Pandemic, self-isolation, social distancing, personal protective equipment. Words that had little meaning to most of us in January 2019 when I last blogged. But words that have now become everyday terminology and a whole new way of living. As lockdown life stretches ahead of us with no end yet in sight, I find myself revisiting tried and tested ways to fill my time and give my wellbeing a bit of a whoosh. So here I am once again in blog mode. And rather than have a little rant about the unavailability of supermarket delivery slots, lack of PPE for frontline staff and people flouting the quarantine, I'm going to focus attention on some small things of joy that are helping me to stay sane on a day to day basis. Well, sane-ish anyway.
1. Set up an animal hospital
You may have come across animal hospitals and rescue centres before, but have you ever encountered one that treats Christmas elves and hamburgers too? Thought not. Day 8 of the lockdown and my fingers were getting restless. And then my eye alighted on a small pile of torn and discarded doggy soft toys lying forlornly on the worktop in the utility room.
Back to the present. These toys clearly needed help and fast (ok technically they'd been lying in a heap completely ignored for at least 3 months but never mind that). I sourced myself a needle, thread and and old raspberry-red tee-shirt and scrubbed up. An hour later, my surgical work was complete. Three revived toys lay propped up in recovery with lovingly inserted rasberry-red patches. I like to think Alfie would approve of Hamburger's heart-shaped one. Definitely a small thing of joy.
However I'm not going to lie, a mere two days on from their life-saving ops, two of the toys took another mauling from the same doodly assailant. So it looks as though I'm going to have a regular stream of patients to keep my hands occupied over the next few weeks of social isolation. Elf's injuries look especially traumatic. Although as Lucy says, he's managing to keep a smile on his face, a lesson to us all in resilience.
2. Compulsive cake-making
I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a feeder. Andrew was a skinny 10-stoner when we first married. That didn't last long. And when family or friends pay us a visit, I always produce six times as much food as we need (seriously, ask anyone!) This compulsion used to bother me until one day a friend explained to me that it's because I'm half Welsh. Ah yes, those groaning tables piled high with laverbread, bara brith and Welsh rarebit whenever we visited my relatives in Aberystyth during my childhood. It all makes perfect sense. So much so that that these days I make no apology for my behaviour and openly embrace my cultural roots. In lockdown life, this is resulting in multiple cakey traybakes and a surge of happiness every time we open the cupboard or fridge door. Which, let's face it, matters a lot at a time like this.
From a distance the family circles like a flock of virtual vultures as I send them photos of my latest bakeoff indulgence. When I posted a photo of my renowned chocolate brandy biscuit cake a few days ago, Jonathan and Liz could bear it no longer and made a fine-looking one themselves, which gave me a huge glow of maternal pride. Perhaps that quarter Welshness is kicking in Jonathan? Although I have to be honest, their idea of a 'piece' of chocolate biscuit cake seems slightly at odds with ours.
Carrot and banana cake, Dorset apple cake, rasberry and lime-infused cake, cocoa-based brownies..... compulsive cake-making is definitely proving to be a standout joy of small things in this household right now. Although at this rate by the end of lockdown Andrew and I are very unlikely to be small things.
3. Desktop travel
Back in January, the year ahead looked to be quite a busy one on the travel front for us. With the coronavirus crisis only just beginning to extend its tentacles beyond China, Andrew and I were on our way to covid-free Costa Rica for our first planned trip of 2020. At the back of a minibus taking us from Arenal National Park to Rio Negro (a 2-hour drive), we found ourselves sitting next to Colin, a friendly 75 year old celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. Colin explained that he was 'self-isolating' himself (the first time we'd heard that term) because he had a persistent cough and wanted to keep away from his wife and friends at the front at the bus. 'Cheers Colin, feel free to pass it on to us instead' I muttered to myself. But that was the only moment on our 12-day holiday that we found ourselves slightly rattled by someone showing corona-like symptoms. And in truth I did feel very sorry for poor Colin.
How quickly the world has changed. Just six weeks later, self-isolation has become a way of life, and travel is off the menu. On our forthcoming holiday agenda was an eagerly anticipated visit to Ischia in the Bay of Naples to celebrate the wedding of my friend Linda's son Alistair....and a week's holiday in the Greek Islands....and a road trip to the North of England for a reunion with my cousins and to celebrate another wedding....and a weekend in Edinburgh to see Lucy's new home. All cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future.
