Tuesday, 19 May 2020
I cannot say I have joined the masses who are filling their time following Joe Wicks nor watching box sets. For me it’s more like being the mother of a new-born - countless half cups of tea await me when I do finally sit down.
If Richard had more stamina he’d be up doing morning tea, bringing me breakfast in bed, hoovering, feeding the cat and taking the car to the co-op to do the shopping for the next couple of days. I would have time to do the washing, the finer points of cleaning in the bathrooms and kitchen and potting up in the garden. I would have time for tea and time to sit and read a paper. And editing, critiquing and enjoying fiction.
But, now, my mornings, in particular, start early and there is rarely breakfast in bed. Sometimes our enthusiastic cat wakes me at six a.m. by sitting on my head, crying loudly in my ear, rubbing himself against my face or simply landing on me and rolling around with a loud purr. Whatever behaviour he manifests the importunate beast gets his way and I stagger down to the kitchen to part fill his bowl with whiskas while I rapidly make myself a cup of tea before he wants a top up of Sheba.
If I’m lucky I get to listen to Today - which is a joy now the misery Humphreys has left. When I’m more awake I disinfect door handles, front door knocker, letter box and lock. I spray Flash on the bannister rail, taps, loo handles, light switches, cooker, washing machine and dishwasher controls, cupboards, fridge and freezer door handles. Finally I disinfect the necessary ie the loos.
If the cat is content I make myself breakfast, unload the dishwasher, put out or check any washing on the line, hoover and dust. Then I check on Richard. If he’s awake he’s ready to have his bowl of soap ( not soup) and hot water to wash his hands for the regulation twenty seconds. Then he has an orange or cereal and his meds. He usually has water but often I make him tea which he’ll sip and leave until he’s ready to drink half a mug. Meanwhile I disinfect the ensuite and make him his sachet if he feels the ravages of prostate cancer treatment are making him feel constipated. This, now, is only occasional. Usually he’ll sleep until midday. He has post-surgery depression, PTSD, psychosis and anxiety. Exactly the issues now confronting covid-19 patients who have undergone endless, frightening days on ventilators and a lack of family contact. I’d never heard of post-hospital PTSD, depression, psychosis and anxiety until Richard suffered from it in the autumn. Now it seems to be in the daily headlines. I also understand cancer patients suffer similar post -hospitalisation depression and anxiety. Others who have had prolonged treatments have said while they may have physically overcome procedures their mental health took a long time to stabilise.
This situation requires that I carry the label ‘carer’. Carer in my case means the following: checking that Richard eats well, takes his meds, stays hygienic and has some stimulation which, for him, is usually in the evenings. It also means I get to do everything around the house and garden.
Richard is still very quick at answering questions on early evening tv quizzes and at University Challenge. He’ll cook most evenings, now, and will cut the lawn, deal with the bloody recycling, sweep the stairs and is just beginning, again, to follow life-drawing classes. He engages with Grayson Perry’s inclusive art series and loves BBC 4 programmes. (Please don’t take BBC4 away! ) But in lockdown I can’t provide the social interaction he needs to be fully part of society again. Now our small local shop has closed - since lockdown - he doesn’t go there for milk and a chat and he can’t get a drink nor mix in the pub or in our local brasserie. All these interactions would help him overcome anxiety and depression. Thankfully the psychosis seems less troublesome now.
We are entering the warm months of the year and I can spend hours weeding, watering and digging the garden. I put in this year’s broad beans and potatoes, for Richard. The French beans have just gone into their planting spaces after ten days’ hardening off. The courgette seedlings have got through a whole night outside but under cover. They are five days behind the beans and aren’t fully hardened off yet but are leaping out of their pots.The tomato plants are eager to go out too but not full time yet.
When I’ve finished my morning’s gardening I’ll deal with the post, disinfecting it first, choose what to serve for lunch and prep an evening meal unless Richard seems eager to do so. There are endless things to arrange eg house insurance, boiler breakdown cover, Richard’s medical appointments and procedures, organising workmen - within social distancing rules - contacting friends, family and neighbours and so on.
But the area that has dominated my life since lockdown has been shopping. Because I can’t drive and Richard is advised not to until he’s more alert ( an overused term now, surely) the big weekly shop is out. We rely on deliveries. To my pleasure Sainsburys sent us a ‘you are priority’ email, which was great, at the start of lockdown. But that was a short-lived joy. We couldn’t book another delivery slot for five weeks. Thankfully our local WhatsApp group recommended a foodies heavenly farm shop which also sells and delivers household items like washing up liquid. But I also had to get deliveries from Superdrug and Holland & Barrett for shampoo, gluten-free ingredients and sugar-free items. Neighbours have been shopping for me too. It’s been a lifeline. And, when you consider Richard has shopped and cooked for me for forty years, you’ll see what a change this has been for me. But we prevail.
Sainsburys delivery slots are, tentatively, improving. The driver yesterday said they were recruiting from agencies and working round the clock to get deliveries out to households. I didn’t have the heart to question why there were no eggs in my shopping. No eggs!!
After a big shop has arrived at our doorstep I wash every item to ensure covid-19 isn’t lodged in our household and put them to drain on cloths, ensuring chilled and frozen food get into the fridges and freezer first.
