Day of Reflection

Today’s National Day of Reflection marks a year to the day that we sat nervously in front of our television screens to be confronted by the directive that would change our lives quite dramatically. An issue which had been bubbling away on the side for weeks was becoming increasingly vociferous, and with that evening’s press conference in March 2020, the switch was finally firmly pressed, and the lights went out in an instant.

The resounding message absorbed within the deafening silence which followed?

You can’t see your family or your friends until further notice, and no, there’s no time to just go back and fetch your jacket. Settle down and get comfy; you’ll be here a while.

I umm and ahh about how much I want to include in this post. I documented most of my thoughts here at the time, in order to refrain from turning totally insane during the period when the only people I spoke to face to face were dog-walkers or shop assistants. I think we’re all suffering from pandemic lethargy too much at the moment to really go over those things again; but one day, when we’re much less muddy and feeling more confidently in the clear, it’ll certainly be an interesting few months to reflect on.

However I think it’s important today to differentiate between the lockdown and the pandemic – hand in hand though they may be. A lot of us will think of this past year in terms of the myriad of effects on our day to day lives. We have missed out on so much, and it has been utterly heartbreaking at times, but I don’t actually think all of the effects of lockdown have been negative, and I will write about why another day.

For now though, for today, it’s about reflecting on and respecting the worst affected victims of this pandemic. The ones who don’t get to reflect back over the past year at all. The ones who were unable to live as fully as people should be able to, before they had to leave. The hundreds of thousands (or millions worldwide) of their relatives who lost somebody special this past year in the cruelest of ways, who couldn’t grieve in the way people need to, who couldn’t say goodbye or hold hands a final time, and who couldn’t feel the comforting hugs of friends and relatives as they mourned alone.

The other effects of this pandemic, heavy though they may have often felt, somehow also feel so light against this.

Thinking of everybody who has been affected in such a cruel way today, and wishing that each individual within the startling figure we have seen rapidly rise over the last twelve months, will be remembered as exactly that, an individual.

Going Sno-where

There’s something so rare about heavy snowfall that each time it happens, you recall vivid memories of the few occasions you’ve experienced it before:

  • A canal-side walk with my older brother one late Sunday afternoon in the early 1990’s, and watching him pound away at the ice with his heavy black Doc Martens to show me how easily it could crack.
  • Careering down the steepest verge of a snowy hill on a sledge circa 2000 – in an awful effort to impress some boys – and whacking straight into a tree, before limply falling out of the side of the flimsy plastic transportation and groaning on the ground for ten minutes whilst said boys crowded around in an embarrassing concern.
  • Meeting a friend at her house during a lunch-break from my temp-ing job – and her revision-break for her Law exams – and making a snowman with blueberries for eyes, in 2009.
  • Sliding down the grassy verges of the Dane John Gardens with some friends one Friday evening in January 2018, after several beers in a cosey pub

The older you get, the more wary you become of snow. It’s dangerous to drive in. It’s perilous to walk on. It wreaks havoc with public transport and it makes everything wet. At thirty five, the thought of heavy rain washing all of the snow away fills me with some relief when as a child it could make me cry. That’s exactly what happened this week; a Winter Wonderland flushed away overnight, the snowman over the street now a beheaded ball of black ice alone on a bright green lawn, and no more fretting about the need to walk anywhere.

But, my word, did it look beautiful during its short stay, making the town look like a Christmas cake with Viennetta footpaths and glacier mint waterways. At a time when we’re tethered to our homes, the snow was a welcome distraction from the reasons behind that, which have dominated our lives for the past year.

The snow was a reminder of a few things, really. How an alluring appearance can sometimes conceal danger. How different things can suddenly look after a few conditions collide, and then how quickly the things we like can melt away.

The Pandemic Snowfall 2021. One which won’t be forgotten in a hurry…

To Be A Cat in a Pandemic

This little fuzzy face has absolutely no idea that there’s a global pandemic happening at the moment.

She wouldn’t even know what a “pandemic” is, let alone any of the things that come with it:

Lockdown? Fine by me. I don’t really venture beyond the sofa or back garden anyway.

Isolation? Also fine. Can’t stand other cats. They make me hiss.

Furlough? Is that when my fluffy coat starts malting in the heat?

Vaccine? Ah… know of that one, sadly, but fortunately my next trip to the vets isn’t for a good while yet.

Stock-piling? Never heard of it. My servants take care of all of that sort of thing anyway and if I’m still hungry I can either stare at them long enough for them to question whether they’ve already fed me, or just catch another mouse or bird.

