Typically Topical

I tend to find the content of my blog posts seems to mirror whatever is going on in my life at any given time – whatever is life-topical at the time, inevitably becomes blog-typical.

When I first started blogging over eight years ago I was 50 years old, living in a one-bedroom first floor flat in London with no garden or any outside space at all, and my blog reflected that reality. I went out a lot, just to be outside, and typically took pictures of big city life, of parks and public spaces, of tube trains and buses and buildings and inevitably people – nameless and generally faceless strangers, commuters and tourists and locals and incomers.

I took pictures of flowers in other people’s postage-stamp front gardens, taken from the outside looking in. I took pictures of trips we went on, visits to Brighton and to Scotland, including trains shots and track shots and station shots and landscapes seen through train windows.

And then in 2019 we sold up and moved back to Inverness, buying a detached house with a garden of our own front and back, and I slowly settled into making our new house a home. Sadly a few months later the Covid pandemic hit and for the next while – the longest while, as it turned out – everybody’s world necessarily shrank to the size of their own back yard. But at least now we had one to call our own.

No visitors allowed, no travel or trips allowed anywhere, no doing anything at all that wasn’t strictly necessary. It set the pace for a slow life, a small life, but a potentially safe life. Inevitably my blog posts shrank accordingly, mirroring a life that was slower, smaller, and supposedly safer. Even when I caught Covid myself in early January 2021, long before we were all vaccinated as a population, my blog followed my progress along the way.

So here I am in 2022, looking my 59th birthday in the eye with an increasingly dodgy arthritic hip and the last lingering remnants of Long Covid, wondering what comes next for my blog? And I know that that depends one hundred percent on on what comes next for my life as I approach my 60th year on this planet? Typically still lots of garden pics, but hopefully something more too – maybe a few trip pics, a few tourist pics, a few more city-scapes and lots more landscapes again?

Whatever it is, you can be sure my blog will continue to reflect my life as it happens, typically topical as ever… 🙂

Weekly Prompts: Mirror

Secretly Missing the Solitude

When the Covid pandemic first began and we went into our first national lock-down, like many others I really resented being required to stay at home indefinitely. For the first while I resisted a bit emotionally while nevertheless obediently remaining physically within the confines of my own home and garden as dictated by law.

But then I rather quickly got used to the peaceful patterns of enforced solitude, and soon found it to be a strangely comforting release from the usual societal requirement to be out there mixing with people all the time. Suddenly I had a legitimate reason for being a naturally unsociable introvert, and in so many ways it felt shamefully liberating.

Especially after I caught Covid in January of 2021 during our second period of lock-down, when staying at home helped me convalesce uninterrupted in much-needed peace and quiet. Sadly I developed Long Covid which 18 months on is a lot better and improving all the time but occasionally it catches me out and the last dregs of debilitating symptoms dog me still.

So a good two years on from where we started we are now well beyond the height of the pandemic, vaccinated against the worst of it and no longer restricted by regulations. Life has slowly returned to the nearest to normal it can be, the outside world has opened its doors again and once more staying at home alone is no longer seen to be a socially acceptable life choice.

I do truly love the freedom of being able to see my family when I choose, but otherwise oh, how I desperately miss those long leisurely days of actively avoiding all unnecessary contact with others, just being able to enjoy being quietly alone at home alone without external judgement and without feeling defensive and guilty, as if I have to explain or apologise all the time.

I’m still finding it hard to think about going back to the full levels of mixing that will be expected and required post-pandemic. Too many places, too many people, too many potential social interactions for my liking. I find as I’m getting older I’ve seamlessly adapted to a different way of being that suits me far better than the full-blown ‘normal’ life we lived before.

Personally I miss much of the social simplicity the pandemic restrictions brought to my life. They gave me a socially-distanced space to breathe freely, a space to exist comfortably on my own limited-contact terms that I’m finding hard to give up on now we’re all geared up and on the move again…

April A-Z: F is for Food

Food has never been just fuel for me; over the years my love of eating has been both a blessing and a curse. We all need to eat to produce energy, and enjoying something so fundamental to human survival may be fine in moderation, but not so good in excess.