It takes ninety minutes to put all my shopping away, to wash the cloths, bags and floors that have been in contact with the outside world and finally to wash my hands thoroughly and strip out of my possibly contaminated clothes.
Sounds neurotic? You bet. But if I got covid-19 Richard wouldn’t cope in the mornings. I would be in bed, ill, desperately in need of a drink but he’d be far away in the land of medicated nod. If he contracted the virus he’d have a set back mentally and would become even more anxious and confused. I truly can’t take risks.
I’m not bored. I don’t have the time or energy for it. Until Richard is well and driving I am a domestic goddess. Or a maid of all works. Take your pick! I’m busy, that’s certainly true.
Where do I fit in reading, editing, critiquing, virtual pub quizzes and zoom calls? My regime is a bit like working full time, but without the social interaction nor the traffic jams. Time to get bored? Time to watch box sets? Time to follow Joe Wicks? Erm ... that’s for others. Meanwhile I’m keeping house and home as intact and functional as I can manage. And I have lots of early nights! I just about managed to write this as we don’t have medical appointments today.
Will life return to normal? What is normal? And would I recognise it? I don’t have time to ponder such things for long!
STAY SAFE EVERYONE
Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Many weeks ago, when my marathon runner friend, just turned seventy, went into self-imposed lockdown for twelve weeks I thought he wouldn’t cope. After all, ever since he turned 16, he’s done a daily run. And when he said people near him weren’t keeping their social distance and he had two freezers full of food I knew he was taking the c-virus risk to his health very seriously. However I had to laugh when he said neighbours were supplying him with milk and oranges but none had arrived. I told him he was more likely to die of thirst than c-virus. Needless to say the milk was delivered and eight weeks later he’s still keeping fit running upstairs in a timed workout.
Now he says he’s had an argument with neighbours. I’m surprised as he’s so mild-mannered but he hates the fact they are not adhering to social distancing.
Where he and I have agreed all along is that our government’s response has been too slow to react to the c-virus risk, too slow to take up offers of manufacture of visors and PPE in the early days of infection in the UK, too slow to test, track and trace and that it would be the poorest who became victim as we are run on such outdated social class groupings in the UK now. We both agree Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Merkle and Jacinda Ardern have got the right idea and how Germany, having a scientist at the helm, has cracked the disease as far as is humanly possible.
We both agree that we will still be staying home as the easing of lockdown in England is far too early and that people may not show respect for social distancing if they sense they can relax their behaviours. I won’t repeat what we both said about our government.
My runner and I speak on the phone every other day. We discuss scientific know-how - such as the need for test, track, trace but also the need for retest. We agree that tests sent direct to homes would be safest.
But where we differ is that he manages to keep his weight down whereas I am putting on the pounds. I do have a fitness regime but I know I need to walk. My marathon runner gets his steps in on his stairs. Could I manage 9000 steps a day on our stairs? I doubt it.
At first, back in March and early April, I was going out. I was joining short queues and doing the shopping. I always took my hand sanitiser and my mask in case of difficulties.
But I realised that if I became sick my husband couldn’t look after me as he is suffering from post-surgery depression. I decided to agree with my marathon runner that staying in was best. And I have had excellent support from neighbours, a WhatsApp support group, AgeUK and Compassionate Care. Not because of my needs but because my husband needs a carer for at least up until 2 pm on most days. The only real hitch has been the lack of regular Sainsbury deliveries but that has eased slightly. And the excellent WhatsApp support group has recommended a truly good farm shop delivery service which has lots of deliveries as they were supplying caterers, BandBs and hotels.
What chills me is the tale of our family builder and how quickly his wife succumbed to the virus after she stood in a queue and was coughed over by someone who said they thought they had the virus.
She’s now in a coma, on a ventilator and can just about blink.
After a few days in critical care she had to go into intensive care - needing a tracheostomy and ventilation. She is now being gradually brought out of the coma after 25 days and is beginning to make some movement so is improving.
It’s so frightening when it’s someone you know. And my marathan runner was right. If people don’t keep their distance and cough over you the virus becomes a real, real threat.
It’s simply best not to get too close to anyone. As so few of us have been tested
we don’t know who among us is asympomatic and who may be a carrier. I am staying in, apart from collecting necessities - this week in the form of tomato plants, and medicines. Tomato plants are my husband’s hobby and it may help him. The walk to collect them will do me good as I need to shed the pounds but I will wear my mask. And next week I’ll have to eat less and exercise more.
I am lucky to have a large house where my ailing husband can have his own bathroom, towels etc and we aren’t on top of each other, getting on each other’s nerves. We are lucky enough to have a large garden and plenty to keep me physically fit and psychologically distracted from the threat. I am lucky to have such helpful neighbours and friends.
Why, then, am I waking so early in the mornings and thereby feeling knackered mid-afternoon? Is it the bright light piercing the bedroom drapes? Is it having lists of things to do in my head making me hyper-vigilant? Is it because I’m not doing any swimming and I have excess energy? Is it anxiety? Is it because the temperatures have dropped and my bladder knows it? Is it because I know I need to ring the pharmacy for Richard’s repeat prescription? Is it because we have a delivery most days and I have to be up and awake for that?Or a mixture of all of the above?
I wish I could sleep longer. Most of all I wish my husband was well and we knew who, outside our front door, had had the virus and who was immune. We have a right to feel safe.
