Saturday 28 March 2020

Human behaviour: the kissing has to stop.

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

As the petals fall

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

Support in the time of corona.

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.

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

Mr Johnson

The Right Honourable Boris Johnson MP,
Prime Minister & First Lord of the Treasury,
10, Downing Street,
SW1A 2AA                                                                                               19 March, 2020

Mr Johnson,

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.

Yours sincerely,

K N MacP

cc The Right Honourable Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health & Social Care
     The Right Honourable Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath

Tuesday 17 March 2020

stop telling me to be kind!

I’m tiring of facebook urging me to be kind, that we can get through this, help the elderly (and more...)

My husband is 70, yes years older than me, and suffering from depression with some psychosis. It takes a lot of effort to keep him stable, calm and productive. But wall-wall tv news is panicking him. I realise c-virus is upsetting for everyone but depression and psychosis distort thinking. He doesn’t just look worried. The effect is that he highly exaggerates and misinterprets simple actions. For instance my throwing of unsolicited mail in the bin manifests as an act of treachery towards to him. At that point I have to talk him right down, get him to see reason and to apologise to me - whence calmness reigns once more. 

He is on hefty antibiotics too and suffering from an infection which can make him confused. While others on fb are complaining about supermarket shelves stripped of their favourite items I am dealing with a minor crisis.

Neighbours, friends and family are truly helpful. And all have said how much better Richard has been in terms of conversation and demeanour of late. They didn’t see him this morning! The thought of having his illness-led narrowed existence made even more restricted by self-isolation is panicking him. 

All the good things he was doing have gone south. He no longer cooks nor paints and he’s completely avoided digging and planting. Thank you corona virus. Our household is in chaos. And he is the elderly. He needs to get out to lift his depression. Self-isolation is a retrograde step for someone with mental illness. And all these folk urging me to ‘get through this’ have no idea how long it takes my husband to brush his teeth when his mood is as low as it was today. Get through this? try getting through breakfast! 

Thursday 12 March 2020

Swimming in the time of corona

What to do?
Go out, go for a swim, a walk and mingle? Or stay put, exercise at home and uncouple?

This is my dilemma: I need to lose weight. Two years ago I became very unfit after a slipped disc rendered me less than mobile. Result: I piled on the pounds. And it became unhealthy. 

Over the last five months I’ve been cook and housekeeper while Richard has battled post-surgery depression. He’s lost two stone and I’ve been feeding him anything I can think of to restore that weight. Result: I’ve put on half a stone. And now we have to live with the threat of coronavirus. 

Tomorrow my plan was to walk, swim, shop, lunch and do a cinema trip with a couple of friends. But today’s Cobra meeting makes corona look beyond menacing. And tonight my bladder is playing up. Swimming tomorrow may not be ideal.

However experts from Singapore - writing in February when the virus was peaking there - say that if you don’t touch too many surfaces, have a good swim then shower and wend your way swimming is both good exercise and relatively safe in the time of corona: ‘Dr E tells us it's actually one of the safer activities to partake in. Coronaviruses spread by droplets, and in a swimming pool, they're completely washed off by the sheer amount of water. We don't know yet if chlorine [can kill off the virus] until they do tests, but yes, the water will negate the effects of the virus, so there’s no harm.’( 8 Days weekly e-newsletter). 

The gym, they and others say, is simply an oven of sweat that breeds germs - so stay away - and going to the cinema is risky if you’re sitting next to someone coughing and sneezing. 

I have to make my mind up. Like so many I have to balance the risk versus the benefit - in my case - of swimming. For others do they work or stay home and video conference? What about van drivers delivering food and medicines? They have to show up for work - presumably there is little choice. Same with nurses, pharmacists, doctors, carers, cleaners, fire service personnel, police, water board and sewerage workers, bin men, parole and prison officers, shopkeepers, electricians and the gas man. To name but a few.

Until today I imagined Britain would be semi paralysed until early May but the corona effects could, I gather, affect us for the next nine weeks: which brings us to May 21st. It so happens that we are invited to a country wedding then... in a marquee... in a field... in Cornwall. Let’s hope it’s not called off. But first pitch your tent, as mum used to say.

And back to now. If I don’t sleep properly tonight I won’t feel like a swim tomorrow and a walk may do me just as much good. Above all I need my rest while Richard is recovering and I’m keeping house. Immersing myself in fresh air and spring sunlight would be good - especially after weeks of rain.

What to do?
That’s a question for most of the world’s population - their governments and the WHO - for weeks and months to come, I fear. 

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Behind lace no-one sees you scream

Martin Freeman, late of ‘Sherlock’ inter alia, has boldly made a new tv series about the ills of parenthood. The ills, mark you, not the joys. 