But Andrew and I did at least get to go to beautiful Costa Rica. And since it's likely to be our only holiday destination in 2020, it does seem important to milk every last drop of it. So last week I downloaded the many photos I had taken on our Costa Rican travels, whittled them down to a final fifty and uploaded them into a shiny paged photobook courtesy of Snapfish. Now we can revisit our Costa Rican memories at the drop of a hat. So satisfying. Joy on many levels. Just in case my mention of Costa Rica has piqued your interest, here are a few (only a few, promise) of my favourite pics from the photobook.....
Top pic award goes to a sloth of course. Sloths are solitary animals and like to hang out at the very top of super tall trees, so our sightings of them were almost invariably limited to non-specific balls of fur curled up on branches 30-50 ft above us. However this one was very close to the ground, perhaps because she'd just descended to take her weekly comfort break (yes, they really only pee/poop once a week). And total joyfest, she had a baby sloth at her side.
Our successful sloth-spotting took place around Arenal National Park at the beginning of our trip. We then travelled to Monteverde Cloud Forest where the climate was cool and, er, cloudy, and very lushly green. Spot the friendly tarantula....
Our final stop was Nosara on the Pacific Ocean. En route, our driver took it upon himself to make two stops, firstly to show us a flock of macaws screeching in the palm trees above the cafe where we were having a coffee and secondly, to give us the chance to get up close and personal to a gang of iguanas lurking in the ramshackle back garden of, somewhat randomly, a small town police station.
In Nosara the temperature soared up into the mid-30s. Our hotel looked out over an endless white-sanded deserted coastline, and we woke to the sounds of howler monkeys in the treetops.
Happy memories indeed. Nothing like a spot of desktop travel to soothe the soul and forget the v-word for a while.
4. Testing technology
I suppose this one's a bit of a cliche now. Two plus weeks into lockdown and everyone's at it. Trying out new technology that is. I've always remained resistant to such platforms as facetime and video conferencing, mainly because I have an aversion to looking at myself whilst I'm prattling on. I'm not a complete Luddite, in that I do use whatsapp, with a bit of google chat and messenger thrown in, but otherwise I'm perfectly content emailing (don't mock me guys, it has its place) and texting, and I frequently default to that dinosaur of communication, the landline telephone. But after being denied the opportunity to chat to family and friends face to face for days on end, the yearning to be able to see them was becoming quite acute.
I decided it was time to challenge my negative attitude towards the videocall experience. A few days ago, with teeth tightly gritted, I downloaded zoom, google hangout and houseparty apps onto my ipad and prepared myself to join meetings. And oh my goodness, what rewards I've reaped. It's been so exciting to be able to see my whole family together on one screen, even if, in my case, it isn't always possible to hear what they're saying. It's a definitely a thing of joy, and by no means a small one. In a moment of utter abandonment, I've now booked myself a live Pilates class on Zoom next week, and I've agreed to have a one to one flute lesson on houseparty. So even at my senior stage in life, I've proved to myself that I can successfully challenge old habits....
5. Delights of a doodle dog
I've already alluded to this member of our household in Item 1. She burst onto the scene like a crazy little tsunami of fluffiness in March 2019 to be a companion to our wheaten terrier Mabel, a middle-aged hound of more, shall we say, sedate temperament. We named the fluffy tsunami Betty. She's the puppy on the right in the pic below, being held by the breeder (can you imagine trying to choose between the two of them? Anguish of epic proportions).
Now it's fair to say Betty has had her moments since making her home with us. Like the time she decided to throw herself into our super muddy pond 30 minutes after having her first very expensive shampoo and set at the local pooch pampering parlour.