It’s a fine balance. And every man, woman and child for themselves.
Tuesday, 5 May 2020
It has been an eye-opening and demanding half year for me. On September 23rd last year Richard had a psychotic episode. It followed a series of surgical procedures and medical appointments which resulted in his anxiety going overboard. By December, despite family visiting and helping out over four extended stays with us, and Richard making a journey with them to Cornwall to give me a break, his psychiatrist declared that the meds he was on had no more useful job to do. He was not getting substantially better.
For the month up to Twelfth Night I grappled with a new medication regime that changed weekly. Thank goodness we weren’t in lockdown then. The strain, after three and a half months of Richard’s anxiety and depression and the added burden of being his cook, housekeeper, nurse and carer, would have been too much if I’d had to queue in the cold outside our pharmacy, every week, for a different batch of pills.
Gradually, during January and February, the low time of the year, Richard began cooking and painting again. By March 14th - my birthday - he was confident about travelling to Devon. He enjoyed my birthday treats in a lovely hotel by the sea front. We met friends, had a smashing time, enjoyed birthday cake and did some shopping on the way back to Bath. Back then we felt some of the reports of the effects of covid-19 seemed OTT but we religiously washed our hands, easy when it is your birthday and you can happily sing two verses of ‘Happy birthday to you.’ Except I was singing ‘...to me’ for the statutory twenty seconds.
At that time there was no social distancing and no wearing of masks. But we knew the virus was coming.
And Richard’s treatment was working. He was going to our local shop, the pharmacy, to see friends and to GP appointments. And on his own.
The local shop shut without warning.
The pharmacy and surgery introduced distancing and familiar faces became alien in masks and visors.
Richard took to his bed. His anxiety resurfaced. His progress retreated. All that was good for him - mixing, enjoying going to the pub, shopping locally - were denied him. He didn’t want to go out. He stopped cooking, painting and taking an interest in the garden. I wrote to Boris Johnson about the effects on the mental health of the over-seventies in enforced lockdown. I have received no reply. I tweeted that we needed a public inquiry into this government’s handling of the crisis in the UK. That was in the second half of March. Now the cry for a public inquiry makes the headlines in tomorrow’s newspapers.
And now, on May 6th, our country’s death rate from covid-19 is the highest in Europe. We still don’t have a substantial testing, track and trace system in place. Mutterings about Brexit and coming out of lockdown are happening alongside our worst national crisis for many decades and internationally we are beyond a joke as a nation.
Meanwhile Richard has mown the lawn and cooked. He hasn’t restarted his painting but he sold a few of his fine art cards from our gate - at a distance - at the weekend.
When I watch ‘The King’s Speech’ and scenes of Queen Elizabeth comforting King George VI around the time of the abdication it shows how strong a wife can be for a man who fears for his role in life. When Richard had to go to hospital for a routine check - during lockdown - he said he was terrified. He had a very kindly driver from AgeUK who looked after him.
In fact going to see a nurse on his own gave him some confidence and his hours in bed have substantially decreased since then. ( I had a bad bout of hayfever and couldn’t accompany him.) I rang him several times during his hospital visit to check he didn’t feel overwhelmed, ensured he had his medical notes, wore his mask and gloves, used his sanitiser and took a bottle of water. I was caring at a distance but caring nonetheless.
George VI must have felt terror trying to give a speech as King back in 1937. But he had a caring wife. I don’t like being called a ‘carer’ but in order for Richard to get over his anxiety and depression I do need to support him. In lockdown who else is there? At least we don’t have a press or public making demands of us and we can live quietly, unlike the Royals.
And bravery plays its part.
If I’m a carer I wonder how our government has been caring in the recent and more distant past for its people. Ten years of austerity, running down the NHS, the boasting of Brexit as a cure for our ills and unpreparedness for the pandemic have led to a divided country. The poorest are dying. Isn’t it time we got rid of class distinction in the UK? It does not serve our care workers who are paid and trained badly. They are poorly equipped against covid-19. 70,000 civilian deaths occurred in the UK during the six years of World War 2. 30,000 deaths have occurred in approximately two months from covid-19. This is shocking by anyone’s standards.
Who is doing the caring in our government? Who cares about our people? Who cares for the carers?
Thursday, 16 April 2020
After a frenetic few days organising cat food deliveries, farm shop groceries, arranging flowers to be purchased for our wedding anniversary, planning Easter goodies, painting the garden shed and fence panels I am having a couple of days R & R.
At the top of our house we have a light, bright guest room where not even the internet penetrates. No sky+ box installation leaves the room removed from tv adverts, news bulletins and the general hum of live broadcasts.
Opposite me are my father’s tomes from his days in WW2. He served in signals in the eighth army under Field Marshall Montgomery. Three titles stare out at me ‘Monty’, ‘Monty’, ‘Monty’. My father was always safe in the war as he was in armoured cars with a driver. But at the end of hostilities, in their swing round to Berlin, they were diverted to Belsen. He was part of the liberating army.
My jumpiness about when the next food delivery slot will appear in this time of corona is nothing to the dreadful sites he must have witnessed. He recalled people had been reduced to rag dolls. All muscle tone gone. Too weak to move, and like a child carrying an unanimated toy, each dying body had to be lifted gently by a serving soldier to a quiet place as their spirit left this earth. Dad never mentioned the stench, the smell of death, just the face masks and DDT. And his hatred of racism.
