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Lockdown Life

Here we go again. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming a mile off. We need all our patience and adaptability to cope in these uncertain times. The first lockdown was bad enough, but now it seems that the waters have been muddied. It doesn’t seem like a “proper” lockdown this time. More shops and businesses are open, and although some people continue to work from home, many have jobs where home working is not possible. Covid etiquette still exists – leave two metres space, wear a mask, wash hands, be kind – but how many people are still actively practising “hands, space, face”?

Our instinct may be to rush around and gather as many items as we can when out shopping, avoiding all human contact. But we are human and we are social animals (well, most of us, perhaps) and we need that human connection. It is the essence of our being and we require more than just to merely exist. This is our dilemma. We need to keep safe, keep distant, but we also need to be close. We have tried many different approaches, sitting on opposite sides of a park bench, going for a distanced walk, sitting apart in a cafe unless we live in the same household, and when we could go in each other’s houses, keeping the windows open and sitting miles away from each other.

This is all so alien to us and it has taken us months to adjust to the new normal. Yet we must do, as our hospitals predictably fill up again. But this lockdown will be wasted if we don’t know who has got the virus and if we don’t persuade these people to do the responsible thing. We know what must be done, but financial and personal reasons get in the way. It is a survive or suffer dilemma which many people have to face on a daily basis. Unlike the first lockdown, now the dark nights are drawing in and people cannot get outside as easily as they could before. The mental health of many people has deteriorated due to the pandemic and subsequent isolation, and winter is never an easy season to cope with.

And what of the Covid deniers who think that their freedom has been taken away for nothing? Nobody is going to persuade them that this lockdown is worth doing again. Some are older and want to enjoy what is left of their lives, others are younger and think it’s unfair that they should be locked away and not enjoy their lives when older people could be shielding. Or some who just do not see that although they may not be at risk, could spread the virus to others who are. Some of these people might be friends or family members.

It would be great to start thinking collectively and to act with more social responsibility. This is difficult because we all have our own priorities and our own particular set up of family and friends. It can be hard to see the bigger picture. What we have proven is that we can support each other in small ways. The first proper lockdown illustrated this point. We know how to act responsibly and can achieve an awful lot. However, when we see that our leaders are not following the same rules this can seem unfair and can leave us frustrated and let down.

We have seen that another scenario is possible, where we consume less and use less fuel and energy. For a few months the world was a cleaner, greener place. We appear to have lost that again but it is never too late. We can capture what we achieved before, but it will take an immense national will.

Anti Bullying Week

As anti bullying week comes to a close, people in power have again demonstrated that it’s “Do as I say, not as I do”. This got me into thinking about bullying in general and the consequences of it. Bullying is a form of threatening, oppressive, intimidating, manipulative behaviour that can push the victim into believing that the bullying is their fault, that they have done something wrong or that they are not strong enough or clever enough. The bullying can be physical or verbal. It is usually an abuse of power in the workplace. Bullies are often clever, manipulative, controlling people who seem to thrive on hurting others. Bullying can take place in many different environments, but schools, workplaces and social media can be a breeding ground for bullies.

Since I have commented on Twitter on the ongoing situation in government I have had many replies from people who understand what it’s like to be bullied. I count myself among these people. Most people who were bullied either left their workplace or were forced to leave. People who were bullied at school, in the workplace or online have been left mentally scarred and traumatised. Yet, there is a feeling in this country, especially now, that bullying should not be taken seriously and is something which is caused by the victim because they weren’t cooperative enough. Nothing could be further from the truth. Self esteem can be irrevocably damaged, one’s sense of self is ruptured and it can take years to get over.

It is not just the bullying that is traumatic and damaging. It can be the reaction of others around you, who are probably scared that they too will become the victim. I don’t blame people for this, it is a normal human instinct to protect oneself in these situations. It is the way that the victim becomes a pariah, instead of the persecutor, that is particularly hard to swallow. Whistleblowers too are often bullied for their actions when they are taking responsibility for their safety and the safety of others which can never be right.

It has taken me years to build myself up into a person who I feel is liked by others. I realise that I will not be liked by everyone. I am realistic and sensible. I don’t see myself as a weak person and I don’t regard others that have been bullied as weak people. But questions are always asked about why a bullied person didn’t fight back. Trust me it’s the hardest thing to do when nobody believes you. It can feel lonely and isolating. The mental damage can cause depression and anxiety and, in extreme cases, self harm and suicide. It needs to be called out at every opportunity. Let’s stamp out this horrible scourge of workplaces, schools and social media and call it out for what it is.