Historically I am one of life’s emotional eaters; I eat not only to comfort myself but also to punish myself, to soothe my sorrows and to swallow down my disappointments. I eat to find solace in the texture and taste of food, which has inevitably led to a lifetime’s failed struggle to maintain a healthy weight. I feel bad because I’m too heavy, so I habitually eat to comfort myself, and – yeah, yeah, you get the picture…

Sadly for me since I caught Covid 15 months ago I’ve never quite fully regained my precious sense of taste and smell, so I’ve effectively lost some of the deeply-engrained satisfaction of any nuanced savouring of comfort food. Yet still I search in vain for that elusive hit of old, trying this previous favourite and that previous favourite to no avail… sigh!     

Life events have conspired to pull me away from blogging over the last couple of months, and the idea of taking part in this year’s April Blogging from A-Z Challenge seems like a good way to try to get back into the habit of reading and posting regularly. Originally I thought of just using any old random words to go with the particular letter of the day, but realistically without a clear theme to work towards I’m not sure I’d be able to keep my focus for a full month… So instead I’ve opted for a relatively simple, if slightly self-indulgent work-around: This year I’ll be posting 26 things about me, nothing too taxing to write about yet still fulfilling the brief!

Today in (Melt)Downing Street…

If it was a soap opera people would be dismissive, saying the ongoing story-line was too far-fetched and that this could never happen in real life… Except the whole sorry saga that has been dubbed ‘Party-gate’ by the British media is unfortunately all too real. And the more Conservative MPs who stand there in the lobby outside the House of Commons telling us ‘Move along please, nothing to see here’ the more I feel this Tory party doth protest too much…

I mean, there is a current police investigation into several potentially illegal social gatherings (whether or not they were full-blown ‘parties’ is a bit of a red herring) held in Government premises over lock-down, including some attended by the Prime Minister himself, who clearly stated at the House of Commons dispatch box that no parties had ever taken place… Then he stated he had been assured if parties had taken place all Covid restrictions were followed… Then he stated he hadn’t realised the social gathering he attended had actually been a party… Oh well, I guess that’s OK then!

And his latest mumbled defence in a live TV interview was that no-one had told him what the rules were… yet these were HIS rules, that HIS government had set… Even the Prime Minister’s Conservative predecessor Theresa May publicly questioned his stance on the whole debacle – was it that the PM didn’t understand the rules and restrictions regarding social gatherings, she asked from the back benches, or that he thought he was above the law and therefore exempt? I’m paraphrasing here, of course, but that was the main substance of her barbed question.

The promised investigation and report compiled by a senior civil servant, hailed by some Tories as proof of no wrong-doing, had already been forced pre-publication (through police request) to become little more than a pointless paperwork exercise, reduced from being a potential fireworks display to being a bit of a damp squib. Hopefully some day we’ll eventually have sight of the full report, unadulterated and unredacted. Probably only after the police investigation has concluded, with whatever consequences follow on from that, if any. And maybe then there will be enough distrust and disquiet within the Tory party to foster a flurry of letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister to the 1922 committee? Or maybe not?

Even five backroom resignations from Downing Street advisors yesterday and today are being played down, interpreted as an integral part of Boris Johnson’s great reshuffle rather than rats leaving a sinking ship… Honestly, Boris, as the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer so aptly put in Parliament last week, ‘the party’s over’ – you may have spent your childhood dreaming of being World King but right now you’re looking more like the class clown. And as the SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford commented on the same day, ‘Operation Red Meat’ (the current Tory plan to turn around Boris Johnson’s failing political fortunes) looks more like ‘Operation Dog’s Dinner’ – and presumably he didn’t mean Winalot!

As a parting comment on this rambling political rant, I was watching Levelling-Up Minister Michael Gove being interviewed on TV by Channel 4’s Cathy Newman the other day outside on Westminster Green, and there was the usual stalwart protestor standing behind, moving around to keep in shot while holding up two red placards. One read ‘Tory lies cost lives’ and the other read ‘Get your Johnson out of our democracy’ – what a clever play on words, referring to the slang term for… um… shall we say a not-so-honourable member (cough, cough)!

PS The title for my post comes courtesy of my husband, who used the term (Melt)Downing Street this morning after listening to the latest news on the radio over breakfast – I really couldn’t let that one pass unrecorded for posterity, could I? 🙂

A Place Full of Strangers

I haven’t written about visiting my 85-year-old dad for a while because sadly, due to Covid restrictions coming into force at the hospital for three weeks, I simply wasn’t allowed to visit for the duration.

We kept in touch with the ward by phone, so we knew he was doing fine… but still, it was a difficult time not to be able to see dad in person. He has vascular dementia and doesn’t remember about the Covid pandemic, or understand why ordinarily he is only allowed two designated visitors never mind none at all for weeks on end.