After the war dad took his degree, deferred through war service, but succumbed to pneumonia when he started his MA. He’d always had weak lungs and after serving in the big arenas: El Alamein, Salerno, D-Day and encountering Belsen, doing an MA on top of an active mind but a weary body pushed him too far. He never finished his Masters. I have two. An M.Ed. and an M.A. One of them is for dad.
Today I am resting. The cat has been fed and I will make brunch when I feel more like being active in the kitchen. We have a treat in store. The Fine Cheese Company is a lovely band of people who are delivering their goodies this afternoon: the basics - milk, artisan bread, butter, cheese and crackers but they also have a chef from Hyderabad to delight us with his paneer tikka masala.
Unlike the poor souls who suffered in the war or, today, are sick from c-virus or overwrought from loss of earnings or enforced self-isolation, I can relax. From our light, bright guest room I can see a horse chestnut in full leaf, a luminous, pale blue sky and next door’s chimney pot. Someone, somewhere has work. I can hear birds in the trees and, sporadically, the sound of a power saw cutting through timber.
Evita, the dog next door, has just been let out and is now whimpering to be let in. Our cat hardly ever whimpers but even he, with his panther-like grip, pushed open the sitting room door when I came upstairs with my morning cuppa. He didn’t want to be on his own. But I closed the door on him.
I wonder how long it will be before he discovers the roof tops once more and climbs through the window in the guest room. He can be strangely affectionate and, when he decides, he likes company. Most of the time he is like Greta Garbo and wants to be alone. Self-isolation is no hardship. Providing, like me, he gets his food.
In the guest room sunlight is glinting on old jade-coloured glass bottles unearthed by a detectorist decades ago. Next to it, on an apple-green wooden window ledge, sits an emerald glass sea horse. It was given to me when I was twenty-one by my school friend. I wonder what has happened to her.
All I have to decide, now, is when I will take up position on the sun lounger and do some reading. Self-isolation, while we have space, food and beautiful weather can be a time of peace, for some. Let’s try to remember those who are less lucky.
Wednesday, 15 April 2020
If the last four weeks have taught me anything it’s that relying on grocery deliveries seems an easy option but that reliance can, in reality, be anything but straightforward.
After lockdown owing to the c-virus pandemic I was advised to stay home. My husband is unwell with an unrelated condition. But if I’d carried on shopping as I was, in queues, outside and inside the stores, I was risking picking up corona virus.
Supposing I got sick my husband couldn’t look after me and he’d be very likely to catch it as I have to be his carer - at least in the mornings. Instead of going out and shopping, therefore, I exercise indoors, do the garden and all the cleaning and prep our food.
Three weeks ago Sainsburys sent me an email saying we had priority booking for a delivery slot. That was a huge relief and I duly placed my order. Since then nothing. Absolutely no delivery slots for us for the foreseeable future. We had another delivery booked with Asda and that was great but Waitrose, Morrisons and Tesco have offered nothing. And now Asda slots have all gone too.
Thankfully I have extremely supportive neighbours who get what we need when they are out shopping but my waking hours seem preoccupied with placing grocery orders, emailing local butchers and greengrocers, waiting for a cheese shop, market stall holder or wholefoods shop to get back me, waiting for a delivery, paying by BACs, ordering from farm shops, finding delivery slots and planning when our next big online shop should be.
I’m sure in the panic buying of a few weeks ago folk must have purchased huge fridge freezers otherwise where could they possibly have stored their bulk purchases? Perhaps they have large kitchens and garages too. We have none of those. We do have two under counter fridges and a mini fridge plus a freezer but no extra storage space. Planning where to store our groceries, ensuring we eat the longest-stored items first and making space for a new order requires a spreadsheet! I have a chart where goods are listed and tallied then crossed out when cooked and used. My greatest fear is running out of, say, milk, Fage Greek yogurt or blueberries, porridge oats, fishcakes and vegetables. The basics.
But then we also need cat food, washing up liquid, bin bags and yes ... loo roll, and that other rarity: flour and yeast. If I can’t go out food has to come to me. If there isn’t an available delivery slot what to do?
During the second world war Churchill wasn’t as scared of the Luftwaffe, the German army or Rommel as he was of the
principal strategy of the enemy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The German tactic was to attack shipping bound for Britain to restrict British industry. The nation would be left starving if food didn’t get through, forcing the UK into submission. Foods were mostly imported into the UK and to our allies from the USA and Canada - crossing the Atlantic.
In 1942 The Combined Food Board was set up by the UK and the USA to help get food to the Allies. Churchill feared enemy U boats more than any other tactic the Germans could use against us.
I quote from Wikipedia:
As a small island country, the United Kingdom was highly dependent on imported goods. Britain required more than a million tons of imported material per week in order to survive and fight. In essence, the Battle of the Atlantic involved a tonnage war: the Allied struggle to supply Britain and the Axis attempt to stem the flow of merchant shipping that enabled Britain to keep fighting. From 1942 onward the Axis also sought to prevent the build-up of Allied supplies and equipment in the British Isles in preparation for the invasion of occupied Europe. The defeat of the U-boat threat was a prerequisite for pushing back the Axis in Western Europe.