Saving it for Best

 

I’ve been thinking about saving things. Its an old habit I sometimes find hard to drop. It all started when I was probably about seven years old. We still used to go to church then and it was customary to wear our “Sunday best” clothes on that particular occasion. My sister and I would don the sunday outfit, which had no other use than for church. It seems ridiculous now but it really was important at the time.

Even now, there are clothes in my wardrobe which I know I have “saved for best”. This now means “for going out in” rather than for church. Some clothes haven’t seen the light of day in over three years, the cut off point at which you should apparently discard such items.  I will  probably never wear them again since I have forgotten that they are there and why I bought them.

Now I have reached a more advanced age, I have realised that there is really no point in saving clothes any more. For what occasion am I saving them? I suppose my doing so is just an extension of my frugal childhood, as I was always taught to “make do and mend”.

The same could be said for life. I’m not saving it for best as much as I used to. Many things have happened in the last four years that make me feel like I need to be using my life and not saving it for the good times. Those clothes we save for best may never be worn. If we let life pass us by and do not grab opportunities then we are leaving our future in the closet. Life will not wait for us, we grow older and not necessarily wiser, and we are in danger of losing the most precious moments.

The world is a changing place and we need to adapt quickly to it. Suddenly the unworn clothes in my wardrobe seem very unimportant compared to other, more pressing, issues. I still feel some guilt about buying some of them when I did not need them but I try to salve my conscience by donating them to charity. I can only now stop myself from buying more clothes than I need – an obsession which probably goes back to my student days when I didn’t have enough money to buy any.

So the wardrobe still creaks and groans when I prise open the doors. It is a source of constant surprise when I discover an item which I thought was lost forever. Sometimes, though, we need to let go of these unworn gems, cast them into ancient history as we should do with attitudes or opinions that do not belong in a modern, fair and balanced society.

Spring

Well it has come back at last. Spring has sprung, or so we hope. A soon as the crocuses have poked their purple and orange heads through the boggy earth, we start hoping that this is really happening. The seasons seemed to have merged over the last 20 years or so and whether this is a symptom of global warming or something less sinister, nobody seems to know. The seasons had clear demarcation lines in the world of our childhood: we enjoyed building snowmen in the winter and looked forward to sunbathing in the summer months. Basically, we knew what to expect of our country’s climate. We felt safer in that knowledge.

Now it rains with a vengeance. It seems to be either windy or rainy or both! We find it hard as human beings to predict what is increasingly unpredictable and out of our control. And boy do we like to control! We are led to believe that we can control anything, that our lives can be planned and plotted to the nth degree. But this is obviously not the case. We make mistakes, we have accidents and we ultimately die. But this post is not all doom and gloom! Although we are doomed as humans to end up the same way.

What we expect in Spring is often very different from what we get. Yes the weather does get warmer temporarily but then it often reverts back to winter again. Just recently I have been seeing bees and butterflies and even the birds seem more cheerful. Easter can often be a turning point for all this and we sometimes have snow. I can see that people are really trying to convince themselves that this is the beginning of summer when they don their shorts and t-shirts. That chilly breeze will soon drive them back to their fleeces and raincoats, though.

It’s hard for us to ever imagine that this state of affairs can change. Our world is constantly changing and sometimes irreversibly due to global warming. Climate change deniers will try to persuade us that we need to ignore what is staring us in the face – melting icecaps, creatures becoming extinct, floods happening more frequently etc, etc. Our world is becoming more unpredictable and scary. While we in the developed world can more easily weather these storms, there are regions of the world where some of the poorest people live which have no support from their governments and must try to rebuild their lives on their own. Everything we do in the developed world has a consequence, whether it be our heavy car usage or our use of damaging chemicals in industry and in our homes. The current political situation does not bode well for our climate, but if we as individuals can put pressure on our governments by signing petitions, demonstrating or writing to our local MP, we can at least say that we tried.

The Nights Are Drawing In

It’s a cliche isn’t it? We are supposed to feel all warm and cosy now it’s getting colder and darker. I don’t know about you but I don’t feel particularly cosy at this time of year. You see I start to cheer up at around 1st January and it just gets better until October.I think the cosyness element which is bandied about at this time of year might just be a ploy to get us to buy more coats and winter accessories. It has worked, we have truly, and literally, had the wool pulled over our eyes!