So as soon as hospital visiting recommenced at the end of last week I booked a slot to see dad again, and it was such a relief on that first visit to find that we simply picked up pretty much exactly where we had left off – he seemed to have no recollection of the fact that we hadn’t seen him for a few weeks, he was settled and chatty and he looked well.

I noticed that dad has had his hair cut since I saw him last, and with a puzzled look he brushed his hand over his head and said in surprise – oh yes, so I have! So I asked him who had cut his hair, but all he could offer (with a wry smile) was – I’m buggered if I know!

But as soon as I saw dad this morning I realised he was having a ‘lost’ day – where he finds himself neither easily in the here-and-now, nor happily living in the past, but stuck somewhere in between. He said hello and gave a brief smile as I hugged him and sat down, but he kept looking around, distracted and agitated, seemingly trying to pick up visual and aural clues to work out where he was.

I asked him if he was OK, and with sad eyes he said he was in a place full of strangers where he didn’t recognise anyone… A friendly nurse came in and spoke to him by name, and he was surprised that she knew him – he was so sure he didn’t know her. Poor dad, he was so aware that everyone else seemed to know with confidence where they were, so he concluded he must be the one who is confused.

While I was visiting we called mum at home with my mobile phone, and then afterwards my brother called us with the on-screen video function so both he and dad were able to see each other in real time, but dad really struggled to keep his attention on the screen with so many distractions in the background and soon handed the phone back to me, disappointed he was unable to follow the conversation.

I reassured him that it was still good to be able to see my brother via the phone, and dad agreed but wondered why he hadn’t spoken to his mum and dad for a while – he hoped they were still doing fine? I smiled and quietly admitted I didn’t know – what’s the point of reminding him his parents have been dead for a good 30 years…

Dad often lives in this nightmare psychological no-man’s-land these days, alone and lost in a mental landscape ravaged by dementia, increasingly burdened by his inability to make sense of his surroundings. He tries so hard to make his brain work the way he wants it to. He thinks and he thinks and he thinks; puts in so much effort to try to understand it all but somehow nothing makes sense any more.

It hurts us to see him hurting and struggling so much, but with the best will in the world there’s nothing any of us can do to ease that burden for him. There’s no easy-to-read how-to handbook to help with all of this, no instruction manual for coping with the disintegration of mental capacity caused by dementia. All we can do is be there for him and guide him and continue to love him for a long as we can…  

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Handbook  

Review of 2021 in Pictures

Although 2021 didn’t turn out to be my best year, and inevitably the ongoing pandemic kept me close to home throughout, I see looking back through my blog posts over the last twelve months that I still managed regularly to capture some beauty in the world around me. I’ve chosen one image I particularly liked from each month of the year to showcase here, as a kind of pictorial representation or personal review of 2021.

Apart from going to work and occasionally seeing my family when possible, I effectively spent most of last year either relaxing in my garden or going out for a walk locally, and I can see my necessarily constrained photographic subjects accurately represent my reality. I can’t help but wonder what 2022 will have in store for me… Will I venture further afield, or will this year simply be more of the same? No doubt I’ll find out as I go along! 🙂

New Year’s Resolutions

Fandango’s Provocative Question this week asks:-

Do you plan on making any new year’s resolutions this year? If so, can you share a few of them with us? If not, why not?

The trouble with new year’s resolutions is that ideally everyone wants to start the new year with a fresh clean page, turning over a new leaf, hopeful new beginnings and all that. Except of course real life always gets in the way before too long, reminding us (in the words of Robert Burns) that ‘The best laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft a-gley’. This time last year we were newly back in lock-down again and I was hoping that surely 2021 was going to have to be better than 2020 had been…? Yeah right…!

By last new year’s day I really wasn’t feeling all that well and to be honest I thought I was perhaps sickening for something potentially flu-like (not unusual for me during the winter months), but on January 3rd it was confirmed that unspecified ‘something’ ailing me was actually Covid. And since then for me everything has changed. Here I am just short of a year later a lot better, but still not anywhere near 100% back to how I was before. Granted at the time I didn’t ever get ill enough to be hospitalised, but I had no idea that many symptoms simply would not be in any hurry to go away and would dog me long-term, even now.