This approach shouldn’t be unusual broadcasting, but it is. From Facebook to tv adverts, fliers to glossy magazines images of the perfect life, for those that have everything, are projected at us on a continual basis.

Folk on holiday on distant shores post photographs of exotic ravines, sunny seasides and fantastic family gatherings on to their fb and instagram walls.

Nowhere do we witness their ordinary moments. And even less so, fatal arguments between snarring couples, babies who cry, on the hour, every hour or youngsters who keep saying, ‘Why?’ or ‘No. Shan’t’. And, since I don’t even like the shouting on ‘Eastenders’, I can see why ugly scenes, or merely the mundane,  aren’t popular fodder for our tv screens. But to have perpetual perfection thrust at us is to relegate our ordinary hours not to simple domestic comfort but to a sense of failure. This is especially so when I’m washing up or mopping the kitchen floor while others are filming kangaroo or crossing the Golden Gate bridge. It’s important to clean the floor or disinfect the loos, do the ironing or load the dishwasher, but, while others are posting shots of fantastic sunsets on social media domestic chores that I take some pride in can make me feel tired and provoke a feeling of being sorry for myself. And I’m not a pessimist nor given to low mood but after five months of my husband’s illness I am beginning to sense envy.

Today is a beautiful spring day. At nine o’clock I went to the doctor’s surgery with my husband and later did some shopping. So far, so ordinary.

But no-one knows the effort taken to achieve these necessary tasks. No-one knows how little sleep I had owing to a throbbing knee and trapped nerve in my neck. No-one knows the strength it took for me to drag us both out of bed, feed the cat, feed ourselves, run a bath for Richard and ensure he took his meds, all in a rush, just to get to the surgery on time. I had little time to open the curtains. Never before have I had a glass of prosecco at 9:00 am. I tell myself it was a painkiller. But, after a sleepless night, all I wanted to do was go back to bed. And then, of course, we waited and waited in the doctors’ surgery. The doc was running very late.

But on the way back home the sun was shining and I knew I needed to get in some exercise today. I was too late for the bus that I’d planned to take for the swimming pool but I had time to walk into the village. That is 20 minutes downhill and the same back. (I planned to get the bus back and still get in some exercise.)

Without waiting to see the return bus times I dashed out of the house with my shopping trolley and made the downhill trip to the shops. Outside the supermarket the bus stop screen showed the next return bus was eight minutes away. Great. I had time to fill my shopping trolley and get the bus back up the hill.

But, of course, there was a queue at the till. I espied an ex-colleague who is still fantastically beautiful. From the corner of my eye I noticed that her shopping basket was full of vegan foods, not cheap cheese and sausages like mine. She went straight to the head of a newly opened till while I waited behind someone buying scratch cards. And another scratch card and more cash back. I avoided my colleague’s eyes and dashed out of the shop with my full trolley only to see the bus I wanted begin its slow climb uphill. Did I sit and wait alongside a well-known homeless man at the stop for the next bus? All the while knowing the still-beautiful colleague was getting into her comfortable BMW. Or did I struggle with my heavy shopping trolley and begin the arduous journey back uphill? 

Yes, I could have screamed. The butcher’s was closed. The DIY shop had finally closed forever. The brasserie was full. As was my bladder. No escape.

Head held high I began the journey home on foot and pretended I didn’t know someone beautiful, skinny and driving an expensive car had seen me struggle with a full shopping trolley nor that I was desperate for a lift. 

When I got home I opened the drapes fully. (I hadn’t had time earlier.) The sun shone through the Breton lace panel we have hanging at the window. It was still a beautiful day. I had achieved what I’d set out to do and could have the sleep I needed. 

Martin Freeman’s ‘Breeders’ is on Sky One on March 12th. I will be watching to see how he depicts a life of frustration which continually falls short of perfection. It’s broadcast a few days before my birthday. A birthday The Beatles sang about oh so many years ago. Am I really that old? No longer twelve, listening to a smuggled-in Sergeant Pepper’s album. But more like the mother - or grandmother - of Vera, Chuck and Dave. Oh dear. Yes I am the age of some women with grandkids. Time to face up to it. And maybe mix with others my age instead of pretending I’m still a young thing. Time to stop pretending. 

I look at our calendar and the view of San Francisco which illustrates March 2020. It hangs next to the window where the spring sunshine is filtering through the Breton curtain. We were planning a long trip abroad this year. It looks unlikely to take place unless Richard gets well and can cope with travelling. The only sun I’ll enjoy will be on our patio, seen through the Breton panel hanging at our window. And behind the lace no-one sees you scream.