Winter Walk

While the world is still mired deep in the pandemic, while so may of us remain socially shut in and economically shut down, the familiar seasonal colours of nature continue to inspire, to bring a little normality to such an oddly altered reality. Life goes on, albeit differently, firmly grounded in the continuity of the lovely landscape and all the joy it brings… My first Weekly Smile of the New Year, and here’s to many more… 🙂

The Flakiness Factor

Amazingly, considering the complete shit-show that has been 2020, I’m exiting the year in a much better place emotionally than I entered it. I mean obviously it’s been stressful and fearful, with month after month of how-long-is-a-piece-of-string extended rules and restrictions ebbing and flowing and effectively keeping us isolated and apart, especially from those we love. And yet somehow I feel that now I’ve got used to this insecure, narrowed, smaller way of living, I find overall it suits me more than it grates on me.

In many ways, internally, life has continued as normal for me. Granted, the external stuff has altered beyond all recognition but the way I feel about it all has not. I’ve struggled for years with ongoing depression, but to be honest that feels much the same to go through whatever the trigger for each difficult episode. Anxiety always gnaws away at me anyway, with or without Covid raising its ugly protein-spiked head, leaving me feeling flaky and fragile more often than not. A lot of the time I just pretend to be OK until eventually I am OK – basically I fake it until I make it.

But this year I’m finding I don’t have to pretend so much any more. External life has slowed down enough, has shrunk enough to fit my personal skin far more comfortably these days. I’m able to truly belong in life in a way I have never felt before. Expectations of excessive extraversion have evaporated, quiet contemplation close to home is the new order, and all is turned on its head as I find my previous weaknesses have become my new strengths. In this topsy-turvy life of lockdowns and limitations, to my surprise I no longer feel quite so flaky.

Of course I’d love to be able to see my family as I choose, and yes it would be nice to be able to go out for dinner now and again, but in 2020 it seems it’s the quiet home birds rather than the usual go-getter party animals who have at last come into their own during this pandemic year. Rather than me always running to try to catch up with the rest of the world, everyone has necessarily slowed down to my pace, and that feels amazingly liberating. My internal reality now rubs along in perfect tandem to my external reality to the extent that those feelings of flakiness have finally fallen away.

I know things won’t stay the same into the future, that as a society we do need to return to some kind of capitalist normality in order to continue to survive as before, but nevertheless there are some things I won’t forget about this year – what is known cannot be unknown, and that experiential knowledge gives me a personal power and a deep-rooted belief in myself that for me willl hopefully over-ride the flakiness factor forever…

The Art of Patience

I really love colouring in, but occasionally I’ll find a design in one of my many colouring books and think – nope, I just don’t have the patience for that.

This is one such design, made up of myriad tiny shell shapes, and although I first started it ages ago all I managed to complete was a small three inch square in the top corner before giving up.

So here I am in a winter Covid mini-lockdown, and I decided to give it another go – I’ve still got a long way to go but I’m finally getting somewhere… 🙂

Escapist Colouring Club

Boxing Day Sales

I should have been out at work from 10am today, facing the flurry that is the Boxing Day Sales in the department store where I work. Not that there’s often much selling going on, more a mass returning all of the unwanted gifts that other people have been busily buying for them all month. But instead of being rushed off my feet at work as expected today I’m sitting here on the sofa alone as new Scottish Government Covid restrictions have closed all non-essential retail businesses from one minute past midnight last night for the next three weeks at least. My husband is still out at work, a key-worker in a supermarket, but I’m kicking my heels at home.

And to be honest this morning all I feel is overwhelmingly relieved that I’m not actually out there today. I’m emotionally exhausted, it’s been an awful month with all of us working loads of extra hours in a business currently in liquidation with no fixed date for closing, made even worse by the last-minute panic of pre-lockdown purchases mixed with the usual vociferus vultures thinking we were shutting up shop for good on Christmas Eve, complaining loudly and none too politely that our pre-Christmas sale prices weren’t reflecting the last-chance-to-buy rock-bottom levels they were looking for.

So I have three weeks of staying at home quietly to look forward to and then… what? Well to be honest we’re not sure. Will the store open again to clear the last of the liquidation stock, or will the administrators give up the ghost and call it quits? Will there be a last minute reprieve in the form of a new buyer, or will the hundreds of redundacies go ahead in the new year as previously planned? The future for us employees doesn’t look good, but it is what it is. We are where we are across the globe, not just in retail but in hospitality, in travel, in countless other business sectors.