Why are all the human things looking so glum on the television? Why do I never get the house to myself anymore? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m loving all of the additional snuggles and cuddles, but in a year I’ve seldom had the opportunity to crawl across the kitchen worktops in the quest for any edible scraps. Anytime I try now I just get spotted quickly, and snapped at.

Strange times indeed. Better take the twentieth nap of the day. Had a great dream about a frog earlier. Hoping for something similar this time.

Pandemic? Purr.

2020 – Pardon?!

January: So much needs to happen this year, and it’s going to happen this year! Bring on the new decade! ***multiple muscley arm emojis***

February: All of your plans are going to be thrown into doubt by storms and floods. Get stranded in the North due to Storm Ciara, necessitating the need to buy awful, over-sized emergency underwear from Primark – and an extra room for the night – and believe it’s the most stressful thing ever.

March: Keep well away from everybody and get used to being over-zealous with the hand sanitiser. Gaze at a brand new toilet roll with the same awe you would a golden ingot. Batter remaining storage space on phone with a sudden wealth of necessary new Apps and awkardly log-in to random Houseparty rooms a thousand times by accident: “Oh err hello!”

April: Have around three conversations with people face-to-face in the whole month: two shop attendants, and a lady walking her dog by the allotments who’s anxious about the fact a nearby alleyway is less than two metres wide.

May: Hearing the couplet of words “online quiz” is beginning to feel akin to having rusty nails dragged across your eardrums.

June: Begin meeting friends again, but only outdoors and at a distance. Nonetheless, it feels like the greatest liberation ever. Re-learn how to be around people, just like a toddler at their first ever session of play-group, hiding behind a chair and waiting for the biscuit break.

July: Three hour walks every evening to try and experience at least some semblance of Summer 2020 whilst reflecting upon damage to mental health over the past four months.

August: Head out for a pizza with the family. It’s cheaper than normal to buy five pizzas this month, but best sit outdoors just to be safe. Have a Summer holiday in the UK, and it’s lovely, but the journey provokes a lot more anxiety to normal. Newport Pagnell Services is not the nicest place at the best of times, let alone when people aren’t distancing. Master the art of keeping the cubicle doors on public loos closed shut with one’s foot, rather than having to touch the lock.

September:
Just get on with it. We’re getting back to how we were. This IS the new normal. We’re through the worst.

October:
The third month where things feel normal-ish, but it’s difficult not to be aware of cases rising ominously in the background. Birthday month. Have a nice meal (outdoors!) and swap the usual group outing to the pub for many beers with a bottle of Sauvignon in front of a bunch of faces on a laptop.

November: The second national lockdown. Everything is suddenly off the leisure menu once again, except for walks. Where would we have been in 2020 without WALKS! Order a tub of Bacon Dust off the internet to try and feel better about life. And it certainly does lift things a little, because all the smallest things do at the moment, and there’s a long-term lesson in that.

December:
Clutch on tightly to heavily weathered elements of positive mindset:
“The one good thing about lockdown has been the ability to save money on going out”
*Notification pops up of puncture in still relatively-new car tyre prompting treble-figure repair bill*

Scream two days later when Christmas gets cancelled leaving you with all the festive cheer of a dead haddock.

That’s 2020.

Song of the YEAR: 11 Acorn Lane – Claudette

I discovered this complete ear-worm of a song in May and the clarinet loop has pretty much been stuck in my head at some point during every day since. That’s not necessarily a great thing, in fact quite an irritating thing after too long! But it may explain why it was towards the peak of my personalised “Your Top Songs of 2020” playlist on Spotify. I’m not sure the tone really matches that of 2020, but it’d probably be hard to find a song that truly does.

The Tier 3 Party

And so, Kent – like many other parts of the country – falls into Tier 3. The strictest and tightest of them all.

To celebrate, I’m having a party. Sadly, you are not invited.

Nobody is.

I hope you can understand the position,
behind your unfortunate omission,
from a guestlist made up just of me…
But only one can attend the “Tier 3 Partee”.

It’s Bring Your Own Booze,
which means I get to choose,
from what’s already here,
wine and gin, but no beer.

But – hip hip hooray!
Faversham’s new Aldi opened today.
I can now stock up on snacks
and a dozen kayaks!

BUT OH NO!

They only sell two seaters,
between them less than two metres,
so I’ll just have to leave them ’til Spring,
along with pretty much everything!

