Home Alone

The pandemic has revealed just how many people live alone; we hear and read about well known stars and artists happily living by themselves, presumably as a lifestyle choice. Plenty of ordinary people live alone, perhaps always have done as adults, or since a parent or partner died or after divorce. Many of these are happy living by themselves, self contained. Those elderly people already restricted to home before Covid hit, are not necessarily lonely. A lady in her nineties on our library round told us she was never lonely, as long as she had the twenty books we brought her every three weeks. Of course there are many people who are lonely, young people from broken homes in tiny bedsits, old people who have no family left in the world.

None of these ‘single households’ reckoned on having a pandemic and being prisoners in their homes. Single retired people leading busy independent lives suddenly found themselves described as vulnerable. The people for whom lockdowns and the lack of access to normal activities are so hard are single parents in tiny flats, carers left to cope with disabled children or parents and partners with dementia. Their support network was suddenly pulled out from beneath them.

Being alone is not the same as being lonely. In days gone by lone people might manage a farm by themselves with the nearest humans miles away; being alone really meant that, no radio, television or internet. I can’t imagine what that would be like, but perhaps the company of their dog, farm animals and nature all around was enough. It’s a cliché, but you can be just as lonely in a big city; most of us have probably found ourselves in a new town, at a new job, knowing no one.

When we first moved here sixteen years ago Cyberspouse had a few more weeks working out his notice at Heathrow. When he left for work early on Monday morning with the kitchen flooded ( that’s another story ) I suddenly realised I had gone from a home with five people and a job at Heathrow with thousands of people – I wasn’t actually working with thousands, just moving among thousands each day – to a strange house in a place I knew no one. I wondered if I only existed in relation to other people.

I had time to get used to the idea of joining that large club, widows ( what a medical scandal it is that women are still outliving men ) and the even larger club of women living alone. After the flurry of activity and family visits we are in our second lockdown in England, so now I am officially on my own. Cyberspouse was totally dependable, unflappable and fun, so being on my own was not what I would have chosen, but if others manage to cope so will I. During 2019 we had plenty of time for trips and fun and getting everything in order. In 2020 I learnt to be a carer and the only responsible adult in the house, no more yelling for help when the computer didn’t work. I am cheating slightly, having had family to help out with the official stuff and Cyberson Two, who after doing nothing at school, is now a builder we all depend on, who can turn his hand to anything. The downside is that none of the family live nearby, but it must be hard to truly be on your own.

What else helps? Covid Comforts are what we all need and anyone who has a home and food enough to eat must be grateful. We glimpse on our television screens into the homes of news commentators or our favourite entertainers; they enjoy having the chance to chat and presumably they are coping fine with lockdown. Invisible are those folk in poverty or grieving having lost family to Covid. It may seem to me that everyone is walking around alive while Cyberspouse is not, but 53,000 is our death toll from Covid in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile in my cosy lockdown retreat I live in a nice little road with good neighbours and a garden to keep me busy. We are allowed to go to the shops for essentials and at the local shops I buy fresh flowers regularly, my lockdown treat to brighten the dark days of winter.  We can go out for exercise and use our beach huts; I can sit and chat at the beach hut with the one friend we’re allowed to meet outside. We can go out for medical reasons, so I was quite excited to go on the bus to the hospital for a blood test!   

Indoors the lifesaver is BBC Radio, it never goes off; if I can’t sleep I can listen to the World Service. During the day there is news aplenty ( too much ), but also intelligent chat, dramas, serials and music. I have a CD player so I am never without music on tap. Television may have plenty of rubbish, but also interesting or cheerful programmes to watch with dinner on my lap. Writing is absorbing, creative and vital. Photography and crafts are other creatives to focus on.

Connecting with the outside world? The good old fashioned telephone is the easiest way to chat to people, but how many of us would want to do without the internet during Covid? We can blog, Facetime, share political and lockdown jokes on Facebook, go on zoom; my only experience with zoom is the weekly quiz my daughters’ friends do, but it’s good to have something fun to focus on.