It’s wonderful news that we now have a Covid vaccination programme rolling out – well, several viable vaccines in fact – and hopefully internationally we will all soon have the herd immunity protection we need to stop this deadly virus. But logistically it will inevitably take time and effort to innoculate entire populations of nations – long months not short weeks – and in the meantime businesses are going to the wall the world over. People continue to lose their livelihoods, other people continue to lose their lives. We will get there eventually, but not without cost.

So on this uncertain, sale-free, Boxing Day with a difference I’m sending love and peace to everyone across the world from the cosy comfort of my sofa, with the hope for a more positive 2021 for all of humanity ❤

Stream of Consciousness: Box

Traditions that Bind us Together

I’m not usually the most Christmassy of people, and although current Covid Christmas restrictions could potentially have given me the perfect excuse for simply not bothering much with any of it this year, I nevertheless found myself taking the box of decorations down from the loft earlier than usual and not only have I put up the Christmas tree but have also added a few festive ornaments and a string of sparkly lights to the mantelpiece.

With all of us here in the UK necessarily having an extremely pared-down minimally-numbered Christmas this year I felt a surprising longing, a need to create some kind of fun festive feeling around our home, as if we were still expecting a flurry of visitors at any time. We may all be physically apart this year, but we can all still share the emotion and experience of the same old family traditions that recognisably bind us together, but simply enjoy them separately, each in our own home.

We can still put up our usual decorations, over-indulge in the same kind of food we always eat, enjoy the myriad repeat TV programmes we usually watch every festive season, and remind ourselves that if nothing else Christmas 2020 has truly taught us to appreciate the value of presence over presents at this time of year. Being able to choose to be with those we love at Christmas is the best gift we could have, whether family, friends, fur-babies, or any other favourite loves.

To have that choice taken away from so many of us this year hurts, but hopefully it is a wound that for most of us will heal in time. We need to remind ourselves that losing someone to Covid lasts forever and so is a risk too far for many of us to take, especially with the promise of vaccines becoming available to all in the months to come. We are where we are in this current coronavirus crisis, but this too shall pass.

So for this week’s Weekly Smile here is a gallery of some of my favourite tree decorations bringing some much-needed Christmas cheer to my home and to my blog – hopefully the idea if not the actual baubles and trinkets themselves help bring a smile to your faces too. For me the ritual of trimming the tree feels wonderfully familiar, becomes a heart-warming task brimming with mementos and memories and magic, helping me feel close to those I hold most dear, however near or far, in this time of national sacrifice.

So here I am wishing a very Happy Christmas 2020 to all my blog friends, from my home to yours, and hoping for a better year for all of us in 2021 ❤

Over by Christmas…

Everything feels really ominous just now.

Here in Scotland we’ve all been placed under reasonably restrictive coronavirus rules since the last week of September, unable to mix socially with other households at home at all, and from tomorrow we start our new tiered system going from Level 0 to Level 4 ranging from as-near-as-dammit-normal-as-can-be-without-a-vaccine at Level 0 to pretty much full-lockdown-apart-from-schools at Level 4.

Here in the Highlands apparently we’re going to be in Level 1, which is really good for local businesses but sadly we’re still not allowed to meet people indoors at home – only outside, or in public spaces, and still in restricted numbers – so for me personally none of it makes any real difference to life as it has been for the last few weeks, and that’s a bit frustrating to have to deal with as it’s not quite what was promised when the tiers were first set, but caution is the name of the game in Scotland.

The Scottish Government has been very clear all along that according to scientific data close person to person contact at home has played a big part in the spread of the virus to date and acted accordingly weeks ago, banning household mixing socially indoors. So I still have to go out to work and come into contact with strangers every day, albeit masked and sanitised and socially distanced, but basically still won’t be able to see my family at least for the first week of the new system, after which time things will be reviewed.

But in England, although certain local areas in Northern England have also been under greater restrictions than others for weeks now, the UK Government dithered and dallied and didn’t want to mess up their economy or piss off their people any more than they had already, so didn’t impose a blanket ban on households meeting across the whole country like we did here when the scientific data suggested it. Too much carrot, not enough stick. And infection numbers across England do appear to be rocketing again, so perhaps there is something after all in preventing people from mixing indoors in private homes.