At my Tier 3 party there’ll be a cake,
because in lockdown we’ve all learnt to bake,
but hundreds-and-thousands are banned
so it’ll taste a bit bland…

The cake will have several tiers
so it will last a couple of years,
because I can’t eat cake that quickly.
Indeed, I find too much quite sickly.

I will also be hosting some games,
but please don’t shoot me down in flames
just because I’ll always win.
The opposition is just a bit thin.

But the very best thing about this event?
Is that I won’t even realise I went,
‘Cos when the games are done and it’s time to head,
I’ll just roll down the hall to my very own bed.

No need to R.S.V.P

Love,

The Tier 3 Party





Rainbow

I think every now and then, each of us really needs to see a rainbow.

A beautiful reminder of what can happen when the sunshine meets the rain.

But also of how the things which fill us with awe can quickly fade away.

So dance.

Dance your hardest beneath this amazing arc of light;

And when you gaze upon it in the sky,

it will tell you exactly why:

“You had the sun, then you had the rain.

After the pleasure, then came the pain.

But after the pain, came the brightness again


A brightness more radiant than before”

So dance.

Dance your hardest when the time is right.

Within the glow of this awesome, impermanent sight.

Where each shade will tell you a million tales.

Enjoy the show,

Enjoy the rainbow.

Song of the Day: Bright Eyes – A Perfect Sonnet / Bowl of Oranges

Many 30-somethings today, dotted around the globe, will tell you that the Omaha, Nebraska indie-rock scene of the early ’00’s had some sort of effect upon their adolescence and / or early adulthood. Bright Eyes were a band who typified this scene. Each tune so full of raw emotion and energy, yet so unheard of at a time when the only real access to new music came in the form of whatever happened to be playing in whatever record shop you happened to be standing in at whatever time, or what somebody recommended to you.
In 2003, somebody off some internet forum somewhere, accessed by a dial-up, had told a 17 year old me to check out their song “A Perfect Sonnet” on the back of the fact I liked Weezer, and it was a tune that did – and still does, 17 years later – send an absolute chill down my spine. The lyrics to this song may not be the happiest yet you just cannot help but feel in awe of how the lead, Conor Oberst, manages to channel raw feeling into three and a half minutes of secret layers of song.
Having said that, the Bright Eyes tune originally picked for this month’s “Song of the Day” was a slightly brighter sounding offering call “Bowl of Oranges”, but, much like the spirit of the rainbow, I would suggest that people listen to both. So am recommending two songs, to be listened to one after the other 🙂

A Perfect Sonnet:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZICv6xbFBw4

Bowl of Oranges:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUym7n7fJTQ

People – 1, Technology – 0

20200828_193206

I had been staying in what felt like the middle of nowhere, in the Shropshire hills, on my way back from Wales.

I had known nothing of this area beforehand, but had quickly come to realise that it was the sort of place in which you could so easily get lost; where the name of each settlement was either ridiculously long or ridiculously short. “Twindlebury Bigbum” or “Fum” would have been quite acceptable words on the map here, and when you’re from a county where places have boring names like “Ashford” or “Chatham”, this is a particularly amusing source of entertainment.

Unsurprisingly, I knew very little about how to navigate my way around the likes of Twindlebury Bigbum and Fum, so when it came time to leave my little shepherds hut in the hills and go home, I had no choice but to put all my faith into my 2014 Satnav to direct me back to Kent.

It instructed me to turn right upon leaving the farm where I’d been staying, and from that point I became completely subservient to its commands. “Satnav really knows its stuff”, I thought to myself, internally marveling at how precise its instructions were. For quite a while, I merrily continued along the hills trying to absorb some final bits of natural beauty before I returned back to the reality of Kent, work and thinking about the pandemic.

Around twenty minutes into my journey, a large, red “Road Ahead Closed” sign appeared in the road next to some cones. I ignored it and carried on. Then another one appeared, and I did the same thing. And again. And again.

To not be able to follow the Satnav’s route would mean a very timely detour in a place like this, and I had absolutely no idea where I was, or how to get back on track if I needed to divert. My mobile had lost signal and I knew my Satnav had an unfortunate tendency to stubbornly just insist on u-turns if I ever disobeyed it. Each time I carried on past a “Road Ahead Closed” sign I became more and more fixed in the belief that perhaps I could get away with being a rebel, and that eventually the signs would stop and pay no further threat to my route home.

But then the Highway Maintenance van appeared, blockading the road and instantly crushing my ignorance and naivety. High-viz’ed men stood by the side of the vehicle, to stop people from passing any further. I admitted defeat and wound down the window to ask for their help.