And then there was the time when I discovered that she'd stolen and wolfed down 6 months-worth of worming/flea treatment tablets four hours before Andrew and I were due to catch a flight to Madrid (one large vet bill later she was fine, and somehow we made it to Gatwick in time). And then the multiple times she's taken it upon herself to forensically dissect new and/or expensive walking shoes of mine. And so on. You get the picture. A high-maintenance girlie our Bets. But that said, she's also the most exuberant, carefree, happy, entertaining, lovable character, and right now, she's the perfect foil to the never-ending flow of distressing and scary news items we encounter on a daily basis. Low testing rates, oxygen supplies running out, stricken prime minister? Betty doesn't give a toss. Give her a squirrel to chase or a lap to drape herself over and she's like a pig in clover. Yes indeed, the sheer joy of fluffy doodly things in the midst of a pandemic.
NB In case Mabel sees this, I should just emphasise that we love her devotedly too, and admire her uber-chilled 'we're all doomed, whatevs' attitude.
NNB And of course we also love Jonathan and Liz's dog Bobby to bits. He's the most supercool urbane Italian greyhound in the whole of South London. He has his own Instagram account, obvs, 757 followers and counting.
6. Lend an ear and do a handclap
There have been umpteen moments over the last few weeks when I've felt a sense of helplessness about the situation unfolding around us. Yes, Andrew and I have been doing our bit to protect the NHS and save lives by following all the government guidelines as instructed. But I did wish I could do something more proactive and useful. So when the NHS Volunteers Scheme was launched, I signed up to it in a flash. I couldn't put myself forward for running errands and ferrying services, as Andrew falls into the, ahem, older age bracket, and also has an underlying health condition of Parkinsons Disease. But the 'check and chat' role, to be carried out from the safety of one's home, sounded right up my street. I registered my interest, along with squillions of other people, and a week later, following a DBS check, I received an email from the Royal Voluntary Service to say I was now officially a member of the NHS Volunteer army. Woohoo!
I read the 14-page 'Getting Started' guide. Then I downloaded the GoodSAM Responder app onto my phone and familiarised myself with it as suggested. The app has been adapted from one used to alert off-duty medical professionals to cardiac arrests. On the plus side, it's a 100% tried and tested system. On the minus side, it's a little strange to see ' I have a defibrillator on me' on the menu (although the toggle has been deactivated of course), and to discover that a siren sound is used to alert volunteers that they've been assigned a task. My main concern at the moment is that when the siren goes off, the shock of hearing it will give me a heart attack. I think that's what you'd call a paradox. Anyway, I've been on duty now for a full week, and guess what, the siren hasn't gone off once. I've been told that's because the Responder programme has gone for a soft launch of 1000 referrals. And since, according to the Sunday papers, the Duchess of Cornwall has already spoken to two of them, that leaves 998 cases for the other 749,499 volunteers. Somehow I don't think my ears are going to be over-bent for the time being.
Whilst I wait patiently for Responder to alert me to my first task, Andrew and I are throwing ourselves into the Thursday 8pm clap for care workers. I'll be honest, the first week I was a little ambivalent about the idea, as it seemed to me that hospital and care home staff would benefit more from being given protective masks and gowns than a round of applause, however well intended. But I've now found several ways of making donations, one to a local NHS trust charity to provide staff with cups of tea/care boxes, another to a crowdfunding initiative to buy protective personal equipment for NHS staff on a national basis, and to top it all, a really special and very touching fundraising effort by a 99 year old army veteran, Captain Tom Moore, who's doing 100 laps of his garden with a walking frame to raise money for NHS Charities Together (to date he's raised an astonishing 14 million pounds). So I'm now feeling much more fully invested in the Thursday evening ritual. As a celebration of care workers' commitment, dedication and bravery, it's a thing of joy indeed.
So there you have it, half a dozen ways that are helping me to navigate the unchartered waters of the pandemic with relative aplomb. As I've been writing this post, it's surprising how many more little joys are popping into my head. The wonders of weeding. The beauty of bird-watching. The acquisition of previously unattainable items (toilet paper - hurrah! A tin of tomatoes - yay!!) And the excitement of watching grey roots emerge (only kidding, I miss my hairdresser almost as much as my children). Wow, there might even be enough material there to bore you with a follow-up post if the lockdown goes on much longer.
Finally, and most importantly, Andrew and I want to say a huge hello to our friend Bill who has been hospitalised with Covid-19 over the last 10 days. We hear that he's on the mend (even taking part in quizzes now!), which is fantastic news. We're sending our warmest wishes to him and his family.
And to anyone and everyone reading this post......