And so just as Scotland introduces its new tiered system of loosening things off at last, England is due to be going into full lockdown for four weeks, which feels really weird to think about. Does that mean that here in the Highlands we’ll be inundated with visitors over then next few weeks as people further south try to escape greater restrictions and go elsewhere for the duration? Good for the tourism economy in such a tough year financially but perhaps not so much for the overall health of the local population up here.

It’ll all be over by Christmas, we jokingly remarked earlier in the year with pseudo-war-time spirit in the hopeful belief that Covid 19 would be a dark and distant memory by then, yet here we all are still in the midst of this global pandemic, mired in a no-mans-land of fear and misery trapped uneasily between the two front lines of health and wealth, bombarded incessantly from both sides by propaganda and prophesies of doom. Clearly not a snowball’s chance in hell of any of it being over any time soon, at least in this part of the world…

Yup, everything feels really ominous just now.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Ominous

Keeping Our Distance

Here in Scotland, keeping our distance between separate households is sadly going to be back in force from tomorrow. Zero mixing indoors for families and friends for at least the next three weeks – we can still meet (with limitations) outside in the garden, but hello, Scotland in the autumn so far this year is cold and wet and windy so realistically that probably won’t be happening anytime soon.

It’s upsetting to have to have such restrictions back in place, but not totally surprising. Northern Ireland and Wales have also set the same curtailments for separate households no longer socialising together, although England has not applied quite the same blanket rule across the whole country – rather certain areas have a similar kind of local lockdown, while in other areas the population has slightly more freedom to mix.

So here we are six months almost to the day of the start of our initial lockdown, feeling frustrated yet resigned to the potential reality of this kind of ongoing stop-start, two steps forward and one step back approach to controlling the spread of Covid 19. It seems unavoidable that a second wave is on the horizon, R rate rising as it is above 1 once more. Pubs and restaurants will now have a curfew of 10pm, too, to try to limit the spread of infection.

We certainly could never have imagined back in the Spring that we would be so little further on by the Autumn, but oh, we clearly still have a long way to go before we can even begin to put this virus behind us once and for all…

Quarantine Questions

Having been subjected to stay at home restrictions (to one degree or another) over the past six months, would you say that quarantine has made you a better person? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

Hmmm. Has this pandemic made me a better person? Different, certainly, but better – no, overall on balance probably not…

Lockdown began with a deep fear of what might happen if I or anybody I loved caught the virus. Scared, I stayed at home for the duration as instructed, and enjoyed being a loner home-maker and a gardener for a while. But as the weeks passed I became increasingly disheartened, disconcerted, distressed. I missed people, and places, and soon it seemed like partisan politics got in the way of everything else and none of it made any sense any more.

As the infection rate and death toll here in the UK first rose alarmingly and then gradually started to fall week after week, I questioned the lack of testing, the lack of track and trace, and seriously struggled with the free-fall never-endingness of feeling trapped in a groundhog-day-style lockdown limbo. It felt like as a collaborative community we could not simply hold our collective breath forever, and that sooner or later something somewhere would have to give.

And eventually when the time came I went back to work. New rules, new restrictions, new possibilities for potential infection to get my head around. People to see and places to go, granted, but cautiously, carefully, all masked up and keeping our distance, dancing around each other delicately as if surrounded by an invisible forcefield like repelling magnets of similar polarity. Social contact, but still without any physical contact. Together but apart. The new normal.

To date thankfully my family are all fine in that none of us have had Covid, but other long-term ongoing health problems have become far more difficult to deal with across the months and the generations. ‘Protecting the NHS’ when it comes to Covid seems to have meant forfeiting so much else health-wise for so many of us, even now that first peak has passed. The importance of continuing family connections definitely means more to me now – I know potentially there is a lot to lose for all of us if things go pear-shaped.

Six months on I now feel frustrated as well as fearful. I still don’t want to catch this damned virus but I also want to live, not just continue to exist: I want to enjoy life again. What I miss most is the freedom to just be, without having to think about it. Go out where I want, see who I want when I want, socialise or not as the mood takes me. Now we no longer have that freedom I do appreciate what we have lost – perhaps temporarily, perhaps forever.

But whereas before I tried hard to be someone with a ‘live and let live’ mentality, I currently find myself far less tolerant of those selfish individuals amongst us who choose to demean, debunk, disregard and blatantly dismiss the scientific reality of our current global situation. I feel like saying to those self-important ignorant idiots – well, screaming at them, anyway – it’s not fake news, fuckwits, get with the program!