“Excuse me”, I motioned their attention, “I’m not from around here, and really don’t know where to go, since this road is closed”

“That makes two of us then” grimaced the younger of the two men, “where is it you’re trying to head to?”

“Well, Kent actually”

“Kent!?!”

I think he’d hoped I was striving to get to somewhere closer by, like Birmingham or Shrewsbury. But the “Kent” response had thrown a complete spanner in the works, and now we all felt equally awkward.

The two men engaged in chat, and eventually turned back to me.

“If you follow this side-road over here on the left, and keep on it, it should eventually put you back here on the main road at the point at which it opens up again, then you can carry on as planned. Good luck!”

I thanked the men for their help and did exactly what they said. Their suggested route took me through even smaller hamlets and even longer place names. I was surprised to see that one such place even boasted a barbers. “How on earth does that place stay in business?” I thought to myself, “the three people who live here surely don’t need their hair done that often?!”.

Astounded by this, I carried on driving, and the men’s instructions did eventually take me back out onto the main road as they’d promised… only at that point there was another obstacle there, in the form of another Highway Maintenance truck and a colleague of theirs stood beside it waving people away. Knowing nothing of my exchange with his peers, he motioned me back along the main road in the direction from which I’d come. Again, I did exactly as told. And then, a short while later, found myself reunited with my high-viz’ed friends from earlier.

We were all similarly as surprised to see one another again.

“I did what you said, but now I really have absolutely no idea what I’m doing or now need to do” I conceded as I slowed down past them.

By this point it was fair to say I was feeling a little frustrated. I’d been on the road for an hour by this point, and not even left the Shropshire Hills. I had at least another four hours to drive once I was away from there, and I really didn’t want to face any further delays, not only because of the impenetrable fact that there is absolutely nothing useful about those, but I also had a joint of silver-side beef freshly bought from the farm which needed to get into a refrigerator A.S.A.P. A diversion, or to go back the way I’d come and follow a different route home altogether, would have added at least another unwelcome hour to an already tight journey.

The men took pity on me, and instructed me to pull up in a lay-by whilst they whispered together a plan.

“My colleague is going to escort you through the closed road”, said the younger man after they’d spent some time conferring, “just follow him and he’ll take you to where you need to be. But let’s wait until this white car has passed; we don’t want anyone else to get wind of this, or they’ll all be asking to do it. If anyone else should stop you on the way, just say you live here and you need to get through.”

And with that, the Highway Maintenance van set off with its hazard lights on, me pathetically – yet very gratefully – trailing close behind. We carried on like this for several miles along the closed road, until we reached the part where it opened up once more.

I was then able to continue my journey home without unnecessary diversions, because of a random act of human kindness that no Satnav could ever have replicated.

It made me think about technology, and all of the faith we put into it, particularly recently. Technology has been a great saviour during the pandemic, allowing us to still “see” friends and family when rules dictate being physically apart, and it might know which way to turn when exiting a random farm, but there are still a lot of things it cannot do. Bending rules, going the extra mile, and empathising with human need, are but three of those things.

I will always be grateful to these two men for bending the rules and their professional protocol for me. They took pity on a damsel in distress and safely navigated an alternative way for me to get where I needed to. Satnav, Siri and co would not have been able to do this for me. In fact, if I’d been reliant on just technology to help me, I’d probably still be there right now, in the Shropshire hills, driving back and forth between red metal road closure signs, and desperately pointing my phone to the heavens to try and get a momentary shred of signal.

At a time where we are having to turn to the online world even more than ever before, it’s important to remember that even the cleverest, most advanced of technologies are not without their limitations.

No app can ever quite rival decent human nature and a bit of heart.

Song of the Day: Lemon Demon – Eighth Wonder

This is a pretty catchy number from musical project, Lemon Demon. I never tend to understand what his songs are about but a quick gaze at the YouTube comments suggests this one is about a mongoose who believed he was the eighth wonder of the world. More surprising still is that this is actually a true story. The mongoose was apparently called Gef, and he lived with a family on the Isle of Man in the 1930’s. I need a drink.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeXE6lo2dzI

Music of the Outdoors

20200810_204359
I’m not sure how many hours I’ve spent walking around Faversham since March, but it’s easily a three digit figure.

And since Faversham is not exactly a large, sprawling metropolis… that’s meant a lot of repetition within the routes.

Crazy then, that each day I still manage to see something that takes my breath away.  Usually a sunset.  Often a cloud.  Sometimes a boat.  Occasionally a cow.