What will happen next in the world, in our own countries; will Christmas be cancelled, will those of us in the northern hemisphere cope with winter… look out for Home Alone Two.

The Game of Death – New Players

Warning: If you want to avoid the topic of death and dark humour read no further.

Covid 19 has made people think and talk about how people should die, with emphasis on not being alone, preferably with family. Covid patients in isolation have been unable to see loved ones.

In reality most of us cannot choose where to die or plan the scenario; victims of murder or major disasters certainly don’t have the luxury of dying in their own beds comforted by family. Awful circumstances such as terrorist attacks find total strangers holding the hand of a dying person, giving their death some dignity. As no one comes back to tell us, we cannot know if the surroundings and company or lack of it make any difference to their own unique internal solo journey. Celebrities often seem to have died ‘peacefully at home with their family present’ but folk lore and family tales seem to indicate that dying people often wait till the very moment loved ones pop out of the room.

Most terminally ill people will probably get the chance to opt for palliative care at home, though it can’t be guaranteed; they may need to go to hospital or a hospice eventually, but Covid has made it even more desirable to stay at home and leave hospital beds free for others. Unless everyone in your family is a medical person, carers will need help along the way or near the end; team work and various bits of equipment are required to make life easy for patient and carers. There is nothing to stop you ordering wheelchairs and all sorts on Amazon and getting next day delivery, but the National Health Service is geared up to lend what you need and the various teams helping you will be busy arranging equipment. The largest item is the hospital bed; you might die in your own home, but probably not in your own bed, however romantic that looks in films. The beds have to be plugged in and do all sorts of things. The bed and other items come with wheels and stiff pedal brakes impossible to put on or off if you are only wearing your slippers!

In the first few months of the lockdown I coped fine by myself with Cyberspouse. District nurses were trying to avoid going in any homes, but they phoned regularly with advice and to arrange some of the medications. They were ready to come out with their protective gear if necessary. Cyberspouse was happy not to have any visits, medical or otherwise, relaxing at home in the exceptionally sunny weather we had.

Later on, family help was more vital than keeping isolated and they took turns to come and stay; it was only in the last ten days that the district nurses came and arranged for Marie Curie nurses to parachute in with four visits a day. A helpful bright yellow book arrived promptly in the post. We were also glad a few times to ring the emergency numbers that had been sitting by the phone for months; night duty district nurses and 111 doctors. Marie Curie were excellent, compassionate and caring ladies and one chap. Visits rapidly increased and they made sure I had a night nurse for what turned out to be the last night, one of the few nights I was going to be by myself. They told me I was going to have wonderful Linda who had been doing the overnighter ‘forever’.

Linda arrived with a huge bag, rather like a mature Mary Poppins. I explained yet again that none of the family lived nearby, but they had all been to visit and my daughter was coming back the next day. It was a busy week in real life with two grandchildren just back in the UK and starting a new school and my daughter’s son starting school! Younger son had just got engaged. Linda was there to make sure Cyberspouse was comfortable, to organise the practicalities and make sure I didn’t miss the moment…

I later got a nice card from Marie Curie and they have rung me a few times to see how I am getting on. They are a charity well worth supporting.

Handy Home Hints

You might think your loved one is past the point of seeing the GP, but it is the GP who has to prescribe the drugs and you will have to go and sign for the ‘just in case’ controlled drugs as well as collecting various ongoing prescriptions.

It is helpful if someone in the family works for the NHS or has a friend in palliative care nursing … my daughter is a physiotherapist and had that very friend to ask for advice. She always made lists of questions and sounded professional on the phone, so we were well prepared.

After the death a doctor has to come and certify the death, either the GP or the on call ( 111 ) doctor at night. After that you must call the funeral director, but you can decide if you want them to come as soon as possible or wait a while.

Afterwards you will have to return all the drugs to a pharmacy, especially the controlled drugs, but unused needles have to be returned to the doctors’ surgery.

Darkly Funny Moments.  

