A Toss Up

I found out the other day that I’ll be going back to work very soon, and I feel very much in two minds about it all. On one hand I’m delighted to be beginning the process of creating a new normal to get back to, but on the other hand… the reality of risk is rearing its ugly head along with the fear of the unknown.

Intellectually, I know that the country – the world – cannot go on forever effectively hiding from Covid 19, holed up in hope of a miracle vaccine that can make us feel safe again. At some point in time we all have to face our fears, adapting and making the necessary changes to society that allow us all to live with Covid 19 in the community rather than potentially die from it.

But emotionally I feel decidedly anxious and wary, because however much I’ve found it frustrating at times I’ve got used to feeling snug and safe in my own home and it seems crazily counter-intuitive after months of a very successful ‘Stay at Home, Stay Safe’ campaign to now be told it’s OK, it’s safe out there too even though the virus hasn’t gone yet – basically it has to be OK because the economy is collapsing.

It’s all about finding a precarious balance, isn’t it? We balance the risk of going out into the scary world where a deadly invisible virus awaits by wearing some kind of protection from infection, and because full Hazmat suits are not practical daywear for most of us in our daily lives, we compromise and stick to wearing a simple face mask and using hand sanitiser and keeping our distance from others to keep us safe.

We have to balance the risk of catching a virus that might kill us against the risk of having no future income to live on, which in a very different way also might kill us in the end. So somewhere along the line we have to meet in the middle. It has to be done, and I know it’s almost time for me to get back out there and get on with it. And in a weird way I’m quite looking forward to it, except for when I’m not.

The department store I work in seems to have created a well-managed environment for both staff and customers to move around in, with plenty of safety measures in place to protect everyone as much as possible. So I can’t help but wonder how I’ll be feeling on my first day back, smiley and safe or frowny and fearful? Right now it feels like it could be either, and it’s going to be a toss up as to which actually wins out on the the day… 🙂

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: Toss

Memories of Auntie George

Auntie George was my maternal grandfather’s spinster aunt, his mother’s youngest sister. She had been christened Georgina, my grandfather always called her Georgie, but to the three generations of family that followed – my mum’s, mine, and my children’s – she was known affectionately as Auntie George.

My earliest memories of Auntie George were of her living with another aunt, her older widowed sister Eliza, in a small fisherman’s cottage in a little village here in the Scottish Highlands. We used to visit as a family, and I remember the tiny cottage mainly as neat and old fashioned and dark and smelling of moth-balls, quiet apart from the tick of the large clock on the sideboard. I remember, while the grown-ups had tea and cake, being allowed a glass of fizzy lemonade in pretty tumblers that were kept in the sideboard, and the bubbles going up my nose.

After her sister died, Auntie George moved out of the cottage and in with my maternal grandparents, where she lived until her health deteriorated to a point where my grandparents simply became too old themselves to care for her. Although she lived to a ripe old age sadly she necessarily ended her years in a local nursing home, dementia robbing her of her past and so all knowledge of who any of us were, turning a neat-framed meek and mild-mannered genteel old lady into someone unrecognisable, violent and vitriolic.

But while she was alive and well and living amongst us all, Auntie George was someone who was simply always there as I was growing up, an integral part of my extended family landscape. She happily joined in with family occasions big and small, formal and informal, but always quietly hovering in the background, remaining self-contained and small in that inoffensive and unobtrusive way she had.

Embarrassingly in all those years I don’t remember ever having had any deep and meaningful conversations with her about anything that mattered. And in spite of me having had a living great-great-aunt in my life until I was grown up and married with children, I’m ashamed to say I know so very little about her younger life other than the fact, always relayed in hushed reverent tones, that her young man had gone off to war – this would have been the First World War – and had never come back.

I grew up surrounded by family photographs, and even now my mum still has several old boxes of tiny black and white family snapshots she inherited after my grandmother died. A few years ago we were looking through them again and I found a photograph I hadn’t ever seen before, of a tall young woman standing in front of a fancy car parked in front of what looked like a Swiss chalet, with a clear snow-peaked mountain range on the horizon. From her style of dress and bobbed marcel-wave hair and cloche hat, it must have been taken in the 1920s.

Intrigued, I asked mum who it was, and she said it was Auntie George, taken when she was in service with a well-to-do family who travelled a lot, taking some of their staff with them wherever they went. I was amazed to see her standing so tall in her youth, because the elderly Georgie I knew had both a scoliosis and a kyphosis, twisting her spine forward and sideways, giving her a rather crumpled, apologetic stance. And I was stunned to realise she had travelled so extensively in the past, even if only in the employ of others. How could I have known her all those years and yet not have known that?