Until now it’s been quite mild in my neck of the woods. I had’t really progressed from wearing T-shirts (albeit with a jacket) and I was still not into my winter pyjamas. Luckily the sun is still making us think we have a bit of summer left, we haven’t quite got into that horrible rainy, misty, damp period we know as the run up to the dreaded Christmas Period or Xmas as it’s commonly known. Even before Halloween was over (yes, thanks, our American friends for introducing this sweet fest into our lives in the early 1980s, we are so grateful!) the shops were starting to be filled with Xmas trees and baubles. Soon the carols will be spilling over into our consciousness, along with the stress of to-do lists and food shopping of gargantuan proportions.

Call me Scrooge if you like (although I look nothing like him). I used to love Christmas as a child, the excitement of the run up to the event and the presents. This extended into the lives of my own children who were just as excited as I was. Now it’s lost a bit of it’s sparkle for me, it’s all about presents and wrapping and food and drink and the meaning has been lost a little bit. Not that I’m religious, but it does have something to do with Christ, judging by the spelling. I feel that I am not alone, there are plenty of people out there who have no cause to celebrate due to circumstances that life has thrown at them. People may be alone and have no family or friends, or follow a different religion that does not include Christmas.

It’s probably the dark nights that contribute to my feeling of gloom and doom. I just want to eat chocolate and cake all the time and that just isn’t healthy. I want to motivate myself to do some exercise, but when it’s tipping it down outside the last thing you feel like doing is going for a walk or a jog. I long for a warmer, gentler climate (Spain would be great) where I can sip my magarita with a warm breeze blowing through my hair. I envy our southern European friends so much that it makes me want to go and open a bar in Gibraltar! There is nothing good about getting up to go to work in the dark and coming back in the dark, apart from the bonus of getting paid. I feel like a cave dweller who never sees the light and I will probably remain that way until Spring makes it’s way into our lives again.

Student Days

It’s that time of year again – the return to university and college of millions of students. This scenario has been repeated time and time again but has many different versions and experiences. The student world today is very different from the one that I inhabited back in the day. For a start, I didn’t have a student loan weighing down on my shoulders. I was in the enviable position of having a full maintenance and living expenses grant since my parents had pretty much retired and were unable to pay for my education. This enabled me to devote my time to much daydreaming and introspection to which today’s students really should be entitled.

Surely being a student is a state of being in which you are able to open your mind to new ideas and to mull thoughts around in your head so that you understand your latest lecture enough to write an essay about your particular subject? The whole point of education is, in my opinion, to provide an intellectual escape from the day to day worries of the world. The students of today might envy us now. We were the generation who could follow their educational desires without worrying about where their next meal was coming from, even if it was only a tin of beans. They probably have a weekend job in a shop or other employment which requires weekend staff. I did not work at the same time as being a student; ok I did work experience which was unpaid and part of my course, but in no way did I feel I needed to work. Surely the purpose of being a student is to devote a great deal of time to thinking!

In some ways, I don’t envy the students of today. They not only have their huge financial burden to carry on into their working life, but they also have the worry of finding a convenient place to charge their laptop in the university library. Joking aside, my biggest student headache was the difficulty of sifting through numerous books, only to find the one you really needed was out on loan for two weeks and you had no chance of getting your hands on the source material that everyone else was chasing too. There was no internet to provide the fodder for a last minute early hours of the morning assignment: how to find the necessary quotes to furnish your eloquently executed essay?

In other ways I do envy them: their choice of courses is amazing. If you can think of any subject there is probably a university course that covers it! The students of today can be forensic scientists or computer programmers, they can work in multi-media marketing, advertising, copywriting or brain surgery to name but a few! These are all choices which I never had at my disposal because I simply never thought they existed. My careers advice at A level stage was confined to teaching, physiotherapy and nursing – all very commendable but not much of a diverse choice. Now my young colleagues at work, who attend uni during the week and work at weekends and holidays, tantalise me with their course choices, leaving me wishing that I belonged to their information saturation generation. If I had my time again I would be a forensic scientist/detective/professional writer/actor. There is so much choice now, and rightly so, since this generation must pay the price for everything they learn.

Regrets…..I’ve had a few

I was thinking about regrets today and basically how useless and worthless they are. Besides making you completely miserable and depressed, they are absolutely and utterly unchangeable. Having said that I do have a few….

But then I got to thinking, what is the point of regret? Does it actually have any useful purpose? I suppose in some cases they might make you think of things you never did and that’s fine if there’s still a possibility of you doing some of those things, but being born into another body, or being born into a different country, now these are some things that would impossible to change (unless you’re Dr Who!)