Food or starvation. Victory or defeat. Atlantic convoy or the U-boats. This constant worry was Churchill’s greatest fear.
The securing of food delivery for me, now in 2020, is one of the stresses of the c-virus pandemic. We are lucky enough to live in a large house so that in lockdown we aren’t on top of each other. Our neighbours couldn’t be more helpful, the weather is lovely and we have a large garden to relax in and to work on. We are not cramped, short of money nor space but our little local shop has shut for the month and we can’t just ‘pop out for milk’. And that uncertainty of milk supply is a stressor.
Every meal, food order, space in our fridge, freezer and cupboards has to be planned and noted. Never have so many thoughts of food penetrated my waking hours so deeply. As soon as I find one outlet who will do a delivery any subsequent slots are quickly gobbled up by other hungry households. Then I have to find another store to take my order, my payment, my address and make a delivery date.
Thankfully we have local butchers, greengrocers, brasserie and pub who are all delivering here. But we can only buy what they offer. It’s not the same as doing your own shopping.
We won’t go hungry but heaven help you if you have special dietary requirements. Of course it’s quite right that essential workers and the very vulnerable have easy access to groceries. I am fit enough to walk to shops. But I can’t drive, tut, tut, which means shopping daily - more often than our government would like. Am I vulnerable, caught in the middle, over-thinking it or worrying unnecessarily? The lack of Sainsbury delivery slots has shaken me somewhat. The old familiar ways are gone, temporarily at least.
Adapt and survive. It’s been a changing world since covid-19 made its first attack.
Hunger, weaken then surrender. A war of attrition. That was Churchill’s greatest fear.
Sunday, 12 April 2020
It was four weeks ago today that we sat eating birthday cake, went for a swim, clinked glasses of fizz and mixed with guests in a swanky hotel on the Jurassic Coast. Our friend, who lives in Devon, presented me with a huge bunch of birthday roses. My sister-in-law agreed with me that the lockdown practices in China seemed OTT. My brother, our driver, relaxed on the huge sofa in the hotel lounge and supped Peroni with my husband who was fighting post-surgery depression. And he was chatting and improving the more he mixed and got out and about.
After we’d filled up with a sea food platter and chef’s chocolate cake, specially ordered, we sang ‘When I’m 64’, my roses were taken to the hotel’s cool room and we all went for a jolly walk on the prom.
I remember my hands were raw from the twenty-second washing routines as, back then - March 14, the breeze was cool, our fingers were chilled and we needed scarves and coats for a walk by the sea.
Now, in the small hours of April 13th, our worlds have shut down. My husband has retreated, like a crab into its shell, into depression. My sister-in-law is working from home and my rose-yielding friend - a marathon runner who can barely sit still, has vowed to stay in his house for three months. He didn’t mention that at my birthday do. But he must have been planning it. He thought my idea of going for a swim was risky. I thought he was over-cautious.
I don’t now.
I have failed to secure a supermarket delivery for the foreseeable future. Thank goodness I stocked up very well at the farm shop on the way back from Devon and with my subsequent Asda and Sainsburys orders.
Despite my husband being classed as vulnerable and myself as a carer, despite being emailed ‘You are a priority shopper please book your delivery slot now’ there are no more slots to be had. I am, therefore, following the advice of my super-helpful local WhatsApp group and using smaller shops for my deliveries. One farm shop will deliver a veg box, a salad box, a fruit box, a chicken or meat box, blueberries, chocolate, flour...yes flour, yeast, butter, eggs, milk, muesli, latex gloves and black bin bags.Even toilet roll but, strangely, no kitchen roll.
And they are delivering on the day I want.
A market petstall owner has just texted me, at midnight on Easter Day, note bene, that he can deliver Whiskas Delight for our fussy cat plus Gourmet tins of expensive food for our biting, clawing, semi-feral feline. Another shop on the other side of Bath can put together a smaller order of fruit, milk, eggs and bread to tide me over until my big farm shop delivery arrives. And next door have shut down their brasserie and given us left over cheese, tomatoes, lemons while they fill in copious forms to get some money back from the government. Their staff are furloughed and our tiny corner shop has shut for a month, maybe for ever. No dashing out for a pint of milk, washing up liquid or packet of biscuits now. Everything has to be planned and ordered.
Kind friends and neighbours will add milk, bread, chocolate, kitchen roll, laundry liquid, stamps...yes they found some, and cat food to their orders for me. An even kinder person, who has become my helper since lockdown, brings me her homemade ice cream. She even trudged up the hill from town for me with 4 bottles of screw-top Prosecco Frizzante and tins of red kidney beans in her backpack and a tray of bedding out plants held aloft, in the heat of the Easter weekend. On foot. After queueing. Her partner bought flowers for our wedding anniversary to ease my husband’s troubled depression. This is beyond the call of friendship. This is goodness. I pay them for the groceries, and more besides, for the effort they go to on my behalf. But this is the kindness of neighbours.
I have been advised to stay in. If I got sick Richard couldn’t cope with my illness nor would he eat well, I’m afraid, and he’d conveniently forget his meds. If he got sick the trauma of being in hospital again would set his mental state back by six months. So I am staying in. I cannot risk introducing a deadly virus into our home. Nor the disruption if we only got it in its mild form. I believe the clinically depressed can have an impaired immune system. It’s just not worth the exposure.