The next day, Thursday, the funeral directors phoned to say they had not had the notification from our GP of the death. The on call night duty doctor had sat at the kitchen table typing into his lap top, saying ‘everything is going straight through to your doctor’s surgery’ but my writer’s mind thought ‘I have no proof he’s even been here, no piece of paper, was he actually a doctor?’ I was slightly reassured that nurse Linda knew him. When my daughter tried phoning our surgery she couldn’t get through and in the end resorted to using her internal NHS email. Luckily the information did end up in the right place.

One thing the district nurses requested unsuccessfully was a hospital bed extension, we had been expecting it for weeks. When a chap with a truck arrived at the door on Thursday morning I thought he was very quick to collect the hospital bed until he said cheerfully ‘I’ve brought the bed extension’. Poor bloke was embarrassed when I apologised that it was too late.

We had not seen much of the palliative care team from the local hospital who originally got us organised. One of the nurses had phoned the previous week saying ‘I’ll touch base with you on Friday.’ Sure enough on Friday the phone rang and she said brightly ‘Just calling to touch base’… so I had to tell her the news.  

Because of  Covid we were saved a trip to the registry office; instead I had a nice phone chat to Polly the registrar including Cyberspouse’s no funeral request. After taking most of the details she asked me my occupation. Oh oh, was I going to fail this part? I replied that I had done all sorts of things and she said ‘How would you like to be known in a hundred years?’ Well who in a hundred years would know I didn’t earn a living at it, so of course I replied  ‘A writer!’

https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/help/support/terminal-illness/preparing/what-to-expect

The Game of Death – Changing the Rules

Warning: If you want to avoid the topic of death and dark humour read no further.

Covid has completely changed the way we do funerals; whatever your faith or traditions most funerals involved an open invitation to attend, with numbers kept manageable merely by the short notice, travel involved or the health of elderly relatives. Equally important were the refreshments afterwards, whether a cup of tea back at the house or a big booze up at the deceased’s local, it was a chance to catch up with long lost relatives and reminisce about the dearly departed. At present, funerals seem very bleak.

In between the death of my mother and husband I heard of the sudden death of a friend I hadn’t seen for ages; the game of death was being played out at speed. I was sent a link for the funeral at the crematorium and logged in successfully on time. I thought I had missed it as I saw the coffin disappear through the curtains and cleaners appear to dust and spray. Crematoriums work on a strict half hourly in and out schedule; the notes with the link warned with words to the effect that if you accidentally zoomed in on the wrong funeral you must close your eyes. The one camera revealed only the backs of my friend’s mourners as they entered to Elvis Presley singing ‘Love Me Tender’. It was hard to work out who the tiny group of mourners might be until the immediate family sat down at the front; it did feel bleak. A woman introduced herself as someone official and spoke on behalf of the family, but when my friend’s son got up and spoke very amusingly and movingly the bleakness was gone. The memories came back and the official lady rounded everything up with dignified words and The Lord’s Prayer – ‘proper version’ from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Everyone filed out to more Elvis.

Cyberspouse had always been adamant he did not want a funeral. His one wish, decided years ago, was to bequeath his body to science and he had filled in all the forms. Our part was to call the hot line to Southampton University Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences as soon as possible. Once a year they have a service for families of donors so we would be doing something. Cyberspouse knew there was no guarantee of acceptance, in normal times they might have enough bodies. Plan B was cremation and we could do what we liked with his ashes! Sadly we were not surprised when it turned out Covid had wrecked Plan A; they weren’t accepting any bodies.

Two days after Cyberspouse’s death my daughter and I were at our local Co Op funeral parlour chatting to a very nice lady who was totally unfazed by our instructions for no funeral; we would have a ‘direct cremation’ with a courier delivering the ashes. A pleasant surprise was that she was composing a mini biography, tapping away at the computer as we offered snippets, so that the staff ‘caring’ for him would see a real person who had had a life. The few times I have been involved in organising funerals there always seem to be amusing moments. She said he would be dressed in a white robe; daughter and I looked at each other ‘No way!’ As he liked casual wear we agreed he should be left in the shorts and T shirt he had worn most of the hot summer.