Thinking about that little photograph and the untold secrets of the life behind it, I look back today and I wonder – did Georgie enjoy her single life? I realise that like so many other young women of her generation she effectively lost the chance of marriage and children when her fiance was killed in the war, but had she got married as intended she would most definitely never have had the chance to see any more of the world beyond her kitchen sink. Did her long-term single status and a chance to earn her own living actually give her more freedom to be herself in the end? That’s something I’ll never know.

One thing I do know, she outlived everyone else in her generation and even her neice and nephews – my grandfather, his elder sister and his younger brother all died before her. When I knew her, admittedly in her later years, she certainly seemed contented enough with her lot. Not left on a shelf but included and embraced and always there in our family snapshots, smiling and a definite part of the proceedings even if on the periphery.

I’m really sorry I didn’t ever think to try to get to know her better as I was growing up, but nevertheless I’m very proud to have had her as my great-great-aunt. I still have a few little sentimental trinkets of hers that I’ve kept close all these years, including a glass hairpin jar with silver screwtop, a cut glass perfume bottle, and a beautiful hand-sewn linen handkerchief sachet, pictured above. Thank you, Auntie George, thinking of you! 🙂

Weekly Prompt: Family Photo

Sitting Tight

Stuff is starting to open up again here in Scotland. Lockdown is unlocking, bit by bit, slowly but surely.

From today all non-essential shops can start to open again as long as they have doors opening directly onto the street – so not indoor shopping centre shops, therefore not the store I work in, fully enclosed as it is and accessible (at least customer-wise) only from within the shopping centre itself. That final level of all shops opening up here should be happening from 13th July, all being well.

So what exciting stuff do I have on the horizon for today? Frenzied spending spree, celebrating freedom at last? Milling around mindlessly in the melee, just because I can? Nope, not in a million years. Today finds me sitting tight at home, just like yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I’ll be doing some housework, cooking food and eating it, and spending time with my husband, who has a day off work.

Somewhere along the line it seems I’ve got used to the smallness of my life at home, and suddenly I find I’m ok with biding my time. I certainly haven’t spent the last 98 days staying safe in and around my own space just to blow it all in a potential virus-fest free-for-all. Of course it might not be that bad out there, but I’ve seen all the crazy-crowd de-mob-happy images from England, from America, and I think I’ll pass today, just incase.

My plan is only to go out when I need to go out for something, but not before. For now, knowing that lockdown is unlocking at last is enough… 🙂

Coffee, Tea, or Milk of Magnesia?

I thought I was going to be totally stumped today by Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt of Coffee, Tea, or Me – flirty phrases are just not me, especially not embarrassingly dated stuff like that.

Then I read John Holton’s SOCS post mentioning about air stewardesses back in the day writing a book of that name and suddenly it all became clear. Yup, in the context of the sexist world of the original ‘trolley dollies’ (such a ghastly, demeaning name) I can see how that phrase might come about.

But to be honest the thing that struck me most about John’s post is the 1970s ad he’s included at the bottom for Milk of Magnesia – because oooh, there’s something I can post about, family medicine cabinet staples from my childhood! I suppose it’s a kind of Stream of Consciousness post once removed – related to Linda’s topic, but indirectly, through reading John’s post.

I so clearly remember the blue bottle of Milk of Magnesia, we were usually given a spoon of that white milky liquid for the solid kind of bellyache caused by constipation – I can even remember the odd taste of it. It was joined in its choice of eye-catching blue glass bottle by a little jar of Vicks Vaporub – its powerfully strong menthol heating sensation when rubbed on your chest and back was used to relieve congestion due to a cold.

My dad used to be bothered with indigestion a lot so there was always a tin of Andrew’s Liver Salts to be had – a spoon of that dissolved in water would fizz up into salty bubbles to be drunk down straight away, usually followed immediately by a huge belch, to settle any stomach discomfort. And I remember dad also carried little white square Rennies tablets in his pocket at all times for his heartburn.

Another duo of products that spring to mind is a tub of Vaseline petroleum jelly and a tin – a proper round tin, not a tube – of thick, pink Germolene antiseptic ointment. Now there’s a smell to stick in your nostrils. In my mind’s eye I link the strong smell of Germolene to the memory of fabric sticking plaster strips, because scrapes and grazes were cleaned with the sting of diluted Dettol, Germolene antiseptic ointment was applied, then a plaster cut to size was stuck over the top and you were sent on your way.

The painkiller I remember most from childhood is Disprin, a dissolvable asprin. If there was such a thing as ibuprofen available way back in the 1960s and 1970s they definitely didn’t make it as far as our medicine cabinet. These were the main generic products I remember, but I was ill a lot as a child so had my prescribed medicines to take too – Phenergan Syrup for my allergies tasted absolutely vile… yuk!

OK, that memory has put me off now, so I’ll just stop there while the going’s still good 🙂