from Steph in London: the new rhythm …

The new rhythm of Face Time, Zoom and HouseParty for social contact has yielded surprising results. Friends who we normally see every few months or longer are now weekly or fortnightly buddies. We enjoy conversations that are not full of a report on recent activities in the City or wherever, but are more chats around the here and now.

‘News’ takes second place and we get to know people on a much more intimate level as we chat on. I suppose it could be construed as a Covid dating app.

We have time to find out more about each other that we may not have known and the things that attracted us originally are reawaken into a greater understanding and affection….

People I’ve known for 40 years, when conversation has been revolved around the children or work are now sitting chatting about other things. Not necessarily always deep and meaningful but easy, comfortable and strangely supportive. Online! I never thought I’d admit that!

My relationship with the virtual world is contrary. In January I would never Face Time anyone without a previous conversation and appointment. It seemed an intrusion into people’s private lives. It’s now May, and actually I now use social media with gay abandon. I even showed a pal round the new house without making the bed first..

Hey ho- my mother would have been totally distraught and would know I was definitely going to the dogs….

from Steph in London,UK: homelessness …

May 8. The government (this or the last one) had started to look at homelessness and said it would take till 2025 to get people off the streets. Post or mid-Covid19 there is a consensus that most if not all homeless people have somewhere to sleep every night … I wonder if it’s true and if it is how can we transfer this practice to being a normal state of affairs post post Covid? Hopefully the mindset has changed and the powers that be will be able to see their way to look positively at solutions instead of presenting the usual ‘Yes but” scenarios.

We’ve really opened the box on deprivation. Good schools  know their cohort of pupils and they work to raise their attainment – extra support, mentoring,  the best teachers encouraging and working with parents to try to  ‘level’ the playing field. Today those same schools are delivering free school meals to their vulnerable pupils and checking weekly on the pupils and their work personally. This, of course is easier in areas where schools catchment areas are small. I wonder how rural schools with much wider catchment areas are organising this vital service to the pupils.

The lack of computers  and tablets in homes automatically puts students at a huge disadvantage. If there is a computer, several children and parents may well be trying to work on the same machine in the same room at the same time.

I hear that some schools are doing class time together via one of the platforms – in order to make sure that safeguarding guidelines are followed some are only audio. Staff are contacting their pupils via email and that contact is vital if the lock down continues. It’s vital that somehow those pupils without access to these interactions should be part of the new normal schooling. Suddenly pupil poverty, which is largely hidden in schools,  has come to the fore and supplying the technology should be as important today as text books were to us.

So the weather is to take a turn for the worse this week. Perhaps I’ll get round to sorting out my paperwork – or creatively think of loads of distraction activities to avoid it. In the meantime the garden beckons.

from Steph in London: grandchildren adapting …

 April 30. “Watching” the grandchildren adapt to being at home has been interesting. They seem to be happy to work at home and are enjoying not getting into school uniform every morning although they do have a routine. Joe Wicks is the start of the day, followed by school work until lunch time-ish. The older ones continue to work after lunch, the younger ones do I know not what but they have been cooking, baking, digging up worms and generally learning how to play on their own without outside or electronic distractions. There have definitely been fewer fights than normal and it appears (via Face time or Zoom) that they are calmer, more able to just ‘play’ and even, dare I say, a better cooperation culture is emerging.

They range from 15-6 in 3 families, the most labour intensive being the 9-year-old and her 6-year-old twin brothers. They have a garden, so are some of the lucky ones- playing out has become part of the routine (“We have to play out for an hour at a time”)

However, as an ex-teacher I watch the adults trying to juggle their work and the properties of a quadrilateral and I don’t envy them.  Most of them spend the day in conference calls, which requires a different level of concentration and my eldest son has asked the children to text him and their mum when they need help. Being in the next room seems a bit OTT but it’s working.

Or it was until the 10-year-old had a message from his teacher – he HAD to build a working volcano … he texted his parents – both of whom were knee deep in keeping the economy going. A once very calm mum went mad and threw her toys out of the pram-

‘How can we be expected to do that?’

‘Does the teacher not realise we have to work too?’

‘How the … do we make it froth?’

They compromised and he built a building of interest instead with help from his older brother (The leaning Tower of Pisa)

When the message from the teacher was re-read, there were  about 20 options, including the volcano, but not a building of interest! Am sure going off piste won’t be the difference between a stellar career or failure…

Finally, some friends with autistic children have found that they are calmer at home, without the hustle of uniforms and deadlines to meet every 45 mins and are learning well. They are seriously considering what sort of education will be best for them in the future …

from Steph in London, UK: a shrinking world …

April 24 I haven’t worn a watch since we went into splendid isolation. I’m not sure why I decided not to wear one but I suppose as I don’t have to be anywhere it doesn’t really matter what time it is.