So this new year I’m going into it all with nothing more than the vague hope that in spite of ridiculously rising infection rates I simply don’t catch Covid again. As well as my own personal post-infection antibodies (probably from the Delta variant) I’ve had two AstraZeneca vaccinations and a recent Pfizer booster shot newly coursing through my system, but it seems with Covid and all its myriad mutations there are no guarantees so I’m certainly not assuming myself invincible.

We may well avoid facing any further planned lock-downs here in the UK but I get the feeling nothing is inevitable with this apparently indestructible virus. Two years on from when it first began and somehow it seems we are all still in relatively uncharted territory, lurching from one tsunami-wave infection crisis to the next. What has 2022 in store for us all? Who knows…

Covid and Me, One Year On

In two weeks’ time, on 3rd January 2022, it will be a whole year to the day since I tested positive for Covid. Which means it’s almost a whole year since I last felt properly well in myself. Although I wasn’t badly ill with Covid, as in not hospitalised, to be honest although I am now feeling a million times better than I was in January, a few of my most tenacious Covid symptoms have never fully gone away.

For the first few weeks afterward my initial infection I waited patiently for my symptoms to fade… and then it moved on to being patient for the first few months… and then I realised that like it or not I clearly had Long Covid, and it seemed it was here to stay. At that point I was hopeful that after my first vaccination my symptoms would miraculously completely disappear, but was disappointed to find it made no real difference to how I felt.

The first real glimmer of hope came with a partial return of my sense of taste and smell, which slowly went from zero to… well, not quite zero any more. And although much improved since then, both still come and go from time to time on a hap-hazard blunt instrument continuum of sometimes quite good, sometimes not so much. These days I rarely have nothing at all but sadly it seems I’ve lost any nuances of smell or taste. Whether or not it’s permanent I can’t say, but presumably only time will tell on that score.

Thankfully, though, after my second jab amazingly I felt as though a lead weight had been lifted from me health-wise. My extreme breathlessness improved immensely, and it was such a huge relief to feel so light-chested again, so much better than before. But however much my lung function was improved, two things soon became clear – ‘better’ is a relative term, as like my sense of taste of smell my breathlessness still comes and goes on a whim, and even at its best my breathing is still not back to pre-Covid levels.

Some days I can be reasonably fine, but on others walking any distance at all even on a flat surface can leave me puffing and panting and wheezing like an unfit heavy smoker running a marathon uphill. Other Covid symptoms which have improved over this past year but still remain noticably present are (in order of making their presence known on a daily basis) extreme fatigue and tiredness, dizziness (sometimes even when lying still in bed), and headaches.

I know I’m luckier than many – I caught Covid and survived. But I feel the whole experience has aged me before my time, and it’s one I’m in no hurry to repeat any time soon. I’ve had Covid, and from the timing of my infection it was probably the Delta variant. Since then I’ve had both vaccinations and my booster jab, but still I’m worried about catching it again. So far Omicron seems to be more infectious but less deadly – but again only time will tell.

Honestly, I get breathless even thinking about it…

Ragtag Daily Prompt: Breathless

Another Covid Christmas

Covid pandemic future looks dire
This new variant spreads like wildfire
Life feels so ominous
Looming large over us
Hard to find happy thoughts to inspire

Seems this virus is keen to mutate
Sneaky versions that might seal our fate
All year Delta was worst
But now Omicron’s first
What new havoc can Covid create?

As infections rise straight off the chart
Pfizer booster jabs playing their part
Race to keep it at bay
But it won’t go away
Covid 19 stays strong at its heart

Will restrictions be brought into force
One more lock-down might do it of course
Careful plans go awry
As we all wonder why
We can’t kill this damned virus at source

As we look to another new year
It’s so hard to find real Christmas cheer
No one knows what will be
We must just wait and see
Mixed with hope, trepidation, and fear…

Christmas Tree

It’s Saturday again and time for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness post, this week with the prompt of ‘tree’. All of a sudden (or so it feels) it’s two weeks today until Christmas and my Christmas tree is still currently residing in the loft along with the other decorations. Probably time to take it down and do some decorating. But this year everything feels so ominous, with the Omicron variant of Covid spreading like wildfire and no-one knowing what 2022 will bring for us all when it comes to this never-ending pandemic. Family-wise we have some serious ongoing stuff going on, so the thought of putting up a tree feels a bit irrelevant and trivial in the circumstances. But I’m going to do it anyway and mark the end of the year the way we always do, with the familiar rituals of the festive season getting us through the dark days of the winter solstice and hopefully on to brighter days ahead…