A few weeks later I was told when the ashes would be delivered. A man in black stood on the doorstep and I could not see how he had arrived. I peeped out the window after he left and saw him open the boot of an ordinary car; the boot was full of smart grey paper carriers with large grey tubs, identical to what he had just given me – at least he wasn’t in a white van doubling up with Amazon deliveries. What will we do with the ashes? I have some ideas, but getting family together or traveling to places all seems so difficult with Covid and we have all heard stories of ashes kept on the mantlepiece…

Does it matter if you don’t have a funeral? At a funeral you can write something and read it out and you probably have flowers. I will be writing more blogs, I wrote a piece for our camera club, of which Cyberspouse had been chairman a few years ago and the house was full of flowers, more appreciated than their short life at a funeral. I have kept the flowers topped up – easier than visiting the cemetery. We had to explain to everyone there would be no funeral, but how many would have been allowed to come with the Covid situation? We carried out his wishes. Unless you own an ancestral estate you do have to get official involvement in taking care of the body of your loved one, but it seems you don’t have to have a funeral.

Dark Humour.

My mother told me that though her father died suddenly, too young, they still found themselves bursting into laughter when the funeral director left their home; he had been so ridiculously sombre and Dickensian.

When we took my uncle to arrange my aunt’s funeral the chap who showed us in was straight out of a Dickens novel, gaunt and dressed in black. But he showed us into an office to talk to an ordinary bloke who went through the plans then finished up with a flourish ‘… and this coffin comes with a special offer this week, a free shroud.’

When I got a letter back from the Co Op a few days after our visit, it came with a free book mark impregnated with flower seeds! Rather amusing considering what even this most basic of their services had cost!

The Game of Death Well Played.

When my mother planned her funeral five years ago, she could never have imagined it would be streamed live across the world, but the service itself went as well as she had planned, despite Covid. As Western Australia has dealt well with the pandemic the limit was sixty people in Mum’s own church; how many of us could summon that many people to our funeral, especially at the age of 94 when many of one’s friends have already departed. Mum was also the last of her generation in our immediate family.

On the tenth of August my daughter and I were up ready to watch the funeral on her lap top at 4am British Summer Time, 11 am in Perth. The link failed just as my sister started reading the piece I had written and reconnected in time to see my brother reading his piece. Luckily the recording worked perfectly and we were able to watch that later.

This was a warm Christian funeral with the priest who knew her well, who had been visiting her in her last weeks; a sad, but happy event. Mum had been ready to go for a while. Five weeks previously my sister thought it was the final weekend. I had already talked to her on the phone not long before, laughing and putting the world to rights. She knew I would be widowed soon and would have willingly swapped places with Cyberspouse. Having outlived my father by 24 years she had been in the same situation, also with plenty of support from the rest of the family. We laughed at her memory of the mountains of paperwork they had to sort out; carefully preserved by Dad, dating back to our arrival in Australia in 1964. Mum’s hearing and mind were in fine fettle up to the end. On the ‘last weekend’ I manged to Facetime with her and my sister, a very different experience from those forced to do that with relatives dying of Covid, isolated in intensive care.

Our mother had chosen to go into a care home five years ago and made new friends, took up knitting again and started new hobbies such as card making. She had a room with its own little terrace where everyone could visit including my sister’s dog. Recently she had to move into the higher care unit, but was still watching the evening news. The care home had Covid rules and restrictions, but never went into lockdown, Mum could still have visits. After the ‘last weekend’ Mum felt peckish and carried on for those next five weeks!

It was a sad day for staff and her friends at the care home when she finally left; two of her friends there said she was the best friend they ever had.