I have my keep-fit routine and we have a large garden to dig, plant, water, weed and feed. And I can walk out at night, when it’s really quiet, to truly stretch my legs. Richard is more like himself by midnight.
When groceries or flowers or wine are left by the door we hear the loud knock or ping on my phone. I collect the goodies from our step and I plunge it all into soapy water or spray with disinfectant. We don’t know, because of a lack of testing, who has touched all these items before they crossed our threshold and whether the handlers are passing c-virus, unwittingly, on to us.
Every morning I use cilit bang or flash to wipe over surfaces: taps, handles, the stair rails, electric plugs, switches, remote controls, knobs, dials, buttons and loo seats. Then I feed the cat, assemble Richard’s meds and something edible and light for him to take with them and a cuppa for me.
The new day starts. It feels as if it’s always been like this.
In between times I have super neighbours who will shop for me for kitchen roll, in one case, slug pellets in another, a third neighbour has bought milk and classy chocolate. But, because my rather ill husband got anxious about not getting flowers for our wedding anniversary on Easter Saturday, my new WhatsApp helpers went to Morrisons early to make our anniversary complete and my husband happy. They didn’t have to. They wanted to. And they gave us a ‘Happy Anniversary’ card. They barely know us but it doesn’t matter. These are great acts of kindness and I will make it up to them.
On top of these neighbourly acts I followed another friend’s advice and have made a small order with a totally plastics-free whole food group. They too deliver and I look forward to ‘safe’ paperbags of dishwasher powder, dried blueberries ( now I’m running low on fresh ones) more muesli, dates, sweetener, chutney, lentils, dried kidney beans, whole food snacks, dried apple rings, cocoa powder and chocolate drops. Now I can bake sugar-free flapjakes with whole rolled oats.
I have yet to find an outlet who will deliver Fage Greek Yogurt. But I’m working on it. Like the Queen of Sheba the world can come to me. I won’t be going to a smart Devon hotel, swimming and admiring the shoreline, any time soon. Since before Good Friday it’s been hot in our larger-than-average garden. I’ve painted the shed and new fence panels with Cuprinol Shades. But it was so warm yesterday, Saturday, I got dehydrated, and started seeing the flickering lights of a migraine attack. I’d gone too long without a drink of cold water.
Today it’s cooler. Greek yogurt is the only item I can’t readily get delivered. Perhaps one of my neighbours will add it to their shop. But I don’t want to push their kindness too far.
It was four weeks ago that we sat eating birthday cake looking at the view over the ocean. People were chattering and laughing in the background. The bar was full, but not heaving. And we sang
‘Will you still need me,
will you still feed me
When I’m 64?’
That was then.
Saturday, 28 March 2020
I never watch Coronation Street but it was on tv in the minutes before a programme I really wanted to see. In this time of Corona it’s funny how hitherto human behaviour can seem like a scene out of Star Trek: The Original Series. One episode had humans locked up like animals so their behaviour became snarling, biting and grabbing. Another episode was set in medieval ( England?) and lutes were playing while an amorous suitor hid behind a tree waiting for his lady. All were different types of human behaviour and in the latter, anachronistic to the 20th and 21st centuries.
I remember one of the Trek pilot episodes where some ‘humans’ had evolved not to speak through their mouths but just by transmitting words from their brains. Very advanced human evolution. But now, as I watch The Street with the sound off, I notice folk standing close and chatting to each other in The Rovers Return, stopping at each other’s front doors and shaking hands. Or sitting together in the same room. Sacre Bleu!
‘No,’ I cry. ‘You can’t do that.’
We’ve only been practising social distancing for a week. Hugs, kisses and smiles seem like human behaviour from another age. In the distant future in the film ‘Logan’s Run’, where no-one lives over the age of thirty, people exist in a bubble: a manufactured city totally enclosed from the air or the natural environment. Is this what human life becomes? Living inside our own little bubble?
There’s enough material in our current self-distancing and self-isolating behaviour to write a sci-fi novella or a morality tale of what happens when a serious virus escapes into the population. And how helpful people can become while others might be out on the make.
We’ve only been in purdah for just under a week and it might be an idea to keep a diary of thoughts, behaviours, feelings and even changes in weight, sleep patterns, eating habits and such.
There’s a wealth of scientific data just waiting to be culled for research or for the wordsmiths. It might just be a time of opportunity. Meanwhile enjoy Coronation Street or whatever brings you joy, do what you can, stay well, stay active and stay happy. But, to quote Robert Browning, the kissing has to stop.
Monday, 23 March 2020
The whispered conversations between a mother, a young woman with long blonde hair and parka, and her curly-headed daughter, made me wonder. Were they looking for the house of an elderly neighbour in need of a visit? That was what they seemed to be whispering.
Mother and child were unsmiling as I walked down our steps and into the lane.
Bright sunlight on the road shone like a mirror and made me screw up my eyes. The new, smooth tarmac looked like a skating rink. There was warmth in the sun, just right for sitting out, newspaper and glass in hand. In this time of corona admiring patio flowers and being out in the sunshine and fresh air might raise my feel-good dopamine levels. Got to enjoy your ice cream before it melts.