One thing you can change, dependent nowadays of course on your age and qualifications is your job. I admit I’ve had quite a few jobs – administration and secretarial/reception jobs, supermarket jobs, childcare jobs, retail jobs, teaching….. You good people might have stuck at the same career for years and that’s something to be admired, but what if you suddenly realise it was the wrong career? You see I’ve done this quite a few times, obviously I’m not sure if  I’m in the  right career yet but I’m still trying and I do enjoy my job and like the people I work with.

I feel that I am best suited to working with people, well that just about includes every job unless you’re stuck in a garret somewhere typing a new bestseller, but even then you would have to face your public eventually. I think it must be very scary to have published your first successful book and be expected to promote it to all and sundry, and to produce several more books whilst you are doing this….not sure I could take it! I will have to actually start my novel if I am going to come anywhere near this.

Sometimes it takes proximity to death to make people do the things that they never had time to do. I think that’s a shame because we should be thinking right now of things that we have never tried but that we really want to. Why not start by making a list now, even things which seem too expensive or difficult can be planned for. Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Shoes

I was just thinking about shoes. I do think about shoes quite a lot, and I do own rather a lot of pairs! Probably too many for one woman. But of all the things to wear that I own, I think I get most happiness from my shoes, especially my boots. Boots just make an outfit, don’t they? No matter what else you’re wearing, people will probably notice your boots more than anything else. For a middle aged woman like me, this is obviously a plus, since I actually disappeared following my fortieth birthday.

These boots I love in particular: they are not mine. But boots like this make you feel like you could take on the world. When I’m wearing a pair of my many boots I feel confident, I don’t feel like I’m melting into the wallpaper. It’s really the only way I can be noticed now. I have made grave boot mistakes in the past, these usually started with an impulsive buy that I knew I would never dare to wear in public, or sadly, I felt too old to wear. I do not feel too old to wear something too often, so this does come as a surprise. I really don’t think I should be into the orthopaedic flats just yet (although my work shoes are an exception – comfort over style wins every time there!)

I do remember a very revelatory afternoon in Sainsburys in the shoe section where women of all ages were trying on boots and shoes and loving every minute of it. There was a frisson of excitement in the air, as we all helped each other decide which boots suited whom and whether they should be worn with skinny jeans or bootlegs. That was an afternoon of true sisterhood if ever I saw one! Sadly this does not really happen in other shoe shops (I think you know what I am talking about). I have never had the same experience anywhere else. There was a real sense of joy and liberation.

So don’t feel guilty when you buy that pair of shoes, or boots in my case. Just think that what you are doing is often better than therapy, and although the initial outlay may be costly, months of happiness can be had. And persuade yourself that you do need that pair of black boots with the stiletto heel – you will wear them, won’t you?

How I decided to stop waiting for life to happen and to make it happen instead!

I don’t know about you, but when I was a child I thought that life just happened to people and it was just fate or luck that nice things happened to people, and if bad things happened then it was meant to be. I went through quite a lot of my life under the influence of that kind of thinking, it was a sort of helplessness that I felt unable to deal with. It was like hair. I thought that people were born with their hair in a certain style – it never occurred to me that they had actually paid a visit to the hairdressers to have their hair cut and styled. My hair was long and straggly and hard to manage. I wondered why I had been burdened with such a difficult style. I lived my childhood in an atmosphere of hostility to change and I thought that the only option open to me was the safe option. So I stuck with the safe option all my life: safe jobs, safe place to live, safe lifestyle choices. Even when I was old enough to drink alcohol I was too scared to drink. Too scared to try new things, too scared to live life to the full. It was only when I had a family of my own that I realised how I had been depriving myself of new experiences and activities. I tried new things for my children because I wanted them to fit in with their peer group.

I put up with life rather than life putting up with me. I actually became rather good at putting up with things, and I would have won gold if it had been an Olympic sport. It actually became rather boring and I didn’t really have anything interesting to say about anything in particular. I found it hard to have deep conversations about anything with anyone. I did the minimum necessary to exist. It was truly existing and not experiencing. I lived like this for at least thirty years. I was reliable but boring, I had never been anywhere of note and I was too scared to do so.

Something happened to me that changed everything. I realised that I was not going to last forever and that time was running out. I had made some small beginnings by travelling to America with my family and trying some evening classes in creative writing. I felt as though I had let my creativity fester and grow dusty and old. I was beginning to feel that I could start living again and not be as scared. I lost my job and instead of feeling devastated I felt as though I had been released into the world. Now I felt I could try some different ways of thinking and break free from my restrictive self.

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