Silly Saturday – Cyber Shopping

If you have recently come out of isolation, albeit briefly before we’re all in lockdown again, you will have noticed that shopping is now very different. Perhaps you will look back nostalgically to those months of cyber shopping. I got an email yesterday from the Co Op ‘We have missed you, please come back.’

https://www.coop.co.uk/coronavirus/updates-on-our-delivery-service

I have been back, but they didn’t recognise me in real life; even with a mask on I am not quite the anonymous self who ordered twice a week. On line shopping with our local Co Op was fun, not at all like the big supermarket chains, more like a game. At the start you had to spend £15 to get free delivery, but could not have more than 20 items, this gradually increased to 30 items, but still delivered by scooter. There were always plenty of delivery slots and I though smugly of all those people staying up till Sunday midnight, desperate to get any slot with Tesco or Sainsbury in the coming week. Of course, with the limit on number of items the cosy Co Op was not likely to suit those needing a big family shop. The website was a challenging computer game; you could always get chocolate, but not necessarily what you needed for dinner. It was vital to think outside the box. Type in baked beans, no luck. It was weeks before I discovered that typing in Heinz revealed beans and such Covid comfort food as tomato soup. The website did improve over the months, with the layout involving less scrolling down, but keeping the fun of guessing whether you should tap onto ‘Get Inspired’ ‘Food Cupboard’ or ‘Bakery and Cakes’. If you forgot to check your emails with updates on how your order was progressing, there was the fun of not knowing if you would get everything on your list, or perhaps an unwanted substitute.

So what is it like at real shops now? Don’t forget the mask… the rest of the rules seem to vary from shop to shop; another game to play, with arrows to follow and circles with footprints to stand on. Don’t mix up the bottle for sanitizing your basket handles with the hand gel. Move out of the way once you have swiped you card  ( cash is out, except at the greengrocers ) to make safe space for the next person. But that little row of chairs where you used to sort out your bags and make sure your purse was put away has gone; don’t have a medical incident, that was where shoppers who had a funny turn were seated as they waited for the ambulance!

How will you get on at shopping centres? Those benches where husbands were parked while waiting for wives to finish in the shop or come out of the Ladies are gone. There is nowhere to rest your heavy bags and meet up at the arranged time. In town will department stores ever be the same again? Restaurants and toilets closed, no meeting friends or relaxing with coffee and scones while you check you phone, or if you are a writer, do some people watching and scribbling.

It is nice to once again see what you are buying, but will you be going on line or out to the shops in the near future?

The Game of Life – Final Rounds.

When my mother planned her funeral five years ago she could never have imagined the service at her local church would be streamed live across the world. Covid has changed how we deal with death, before and after. Mum had outlived my father by twenty four years, at 94 she was happy and ready to go. She was the same age as The Queen and David Attenborough, who are still hale and hearty, but that’s the game of life.

I wrote my first Game of Life blog in November 2018; here is part of what I wrote.

We have to leave Summertown, the days of being recycled teenagers are over. There is a very real possibility that Cyberspouse will be outlived by the Duke of Edinburgh and my mother.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/11/07/the-game-of-life/

Cyberspouse outlived my mother by just over a month, he has been outlived by the Duke of Edinburgh. In this Covid world those with terminal illnesses are among the many who have been isolating and shielded at home, not to cheat death, but to have it on their terms. Cyberspouse achieved his aim of never going near a hospital again; happy sleeping a lot and just doing what he felt like doing. For most of those six months we were on our own, though with various medical teams at the other end of the phone. You can read about our life in lockdown here.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2020/05/20/the-game-of-life-covid-19-edition/

 Covid restrictions eased in August and we soon needed to make up our own rules so family could come and help. It was only in the last fortnight that the district nurses and Marie Curie nurses parachuted in; they were marvellous and worthy of their own blog.

There has been plenty of dark humour along the way. Cyberspouse was always adamant he did not want a funeral, very handy as traditional funerals are difficult or impossible with Covid.

Anyone dealing with cancer or illness reading this, don’t let it scare you; every case is different. Friends much older than us, sending sympathy cards, have had cancer and other dices with death years ago… open heart surgeries, body parts removed and they are still here, that’s the game of life.

Colin Campbell Gogerty 24th January 1952 – 2nd September 2020

Coming soon – The Game of Death 2020

Silly Saturday – Word Blitz Worries

My name is Tidalscribe and I am a Word Blitz Addict.