So on one hand I’m more grateful for what I have, but on the other hand I’m definitely far less trustful of others. Some of the time I’m wary and weary, emotionally exhausted, easily irritated. The rest of the time I’m just happy to still be alive…

Fandango’s Provocative Question

Hanging by a Thread

I’ve been feeling sadly out of sorts this week, both emotionally and physically. Ironically I’d actually been given this week off work (annual leave accrued over lockdown to be used up), and had so much planned to get done at home, as well as visiting family members socially.

But I’ve clearly picked up an annoying summer cold from somewhere – sneezing, headache, ear-ache, sore throat, tiredness – and as ever it’s gone into my chest so I’m currently waiting with tight wheezy breath to be coughing up gunk in my usual fashion once it all loosens off and starts to pass, probably in another day or two. As an added precaution (in the current circumstances) I’ve been checking my temperature religiously, but thankfully it remains decidedly normal.

Also no irritating dry cough in major long-lasting coughing fits, and no obvious loss of smell – everything tastes a little bit metallic just now but there’s nothing odd in that for me, having a crappy cold as I do. None of the notable specific symptoms of Covid, so as I’ve not recently been travelling anywhere that requires quarantine on my return, according to the NHS website there is no test required. But even so I’m not visiting anyone anytime soon – I’m staying home alone.

I hadn’t actually considered until this coronavirus pandemic hit this year just how unwell I’ve felt a lot of the time over my whole lifetime – not properly ill as such, just always under the weather, not quite firing on all cylinders. Niggly things, nothing huge, causing inefficiency rather than inertia. Just over five and a haf decades of ongoing health-related baggage I carry around with me all the time, weighing me down a bit more than normal when the life-going gets tough.

But right now I seem to be almost paranoid about it – every cough or hot flush or ache or pain freaks me out in a way it never has before. And I’m not sleeping well just now either, so that magnifies everything by about 100%, giving me even more time to lie there in the dark and fret about everything. I felt so isolated during the height of lockdown, but since going back to work I feel far more vulnerable and exposed than when I was stuck safely at home.

It still scares me so much to think of catching a virus I might not survive – or worse pass on to those I love and potentially kill them. How could I live with myself if that hapened? In my area there have been three new cases this week adding to the five from the week before – the latest a member of staff in a business not more than 100 yards from the building where I work. Yes, the numbers here might be small, but without caution they can easily grow out of control and before you know it a local lockdown is necessary.

Maintaining constant vigilance of face covering, social distancing and hand sanitising is stressful and so emotionally tiring, but is oh so necessary now more than ever – especially at work. Right now I just wish I could start to feel a bit better both in body and soul, so that everything stops feeling like life is hanging precariously by a single thread, just waiting to fall into oblivion with only the slightest infectious touch.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Survive

Everything and Nothing

Nothing could have prepared me for the realities of 2020, for a pandemic and blanket lockdown, then for the onerous post-lockdown restrictions we have to contend with that will no doubt remain in place for the forseeable future. We may once more be open for business as a country but we are not yet open for the carefree life we knew before.

Things are not in any way back to normal – how can anything ever feel normal again? No easy human touch, no closeness, no community gatherings, no real socialising. Physical barriers to personal contact everywhere – screens and masks and gloves and sanitiser between us and others – and inevitably I fear emotional barriers will soon grow too.

Suspicion and fear and avoidance and caution are becoming built in to the fundamental fabric of our existence. We all have to learn to expect the worst but hope for the best, keep our distance, keep away, keep vigilant at all times while outside of our own little bubble of safety and security, and even be wary of those we invite in to join us at home.

We can’t automatically trust people any more, even our nearest and dearest, and that hurts us all. We can’t know who has touched something somewhere that someone else has touched who has the virus, who has not washed their hands enough or changed their potentially contaminated clothes or inadvertently touched their masks too often? We just can’t take risks.

People have become inherently dangerous just by being out there in the world, living and working and making the best of a bad situation as best they can. I don’t like stepping back when someone gets too close, turning away when someone breathes on me, flinching when even the slightest contact is made accidentally. But I know I must keep myself safe.

Nothing could have prepared me for any of this, and yet here I still am, bewildered and beleaguered, through spring and summer and soon heading into autumn with no end in sight. Simple self-preservation should not require such levels of separation, so all I can do is make sure to smile at people with my eyes and say rather than show them how I feel.

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Nothing