Once a wayward balloon knotted round a tree, whose eulogy will tell the long, complex story of its fateful travels from Card Factory to the Creek.

And each time I walk along the same old paths and streets, I wonder what it is exactly, that makes it never feel boring?

I often imagine that within our mind there is a set of piano keys which is struck by fingers strung-up to whatever our senses pick up on.  In recent months it’s felt as though there have been a few too many sounds coming out of the bass clef; but in a way those have only made their opposites more melodic and tuneful whenever they are heard.

And I often hear those opposites whilst walking.  When I see a sunset or a cloud or a boat or a cow or a tangled balloon in a tree.

And that’s why it never gets boring.

Nature seems to have a magical knack of playing the right notes every single time, a combination of keys – sounds, scents and breeze – that permeate the soul and rejuvenate spirit.  Beautiful chords which double-up as the better songs from the soundtrack to living through a global crisis.

And, of course, actual music helps too.

Song of the Day:  Parov Stelar – Silver Line

This brand new release is some seriously sensational sound.  This is the sort of song you want to listen to whilst sat underneath the stars on a balmy night whilst eating a piece of 90% cacao chocolate.

And I’m cherishing it as much as I can before it gets overplayed and ruined in car commercials or in the background of cutting edge BBC documentaries.

C-19 Internal Monologues Part 10: Looking Back & Moving On

The situation is far from over, but in recent weeks we have been furnished with a growing number of returned liberties that incite a mixture of trepidation, excitement and relief.  We are no longer locked inside, reliant on Zoom calls to socialise, or fearing that every time we go out for exercise we have to keep within one hour and be on the move at all times else be condemned by strangers spying out of windows.

There is so much more we are “allowed” to do at the moment and – whilst many of us are still reluctant to pile into the pub and overdo it – it does feel pertinent to appreciate and make the most of finally being able to do some of the things we missed so much.  Of course, provided you’re wearing gloves and keeping the hand sanitiser close by.

Many are quick to warn of a second-wave, and they are right that the threat of that is very real if people don’t adhere to the guidelines.  But do you know what?

I really don’t want to hear about things like that anymore.

Because it’s all well and good worrying about it, but if this pandemic has taught us anything (it’s actually taught us hundreds if not thousands of things) then it’s that life can take us by surprise, and be cut short any time.

Apart from all those wise folks meticulously scrubbing their hands and wiping their keyboards in January, pretty much most of us didn’t believe this pandemic would prove to be anything we should worry about.  We carried on.  We went into places. We saw our friends and family and greeted them with hugs. We booked holidays and dreamed of big things for 2020.

Then suddenly all of these things were snapped away from us like a plaster being ripped from a fresh wound – sudden, leaving a lingering sting – and we had no idea when we would be able to do them again.

Four months on, and there are still a vast many things are waiting for.  Hugs.  Meeting with friends and family without worrying about the number of households present.  Feeling truly safe.  Feeling truly free.

March, April and May in particular were three very distressing months for us all and I think the longer term mental health impacts of that time will ripple across society for years and decades to come, not least for those working on the front line or those unable to say goodbye to loved ones.  I’m also fairly sure that the majority of these mental health impacts won’t even manifest just yet, but in time, when the reality of what we have all experienced really sets in.

But there is also a danger that we will do ourselves even worse mental damage by avoiding, through fear, the time we have to spend with those we care about.  I find myself being marginally more concerned about this at the moment, than the virus itself.  Three months away from loved ones is hard enough – but manageable – but how much longer should we abstain from making new memories?  Time is so precious, the pandemic taught us, so does it really make sense to spend infinite amount of it zipped away?  To me it doesn’t.  I think we should be making the most of the time we have with people, but balancing it out with keeping safe.  Not overdoing it by engaging in hedonistic displays of mass boozing and bathing, like a scary proportion are.  Just having company, and appreciating the sheer ability to be able to spend time with people, is good enough for me right now.  It also helps that the weather is good and we can spend this time outdoors within nature; which is not only safer but beats the sterile environment of a restaurant chain, where we might otherwise have met, any day:

IMG_20200720_225804_208

To this end, this chapter may well be the last of my C-19 Internal Monologues, because even whilst the situation rolls on I’m not sure I want the topic to form the underlay of all my future posts until it stops.  This will undoubtedly be thing the defines 2020 for all of us but it’s time to let other things play a part in the year now too.

I think it’s time to Look Back & Move On.  Carefully.