Of course that is not my real name, we don’t give our real names at the Word Blitz Support Group. I might be able to wean myself off this demonic word game; after all, there was the time I was obsessed with Quiz Planet – perhaps no one wanted to play with me any more, that’s how I came off it. But Word Blitz is stopping me writing or reading blogs and if I pick up my phone or go on the computer and find nobody has played their round, that it is not yet my turn to play again, I am filled with irrational rage disappointment, I need a round before I can check my emails or write a flash fiction.

‘Word Blitz is an action-packed word game where you can face off against your friends and other players. Form words from letters randomly arranged on the playing field. Play every word you can find and get the most points! Don’t forget the bonus fields to step your points up a notch!’

I don’t actually understand the tactics or the scoring and I certainly have no idea who I am playing with; the whole world or friends I actually know in real life, the ones that got me trapped in the first place. I am too busy trying to make words out of sixteen letters, before the time runs out, to have a battle plan. Using X seems to be good, so does having SEX.

The best thing about playing the game on your phone is the annoying ping it makes every time you get a word, delightfully irritating for anyone nearby. But alas, they get their revenge by interrupting you. Word Blitz requires your full attention and there is no time for interaction with human beings or pets. If you are playing against me, the reason for my bad score is not poor brain power or lack of hand eye coordination, but inconsiderate ringing of the doorbell or house phone or inconsiderate inane utterings of humans or dogs.

Do any of you out there need help. Word Blitz is not the only mind pandemic. There are people who have been playing the same scrabble game on line for years, unable to stop…

Unmasked

After months of indecision and confusion from our leaders we are finally wearing facemasks – a bit. On public transport and for customers in shops it’s official, though without much hope of enforcement. Staying at home as a full time carer, the only shop I have been to is the tiny Boots’ pharmacy attached to our doctors’ surgery. Actually lots of people aren’t going to real shops; busy working couples who have been doing on line shopping for years and the ‘vulnerable’ who have discovered on line shopping and don’t trust anything the government says.

At our little chemist the staff have always worn masks and only let one person in at a time, so it feels safe, with the added benefit of privacy for discussing personal medical stuff. But I miss the jolly days crammed in with bored toddlers and having a joke with bored adults as we all waited and wondered who would hit the jackpot and get their prescription next or at all. And of course listening in to other people’s strange medical problems or listening in to the medical problems of strange people…

In Covid times we wait outside, not too many people, but with plenty of opportunity for confusion. You may think someone is pushing in, but they are making their way to the outer door of the surgery to ring the bell and report to the all powerful receptionist, who tells them to wait outside until summoned on their mobile phone; leaving them with the dilemma of which queue to stand in. The rest of us are either queueing to go in to the pharmacy or have already been in but have to wait for our prescriptions.

On my first visit with official mask wearing I got a tickly cough ( NOT a Covid cough ) as soon as I got inside – what to do? Rip off mask and take a sip out of my water bottle? NO, not allowed to touch mask let alone remove it.

One of the regular staff is always friendly and helpful, but a good while ago he was away and when he came back had lost his voice, reduced to a whisper, that was okay without a mask… I had no idea if he could hear my mask voice properly; I was there to collect new prescriptions, with either no idea what they were called or how to pronounce them and also to explain that as we were having a regular medicine in liquid form could we cancel the repeat prescription for the capsules… He checked the computer screen and the bag of medicines and the forms, but he may as well have been speaking in Martian. I understood only his last whispered words Address, post code – for a moment I thought the mask would make me forget my own address, but I managed that bit and just hoped what was in the heavy bag was all the correct stuff.

As I was leaving I did feel, in my stuffy mask, on a hot day, looking forward to taking it off as soon as I got round the corner…  I did feel at last I was part of the Covid Community.