Two children, sitting on a blanket on the pavement’s edge, took it in turns to brush and plait each other’s hair. Did they know the world has changed? A mother, in one of the rented flats by the shop, sat on a step with a piece of chalk. Her son had no garden to play in. He marked his white cross in the grid mum had chalked for him on their concrete stair. Then it was her turn. She made a nought with her red stick of chalk. A man, on the opposite side of the road, pushed pieces of corrugated cardboard through the slats of a drain cover. I’m sure, as the world waits for the pandemic to pass this way, he had his reasons.
But it was a good day for a walk, a good day to clock up eight thousand steps, read The Observer and stay well.
People weren’t keeping their distance in our local shop, though. Perhaps things will improve. The papers hadn’t sold out, nor had the orange juice. It felt like it was going to be a good day.
But my joy quickly evaporated. Never had I seen shelves completely empty of milk. Our local shop never runs out.
A group of three elderly women, two sisters and another, quietly entered the shop. I wondered how they felt. They don’t drive, and are frail-looking, but at least they had each other.
At the counter I saw someone I knew and I sounded off about the lack of milk. Unusually for me I felt dread. Now what should I do? I needed milk. Most of us do. I don’t drink ready-made ‘Horlicks’ or hot chocolate; they are laced with sugar. And I don’t like black tea.
‘It’s all right, I have milk for you,’ said Sofroni at his busy till. He hadn’t got round to replenishing his stock. My anxiety levels dropped like I was casting off a heavy rucksack.
I walked home, clutching my four pints of skimmed. An elderly couple swerved away from me, practising their social distancing technique, as we passed in the lane. And they too talked in hushed tones. Three smokers fell out of a battered red car and stumbled towards the shop. They were already drunk. Would Sofroni serve them?
Back home purple petals had dropped from my birthday tulips and my cards, displayed on the shelf, looked crooked and surplus to requirements. The roses had flopped too. No longer cheerful, just withered and dying.
What a difference a few days can make. We’d had such a lovely time by the sea: cutting chocolate cake and singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. We were looking forward. Now I feared I couldn’t even buy milk. The world is changing and we have no vaccine against a deadly virus. I wanted to plant a flower for Mothering Sunday in ‘mum’s garden’. But it was like the Sundays of my childhood. Almost everything was shut. I was reminded of a film where Bette Davis is planting daffodils in bright sunlight but believed it had gone dark and overcast. It hadn’t. It was only her world that had lost the light. Her character in ‘Dark Victory’ was dying from a brain tumour.
But this is real, not a film. There’s a virus on the loose and we have to beat it before it beats us. But who has it? Who is immune? And who will really need a hospital bed?
I took my walk and sat out in the sun. I found another shop which sold milk. In a third store a customer did practise social distancing. I was glad of it. Queueing has to change if we are to save lives.
We are waiting and being careful, daring not to travel far nor mix. Grocery gifts and loose change are left on each other’s steps. When is the best time to shop, I ponder incessantly, and will the shelves be empty? We can’t live on takeaway pizza and curries just because they are the foods still being delivered. We may have to eat and drink what we can get, hardly whispering our fears to each other. We may have to settle for being grateful that we can still buy fresh milk.
Friday, 20 March 2020
We had a splendid weekend away. The weather was fair, the countryside was a wash of green over brown. Roadside banks and gardens on the journey south were full of sunshine-yellow daffodils. And it was my birthday. I’d already had two meals out with mates and lots of cards, flowers and chocolates. I was enjoying myself. And we’d had a girly trip to the cinema to see the truly well-castJessie Buckley in ‘Misbehaviour’. Such fun.
When we got to Devon our hotel rooms were ready even though we were two hours early. The sea view from our rooms was silver rather than bronzed but it felt good. A chocolate cake for friends and family, hand-made by chef, was ready, as promised, at four o’clock. A friend of the family brought me a handsome spray of roses and my brother, as well as driving us down to Devon after a heavy week at work, paid for lunch, the Prosecco, my birthday cake and most of the evening drinks. I was being spoilt. Richard was happy and gave me one of his own hand-made birthday cards and treated me to a fantastic pair of boots as a birthday present. He enjoyed his food, liked the company, shared in the jokes and went for an evening stroll with my family on the prom. The sea was roaring, sand sprayed and piled on the promenade and he just loved it.
Then, two days later, the antibiotics for a non-contagious infection, knocked him out and, back home, his mood changed. I made the mistake of letting him watch the news. He began to panic about corona virus, saying it couldn’t be true, the BBC news people were making it up. He got angry at the thought of self-isolation as he’s now 70. And all the progress he’s made creatively: cooking, doing his art work, helping in the garden and doing tea time quizzes on the tv evaporated. He had been diagnosed with post-surgery trauma and depression back in the autumn. Until now he had been making progress.
Yesterday he didn’t get out of bed, except for bathroom visits. He slept all day, all night and all through the night before. He was moody and wanted to be left alone. But ... he ate well. Then slept and ate and slept some more. By midnight last night he felt clammy and I kept checking he was able to wake up. At 1:30 am I fell asleep too but I was up at 6:15am. That early he didn’t want tea and, thankfully, he was no longer sweaty. Perhaps his infection and mood had passed.
At 9 am he took his antibiotic and still wanted to sleep but got up at lunchtime. By then I’d already cooked breakfast, washed up, cleaned, been out, had been to a friend’s for a brief chat, had dug the potato bed, had planted some seeds and baked sugar-free/gluten-free brownies.