I am reminded of a book – Station 11 by Emily St John Mendel. A fictional account of a world pandemic – will re-read it to see if it’s still as good and what with Bill Gates Ted talk in 2015, we may have an insight into our future …

 Everybody’s world is shrinking so much and that’s the thing that is so frustrating. So the irritation stakes are getting higher … immediately the thought of home schooling my boys whilst holding down a job kicks me out of it. I’m reminded of when I was doing an MA. I worked full time, had 3 teenagers and was a single mother. Assignment time was a nightmare and often I’d work til 4 or 5 in the morning trying to get it all done.

I must remind son number 2 of his comments then—- “Mum, you’re a lousy role model working all night to get your essays done” wonder what he thinks now as he juggles his job and 2 teenagers , who would be quite happy being glued to their devices til the end of lockdown…

Rumours abound about the over 70 being kept in lockdown for the foreseeable future– that’s the end of the House of Lords then- in one swoop …the House of Commons being left for the boys (and too few girls)

Getting exercised about being locked down, semi-locked down or isolated for the foreseeable future. Does it come from an underlying cynicism about the government’s ability to sensibly sort this out, get testing both before and after the norm or just being news weary?

 The complexities of getting the economy up and running must have a quid pro quo element – will Boris be his usual gung-ho self or be more circumspect when deciding what to do when? Will the economists and scientists be able to reach a compromise?

In our new reality world, we took delivery of 3 tons of top soil for the garden, which caused so much excitement … I’d better go and put it into the raised beds.

And my daughter-in-law hits 50 this week. A House Party instead of a real party and real celebrations when we can. We sent a video of us washing our hands to Happy Birthday to you!

from Steph in London, UK: will all be well?

April 16. I was in the garden this morning and a heron flew over followed by 4 ducks, who landed on a neighbour’s roof. If this wasn’t North London, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid but I wonder what our wild life make of the new world. The owl still hoots at night and the woodpecker seems to have taken up residence close by.  The rather handsome fox still walks across the garden at about 6 am every morning- either going home or going out … I have yet to find out. The lack of airplane noise gives us a clarity of sound I can’t remember having unless we were in the Lake District or Scotland or Wales. And I can see the stars…

My confidence that all will be well is waning fast. Lockdown or not, life for the foreseeable future looks more than restrictive and I can’t see being able to be spontaneous with travel, socialising and everything we took for granted a mere few months ago. Instead of thinking weeks then months I’m beginning to think in blocks of 6-12 months … And what little confidence I have in our political masters has once again hit the ground. No PPE, not enough testing kits in the right places, not enough access to the testing kits at all, a complete disregard for the care sector and boys trying to play at being men..I wonder if a more experienced government would be doing  it better or whether it’s so far out of left field everybody would be  floundering… but why are Germany, New Zealand etc etc coping…… surely not as simple as only a woman leader?

Having always been ‘doers’ this new enforced passivity does not sit well on our shoulders- or those of most of the people we know of our vintage. From being proactive, useful members of our communities and beyond, we have all been consigned to the at risk group and as such to the keep quiet and wait for the next instruction. We’ve even been taken off the street litter rota –  I hate being categorised. Perhaps that’s why Captain Tom Moore has hit such a nerve with everyone.

I might suggest I cycle (on the machine) to Manchester to see the grandchildren up there, for no particular reason than ‘why not’ and probably if I could admit it, to prove we are not totally useless. I’m still thinking …

from Steph Gold in London, a poem by Pam Ayres

I’m normally a social girl
I love to meet my mates
But lately with the virus here
We can’t go out the gates.
You see, we are the ‘oldies’ now
We need to stay inside
If they haven’t seen us for a while
They’ll think we’ve upped and died.
They’ll never know the things we did
Before we got this old
There wasn’t any Facebook
So not everything was told.
We may seem sweet old ladies
Who would never be uncouth
But we grew up in the 60s –
If you only knew the truth!
There was sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll
The pill and miniskirts
We smoked, we drank, we partied
And were quite outrageous flirts.
Then we settled down, got married
And turned into someone’s mum,
Somebody’s wife, then nana,
Who on earth did we become?
We didn’t mind the change of pace
Because our lives were full
But to bury us before we’re dead
Is like a red rag to a bull!
So here you find me stuck inside
For 4 weeks, maybe more
I finally found myself again
Then I had to close the door!
It didnt really bother me
I’d while away the hour
I’d bake for all the family
But I’ve got no flaming flour!
Now Netflix is just wonderful
I like a gutsy thriller
I’m swooning over Idris
Or some random sexy killer.
At least I’ve got a stash of booze
For when I’m being idle
There’s wine and whiskey, even gin
If I’m feeling suicidal!
So let’s all drink to lockdown
To recovery and health
And hope this awful virus
Doesn’t decimate our wealth.
We’ll all get through the crisis
And be back to join our mates
Just hoping I’m not far too wide
To fit through the flaming gates!

from Steph G in London, UK: 2 weddings, a funeral and Passover …

April 9. We’ve just had a week of contrast- 2 weddings and a funeral and Passover- all completely governed by the Covid 19 situation. As far as the weddings go, I just hope everyone can get into their good clothes next year.

The funeral was tragic. A cousin died in Leeds (not Covid related). His 2 sons were self isolating in the South and couldn’t attend. The mourning prayers were held remotely – around 50 people signing on to take part. It was surreal and threw up more questions – do you stand when you would normally? It actually felt a bit voyeuristic watching everybody but in the circumstances this was one way to say goodbye.

Passover, on the other hand was almost as chaotic as normal except in 6 different households at once. At least the washing up was manageable. I wonder how the very orthodox are coming to terms with the constraints that we have now? Similarly, with Easter and Ramadan – perhaps it will change religious observances for ever?

Today, was the first time I heard stats on survival and not the death stats. We become more and more cynical about the news we are being fed- from Boris’ condition to the NHS ability to cope and any exit strategy, or not.

from Steph G in London, UK: Shopping online and NHS Staff concerns

April 7. The bad news- a pal fell and broke her ankle about 6 weeks ago. The good news- she had the foresight to book Waitrose orders for the following 10/12 weeks. All she had to do was order over £60 worth of goods upfront … In a stroke of genius, she ordered a £60 bottle of champagne for every delivery and is changing it weekly for her essentials! (Or that’s what she’s saying)

Buying on line regularly still has that anxiety making element. I managed to get onto Ocado – I was only 14,760 in the queue … a  2 hours wait. It wasn’t but when I finally got to the front it felt as if I’d won the lottery and all sense disappeared. I couldn’t concentrate on one  “aisle” at a time and consequently, when it was all delivered I had 3 kg of sweet potatoes (sorry to everyone if you couldn’t get any this week). I’d really like to know how a once lucid calm operator becomes crazy when given the chance to shop online.

The other question I can’t answer is for how long will this new way of living will feel like a novelty and when will it feel like an attack on our freedoms … but our bubble is more than ok. I worry more for those who are stuck in flats with job worries and young children.

I worry about the NHS staff – my daughter in law told me she was told to move the paediatric clinics to the ward area so the rest of the hospital could have the space for coronavirus patients. The organisation took a week and wards were altered to make it happen. The morning of the changeover she was told that it wasn’t going to happen and instead the paediatric wards were being partitioned down the middle for adult patients. Normally a stoic, she quietly said she still had very sick children to look after. The pressure on them all must be overwhelming.

Apparently, over 24 million watched the Queen on Sunday …

from Steph in London: the world has turned upside down.

April 3. Lying in bed reading in the morning – can’t remember when I last did that. The world has turned upside down yet I hope beyond hope that this could be the start of a more healthy, compassionate society that we had sadly lost. In the meantime, my partner, Anne, and I start again with living in the new world, worrying if what we are being told is the truth. My daughter-in-law, a consultant paediatrician in the north tells us tales of no equipment, planning for the as and when and the constant threat of actually getting sick too and infecting others …

Being under house arrest Is simple in comparison – all we have to do is stay away from everyone and not get sick … we veer between being gung ho and we’ll be ok, to wiping every surface with bleach, diluted so as not to run out … and worrying that we get sick and become a burden … would prefer to stay gung ho please …

Our Ladies-who-Lunch group met yesterday on ‘Houseparty’. It was a hysterical half hour- 7 of us aged between 70 and 80 comparing notes. After everybody’s health the one recurring theme was hair- how will we get it cut ( do we trust our husbands and partners to do it? ) and even more importantly for those who are dependant on the bottle to ensure everlasting youth- how long will it take to grow our and what colour is it really? I have visions of our next trip out being a revelation. I bet hairdressers all over the country are quaking at the thought of no more colourings …

Domesticity was not far behind hair – ironing and cleaning … a long-forgotten pastime for some … I have decided to do what I did when the children were small – hope that by the time I got to the bottom of the basket we will have grown out of the clothes so will negate any need to iron! Problem solved unless, of course we are so large we need new clothes. Why is it that when we are home we have elevensies with cake or a biscuit? We don’t when life is normal. Bet the psychologists will have something to say.

There is an eerie calmness along the street and our new communication channels via most things electronic has taken over. Somehow, it’s more exhausting than just sitting chatting but exciting nevertheless. The world happenings seem so huge and out of control the only thing we can do is look local and hope the internet bandwidth holds its nerve …

My thinking is gradually changing and instead of thinking (and hoping) this is just a short interlude I am beginning to re-order my habits of a lifetime. So far, the changes …

  1. Having to think what we really need to buy instead of wandering round the aisles choosing stuff.
  2. Then wondering how we actually get things. Fortunately, my son is close and is shopping between work sessions. But not sure ginger, avocados and Garam masala are essential.
  3. Preparing meals from scratch instead of looking in fridge and winging it …
  4. Really appreciating friends and family and telling them so too …
  5. Being eternally grateful my children are grown up and they are the ones dealing with home schooling, maybe for months and months …

I need to get involved in something other than garden planning and perhaps now is the time to learn another language, or, or!