As I was leaving, another staff member came out to give a lady her prescription and asked her address, the woman instinctively pulled down her mask to say her address…

Mum’s The Word

Parents across the world have had a unique experience, an experience that perhaps only parents in refugee camps and war zones would envy. But didn’t parents always home school children in the millennia before it was assumed all children should go to school? How to hunt mammoths, how to plough the fields and scatter, how to count sheep – yan, tan, tethera. But parents of old would not have had to cope with on line learning, nor would they have been trying to teach rebellious teenagers. Modern parents tearing their hair out in a pandemic may well have thought there’s a lot to be said for sending your eight year old out to work as a lonely goatherd or chimney sweep, or your awkward teenager into service at The Big House. It’s not that long ago that children left school at fourteen; my father’s first job was as a telegram boy, he claimed Winston Churchill told him off for whistling in the corridor. I imagine many fourteen year olds would rather have been delivering telegrams than stuck at home with a computer and nagging parents.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has been a mixed experience, those parents who already home school have been vindicated, so too those families who conveniently set off early in the year to drive a camper van all round their continent or sail around the world. Though sailing may have had its problems if no port let them in the harbour to fetch supplies.

But I have not seen it even mentioned that being a stay at home mum ( or dad ) is to be valued. Stay at home mothers ( or fathers ) have never been valued by any government, not even in the 1950s ( according to my mother ) when governments wanted women to stay at home and give the jobs back to the men after the second world war.

If someone is at home, permanently, it is not a major disaster when a child is sick or the other parent gets stuck at work and it must have been a great advantage when schools were suddenly closed. I totally understand the many reasons why women want or need to go to work and this varies from needing the money ( for food, not to run a second car! ) to keeping a foothold in your career, with all your earnings going to pay nursery fees.

From the children’s point of view they could be passed round like a parcel with no security or attend an excellent nursery a few days a week which they love going to. Nursery care is more convenient than school as it runs all year round and all day, eight till six, with three meals a day. If you have no family nearby and your husband (or wife ) has to work away from home, you may have to give up work when your child goes to school.

But getting back to mothers ( for they are still the ones who mainly have this dilemma ) – I have always thought that most women have not gained much over the decades, they often end up going out to work and still doing all ( lots ) of the housework. And in this country it is emerging that more working mothers than fathers have been dealing with the home schooling. To be fair to the chaps there are various reasons, many mothers work in the sort of jobs, such as retail, that were immediately closed down, so they were at home, or a lot of women work part time to fit in round the children.

But would we stay at home Mums have coped in our time with a pandemic and home schooling? NO! Staying at home for most mothers meant getting OUT of the house, taking your darling toddlers to every club and playground available to get rid of some of their energy and going round to other mums for coffee and gossip to preserve your sanity. Locked up indoors, with babies and toddlers, husband doing shift work and only 6 days off a month, I would not have survived, physically or mentally. So well done to the 2020 mothers of all sorts who are now faced with another five weeks of school holidays; Scottish mothers cheer as school starts early in August for them.

For those couples now expecting a happy event here is my handy guide to help you plan your maternity leave and work decisions.

Everyone has to eat, food has to be cooked.    Every home has to be cleaned; babies and toddlers make a mess. Washing has to be done and babies and toddlers create a mountain of washing. Going out to work doesn’t make these jobs go away.

Maternity leave of 9 months to a year will flash by in what seems like one month.

On your child’s second day of nursery they will wake up with a raging temperature and you will have to phone granny – if you are lucky, or you will have to phone work.

On the child’s second week of nursery they ( the nursery, not the baby ) will phone you at work to come and fetch your baby because at nappy changing time there was the slightest hint they might have a stomach upset. Before Covid, stomach bugs were the scariest thing, perhaps with all this new handwashing stomach bugs no longer go around but you never know…

Second month of nursery you are in a meeting, the other parent is away on business and you miss the phone call from nursery to say your child has vomited all over the play area and the other children. When you finally get the message you turn up at nursery feeling very guilty and are told to keep baby at home till he has gone 48 hours without being sick.

Good luck to parents everywhere.

What’s On?

What’s on the telly tonight? Good news, you can avoid Covid Crisis and indulge in Covid Comfort. Whether you need relaxation or intellectual stimulation, television can help.