But he was out of bed!
I managed to air the bedroom, change the bedding and get the bedroom hoovered while he had his lunch. In our reduced, restricted world things were looking up. And I have had such encouragement from friends and neighbours.
I managed to air the bedroom, change the bedding and get the bedroom hoovered while he had his lunch. In our reduced, restricted world things were looking up. And I have had such encouragement from friends and neighbours.
We are all going through a difficult time owing to corona. Some have lost their income, others are fearful for their aged loved ones. Some families are self-isolating and teaching lessons to their youngsters now schools are shut.
Doctors and admin staff at our surgery are almost in lockdown and are making diagnoses by telephone. The pharmacy team are run ragged. Yet people are being helpful.
One friend has so kindly ordered groceries for me on her Tesco delivery. (Other supermarkets are available - although very few have delivery slots available.) Another kind soul from our neighbourhood network knows I am a carer for a vulnerable 70 year-old. She happened to be out grocery-shopping today and valiantly called me. She’d spotted blueberries, fishcakes, whole rolled oats, juicy burgers and cherry tomatoes. The lovely lady, who only knows me through the WhatsApp local helpline, remembered what I was short of and did my shopping for me. Such kindly neighbourliness. She will have her place in heaven. Another neighbour, out shopping, found a shelf of Ecover washing liquid today. He remembered that’s what I wanted and duly brought it round. Folk don’t have to be this helpful but they are being extremely supportive in this time of corona.
I am not incapable of shopping but this week, as a carer, has been hard. No delivery vans had access to our house while our road was being resurfaced. I can’t drive and lifting heavy shopping into a trolly is sometimes too much for my ailing back. I’m so used to getting groceries delivered I wasn’t prepared for this week’s lack of delivery slots. I scraped by and got myself a slot for April 3rd. That’s a fortnight away. When I’d made my order and pressed check-out I took a deep breath. My freezer isn’t empty but one wonders whether this difficulty in getting groceries in is a sign of the times. Every man (or woman) for himself (or herself). Yes, I can join the queue at 8am with the elderly and their carers at our local Waitrose or Sainsburys but my back pain gets worse when standing still in the cold and I’d have to get a cab home. Are we allowed to use buses or any kind of public transport now? We are supposed to be socially distant, aren’t we? Sitting on a bus would seem to counteract that social distance.
Another friend has offered to take me to hunt down six bottles of Prosecco. Hardly essential shopping I hear you cry but in this time of corona we all need support. That includes something fizzy in a glass. And I’m not too proud to ask for help, nor too proud to be deeply grateful for friends and neighbours. I was feeling rather bleak yesterday but today I don’t feel I have to face it all alone.
Friendly faces, kind gestures and practical help. That’s what’s needed in the time of corona. Thank you friends!
Thursday, 19 March 2020
The Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP,
Prime Minister & First Lord of the Treasury,
10, Downing Street,
SW1A 2AA 19 March, 2020
I write in a mood beyond anger at Tory policy over the underfunding of the NHS since your party’s policy of austerity came into being. We are not all in it together, despite what Mr Osborne said. A few of your front benchers have little idea how it is to suffer medically under the NHS. Tory underfunding for provision affects my family.
Now, after years of running down NHS provision there are not enough resources for our population’s needs. I wouldn’t expect any government to prepare for a pandemic but your policy of self-isolation affects me personally.
My husband had investigative surgery last July but had to have a follow-up a few weeks later. Medically, thank goodness, he was cancer-free but came out of surgery still under the after-effects of anaesthetic and covered in blood. Clearly staff had no time for a clean up nor time to explain how to use the catheter strapped to his leg, which he was not expecting as this was not explained to him prior to surgery. He was in a state of shock for three days and nights after surgery and went without sleep during that time.
Since September he, aged 70, has been diagnosed with post-surgery trauma. This led to anxiety-psychosis and depression. If medical staff had had more time prior to and straight after surgery to explain the procedure fully to him he may not have suffered mentally.
Now, just as he is beginning to socialise your government’s anti-corona virus policy states, as he’s aged 70+, that he has to self-isolate. Exactly the WRONG thing for his recovery from psychotic depression.
I quote from Smith, Robinson and Segal (2019).
When you’re depressed, the tendency is to withdraw and isolate so that connecting to even close family members and friends can be tough.
You may feel too exhausted to talk, ashamed at your situation, or guilty for neglecting certain relationships. But this is just the depression talking. Staying connected to other people and taking part in social activities will make a world of difference in your mood and outlook.
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: October 2019, in HelpGuide.
My husband is already medically anxious. The media onslaught and confusing diktats over action re: corona virus distress him and this is setting his recovery back, as will self-isolation. I am his carer and I’m tired and angry.
Despite my best efforts to help his rehab, with a skeleton mental health team, his progress will now be impeded. I have tried to pay privately for his mental health care but was re-referred to the NHS team. I despair. I would beg you to reconsider the instruction to self-isolate owing to age. He needs to socialise for his mental health. Being stuck indoors for a number of months is a recipe for disaster.
Please can you rethink your blanket approach towards the over-70s which assumes self-isolation is the solution for their health. In my husband’s case it is not.
We are not all alike and we are not all in it together.
K N MacP
cc The Right Honourable Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health & Social Care
The Right Honourable Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath