationing of purchases, and if that doesn’t work then rationing in the traditional WWII sense.  It is no good limited people to four of any products but allowing them to reach ten different supermarkets, a problem in cities especially. 

The world is re-balancing, there is a seismic shift happening and we live in the most interesting of times. What will come out the other side, nobody yet knows, but it could be a better way of life for all, or it could be survival of the richest.

We shall wait and see…

Storm in the soul

It’s ironically funny to start a page and not know what I want to write, only that I want to undertake the act of writing.

You see, over the last few months things have got dark again. The big black cloud that sweeps over me and clouds my thoughts, pushing away the nice things, until only it is left, has been pushing its way in. It is hovering now, just on the edge of sight, waiting again to consume me like it did yesterday. I renders me unable to function, to do nothing but to cry and weep, and without any means of explanation. It sits there, like a threat, until I face it. Then it either consumes me, or I win and push it back a little further. There is not point in ignoring it, or running away.

When it is there, the smallest nudge can push me over the edge. It can be the tiniest triggers, something that I would usually take in my stride, something that wouldn’t phase me at any other time, can become all encompassing as if my very existence depends on it. My rational brain knows this is false, but that doesn’t stop it. Reason has gone out the window.

Then the darkness comes….

The real darkness of the lost soul, delving deeper and deeper into a despair so dark and so far removed from normality (whatever that is) that there seems to be another realm in which other live that I can see by cannot enter. I am alone, even in the company of best of friends, even in the company of a lover. I am completely alone, in my darkness. After a while it becomes easier to embrace it than to look for the light, it is easier to hug the dark and to wallow in it. It becomes, warm and friendly, somehow familiar and depressingly comforting.

Then the darker thoughts will come. How can I stay here in the warm darkness, not having to deal with the world and other people. I don’t mind being alone any-more. In fact I am now enjoying it, I push people away, I don’t want them to see me. I want to be left alone, with my friend the darkness, I want to be here in it’s warmth forever.

I wonder what it would be like to bleed to death, what is the best way to cut my wrists and arms so that I bleed out quickly enough to be able to ignore the pain that must accompany it. How can I end my life and remain here in the darkness without it causing physical pain on the way?

I do not think of others, the darkness is comforting and completely selfish. It holds me and I no longer have to face the world and other people. I no longer have to worry about work, love, life, money, where I live, what’s for dinner, can I afford new socks, can I take my bike out at the weekend, will it rain forever, why don’t have any friends? Why don’t I matter to anyone. It doesn’t matter that I don’t matter, not know, not to the darkness.

I shrink up into myself and become unresponsive. My friends try to talk to me, the ones that are left and that do care. They want to drag me from the warmth of the dark, and force me back into the light, force me to think about life, to accept that I have to carry on. But why? Why do I have to carry on? None of this matters, none of us matter. We could all be gone tomorrow and nobody would care, other planets would only notice it had gone quiet and probably rejoice in the matter.

I don’t want to talk. I can’t talk. I don’t know what to say. I can’t explain this. I can’t tell you about the darkness because it is mine. It mine alone. Everyone has their own version of it. Some call it their black dog, which isn’t fair on dogs if you ask me, because dogs are marvellous creatures who have pulled me from darkness when nothing else could have. Some say it sits on their shoulder, some say it hovers above them, or around the next corner, or at the bottom of the long slope they constantly find themselves on like a bad roller-coaster. Even when we talk to other people who have an inkling of what we mean, their darkness is not the same. I cannot be, it is as individual as we are.

When I cannot talk, I can write. I’ve always been able to do that. When I was kid and things were horrible, I would bury myself in a book, not one I was reading but one I was writing. I would draw and write on paper or in my head. It has always been here, the darkness. That is why I can say it is a friend. It has never let me down or failed to show up, although it’s timing is pretty terrible. It is familiar and that is why it is comforting, in it’s strange and lonely way.

It is hovering there right now, I can see it. It wouldn’t take much of s hove ad I would be in there again. One wrong tweet, or nasty comment, one criticism from the boss (wrongly or rightly), even an element of praise can seem false and feel like an insult. Everything is coloured with a cloud, a thickening veil that pulls be towards the dark. If I enter I will plunge down into it and swim in it’s depths. I will fight at first for every breath and then I will come to accept it and let it consume it. It is easier not to fight it in the end, you cannot win against it.

It will come for me, I’ll be waiting.

And one day I know I will never wish to walk back in to the light again.

Writing a book

Several readers have commented about my lack of recent activity on my blog.  I have to apologise for this, I’ve been quite busy writing my first novel. It’s a thriller and it’s turning out to be a quite enthralling experience.  I am now up to Chapter 28, although the chapters are quite short as it moves around with different characters,  I reckon it’s about the 180 page mark now.  I have no idea how to get this in front of an agent or a publisher at this stage, I’m just enjoying the creative experience of writing again.  It’s unusual for me to write fiction, although some might argue that journalists write fiction all the time.  I was always very proud of my former efforts on magazines for being fun and engagement, but strictly factual.  Perhaps that is why I’m having so much find with this novel.  For  starters…I get to kill people…

Here is a snippet from the start of the first chapter:

CHAPTER ONE

Coffee shops are ten-a-penny now, more popular than pubs, but that’s not always a help to a connoisseur tea drinker. She could count the number of coffee’s she had drunk since January on the fingers of one hand, and it was now late September and she had had two in the last week for some reason. Over the last few days the wind had swung around to the north, and the late summer sunshine of the previous week had now been replaced by a pale light and accompanied by definitive drop in the average temperature.

Like last week, she was sitting outside the cafe rather than inside. Now a lone figure, this time wrapped against the cold and nursing a cup between two hands. Wearing her fingerless gloves, the heat of her black coffee initially burned the exposed flesh of her fingers, but she wanted as much to keep the coffee warm as much as it warmed her hands. The cafe had removed some of the tables, and she would have only had three other people outside with her at most, and then only if she had shared her table with another person. During the summer there were a dozen tables but now they just catered for the odd smokers. She didn’t smoke, although she once had.

She watched people passing by, most of them taking no interest in her, but a few looking at her oddly. They glanced surreptitiously, and usually quickly, and she guessed at the thoughts in their for her sitting outside in the cold when the inside of the cafe looked so much more inviting. Perhaps they thought she was a foreigner come from a colder climate, or that she had a hangover, as she didn’t have a cigarette. A little Jack Russell attempted a hello and the man on the other end of the lead looked like he didn’t know if he should pull his dog away from the possibly crazy woman, to pity her for what he figured might be her ‘situation’, or just maybe, to say hello. In the end she patted the dogs head and smiled at the man and he smiled back, and then hurried on his way. He didn’t look back even though her eyes followed him briefly down the street and she was sure that he knew that. He shrugged his shoulders at one point as if a sudden chillier wind had caught him.

Maybe she was a little odd and a little paranoid, but she was pretty certain they had followed her to this coffee shop before, and today that they had done so again. Nowhere seemed to be out from under the prying eyes now, but then maybe she just had the jitters after so many years. She knew she was lying to comfort herself, and she also knew it didn’t really work either. One day someone was going to have to make a move, she just didn’t knew who, or when, or even why. She has some suspicions but this life had been going on for so long it was almost normal now….