University Challenge is back and I managed to answer quite a few questions, perhaps they are going easy on us in the first round, usually I can’t understand half the questions let alone answer more than three. It is obviously pre-recorded; nobody in a post Covid world is going to sit cosily in teams of four putting their heads together to decide on the answer.

There are many programmes we must enjoy before the pre-recorded stock runs out. Great British Sewing Bee is fabric fantasy, whether you like making clothes or wearing them. The winner, Clare Bradley, turned out to not only be brilliant at sewing, but is also a hospital respiratory consultant and since her win has been helping to save Covid patients. Could there be a post Covid sewing bee? No one allowed to touch the material or each other’s sewing machines, no hugging and congratulating. But perhaps they could do a glamourous slant on making facemasks and scrubs, as long as they only have one contestant at a time…https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/24/great-british-sewing-bee-2020-declares-winner-intense-finale-

All the cookery programmes will have the same problem in future, no one allowed to taste the food, no one will know what the food smells like with their masks on, no presenters hanging over the cook’s shoulders asking how they are getting on. I have never followed cookery shows as it’s too painful to see all that lovely food that we can’t eat. But in lockdown Cyberspouse has been watching them all. There are two main types of shows. Master chefs compete against each other to create beautiful banquets or delicious deserts that are works of art; pudding porn, perfect creations that are then mercilessly stabbed and rent asunder by the judges, who alone enjoy heavenly melting moments. Then there are the celebrities we have never heard of who can’t cook and are sent on an emotional roller coaster, baking perfect pastry or told they have to cook twenty octopuses ( or is it octopi ) for the guests at a posh hotel.

But some programmes are with us in real time. Nature and gardens brought into our living rooms by presenters on their home patch, alone, no irritating chatting with fellow presenters, giving the viewers their undivided attention. Gardener’s World brings calm and peace on Friday evenings. I know every day is the same as a carer in a pandemic, but I like to pretend it’s the end of the week. Monty Don wanders around his own large garden, with trailing dogs, digging and potting. But my favourite parts are viewers’ home videos, enthusiastically showing us an endless variety of inventive gardens of all shapes and sizes, bringing us all sorts of useful tips – and I thought I was obsessive about saving water… some don’t even have a balcony, let alone a garden; apartments filled with plants so you feel you are in a jungle. One young chap even had endlessly circulating water running down the wall into a fishpond.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/clips

Drama has not been forgotten. Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads have been given a new production with a few new tales; monologues are perfect for social distancing and his characters move us as they gradually reveal their often surprising stories. There has also been a good selection of new short plays with actors having equipment delivered to their own homes, presumably with a few instructions. Filming themselves and conveniently often married to other actors, thus providing a cast of two.

Radio has always been a lifeline since our mothers’ and grandmothers’ day for housewives, mothers and anyone at home all day and I’m sure it was for many confined during Covid. Cyberspouse has listened to Woman’s Hour every day and BBC Radio 4 has three serialised books before lunch. But there is one drama that has let me down. I have been listening to the Archers ( the world’s longest running soap? )  on and off since I was in the womb and I thought Ambridge was a real place in a real county, Borsetshire. Imagine my confusion when farming life carried on as usual, The Bull still open for drinkers, while the rest of England was in total lockdown, everyone isolated. No one in Ambridge even mentioned there was a world wide  pandemic. Opinion was divided on Archers Facebook fan pages and among listeners emailing ‘Feedback’, some were glad of the escape from Covid while others like me thought it ridiculous. Eventually they ran out of recorded episodes and there was the first ever break in transmission, followed by a relaunch of a different type of soap. Endless monologues by any actors who knew how to work the recording equipment at home. For the first time, all those characters we love, or love to hate were expressing their own feelings, creepy or what. Soap operas by their nature are written in the third person, we have to wait till a character opens their heart to another character for insights and we like it that way.

http://www.thearchers.co.uk/

For fiction in real time drop in to my Friday Flash Fiction – tiny tales of ordinary folk in a pandemic.

Have your viewing and listening habits changed since the pandemic? What have your Covid comforts been?