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.
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.
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
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 phoneor 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…
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…
Since the start of the pandemic many people have found themselves being carers for the first time; isolated with granny, uncle’s paid carers not able to visit or caring for Covid survivors in the family. Happily most people seem to have risen to the challenge, but it takes real skill to become a Careless Carer.
Some of you may have become carers without even realising it…
HOW TO RECOGNISE IF YOU ARE A CARER
You are a carer if you are busy gardening and a cup of coffee does not appear at the back door.
You are a carer if you yell DOORBELL! And nobody goes to answer the front door.
Ditto if you yell PHONE! And nobody goes to pick up the landline or the mobile phone left upstairs.
WHAT WILL A NORMAL DAY BE LIKE FOR A CARELESS CARER?
Take water, the wrong tablets and a cup of tea to the special person, who will remind you they always have coffee in the morning. Tell them you will be back in ten minutes to help them shower.
Now it’s time for you to have a quick cuppa ready for a busy day – take your time and check all the social media on your phone, share some Facebook Covid jokes, go in the garden and take a few pictures for Instagram, phone friend to tell them how busy you are… forget to turn shower on to warm up…
It’s important to answer the phone promptly, it could be a medical person to ask how things are and tell you no one can come to visit. Or it could be a friend and now is your chance to be properly careless, have a good chat, maybe they are lonely, fed up or hating working from home, discuss last night’s drama on television. Can you believe the time and you haven’t even got breakfast ready yet… then you remember you left your caree in the shower!
Ask the precious one what they would like for breakfast, even though it’s nearly lunchtime and forget what they said by the time you get in the kitchen.
Forgetting is a key attribute of the Careless Carer and the opportunities are infinite;
Forget to turn on the radio or television
Forget to turn off the radio or television
Forget to open/close curtains, windows, doors.
Forget to bring or put within reach glasses, newspaper, book, TV controls, mobile phone, ipad and the cup of coffee you forgot to make an hour ago.
If Sonya had known her ex husband would survive a good deal longer than two months she would never have let him come back. If Sonya had known a pandemic would come along and trap him in isolation with her, two weeks after he moved in, she would never have let him over the front door step.
When he had phoned her early in March and told her he only had two months to live, she was shocked. Sonya hadn’t seen him for years, didn’t even know his second wife had booted him out and kept the house. It seemed a Christian, a human thing to do; she imagined the alternative, the father of her children found in two years time, mummified in his dreadful bedsit. To care for him in his last weeks would bring closure to both the good years and the bad. One of her daughters said she was insane and on no account must she let him anywhere near her home. The other daughter said of course she must help him, he was her father after all and she would soon be back from Thailand to help. The kindly daughter was still in Thailand and the sensible daughter still in New York.
At first he did a few DIY jobs, they Facetimed the girls together and he made a good job of settling his few possessions in the back bedroom and making it homely. He assured her various medical teams and charities were on his case and all she would have to do was a bit of cooking.
Then he got his letter from the Prime Minister telling him he was very vulnerable and must not leave his house. Her house Sonya pointed out to him. The letter reminded him how frail he was and he couldn’t even help wash the dishes. His medical support teams could not visit because of Covid 19 and he no longer qualified for help from the charities as he was no longer homeless.
A new routine was soon established, as if they had always been carer and invalid in the midst of a pandemic. Sonya was heartily grateful for her rescue dog, the perfect excuse to get out of the house for exercise and a chance to have socially distanced chats with neighbours and other dog walkers. Vivienne down the road she had hardly known before, but now she and the dog would pause by the front gate when Vivienne was in the garden and discuss on line shopping. The other woman would complain about her divorced son who had moved back in and Sonya would regale her with the latest domestic dramas.
Her ex husband had his good points, well she vaguely recalled he did in the early years of their marriage, sense of humour, carefree attitude to life. That young man was long gone and his most irritating features were enhanced by illness. The husband who had once been glued to the television with football, war movies and endless crime dramas involving noisy car chases and shootings, now complained about the noise if she listened to Jeremy Vine on the radio and griped that the television was doing his head in if she tried to watch Celebrity Chef.
When he received another letter from the Prime Minister saying he could go out and about on the first of August, he showed a rare spark of life and decided it would be good for him to come out with Sonya and the dog. This was how she found herself today, plodding wearily back down their road, trying to hang on to the dog’s lead and being told to mind the bumps as she pushed his wheelchair. She had not seen Vivienne lately, only to be expected as Vivienne’s daughter and family were staying. A large camper van was parked outside her friend’s house and the door suddenly swung open as they passed, just missing the wheelchair. Two children tumbled down the steps and flew through the garden gate to the front door, yelling to be let in.
‘Bloody children, bloody camper vans’ said Sonya’s ex husband in a loud voice, just as Vivienne opened her front door and waved to her friend.
A piercing scream penetrated the calm of James’ office and disturbed his important conference call with New York. Every sound in the neighbourhood wafted through the back bedroom windows, but it was too hot to close them.
‘Everything okay?’ asked the managing director in New York.
‘So sorry, yes, fine…’
For a moment James wondered if he should investigate, he vaguely recalled his mother mentioning they were in charge of the twins today while his sister and brother-in-law went to Ikea and she might have to pop to the corner shop... None of them believed that he was actually working from home, that it was Friday and he had a great deal of real work to do. Strange sounds had emitted from his nephew and niece at regular intervals since their arrival yesterday, either because they were having fun, or more likely they were arguing. There was the possibility that one of them had been impaled on one of his mother’s lethal gardening implements, or perhaps they had accidentally killed their grandmother…
Eighty per cent of MPJ staff worldwide were working from home, but usually in their smart book lined studies, not from their mother’s back bedroom with sewing machines and ironing boards as a background for Zoom. It was hardly professional to interrupt discussion of the dreadful news from Beirut ( its importance to the shareholders of MPJ, not the suffering of the locals ) and disappear out of sight to lean out the back window and be heard yelling ‘JASON, JACINTHA what the hell are you doing now?‘
When his sister Julia had said they were going camping for their summer staycation he thought they meant a tent in a remote field, not a camper van parked outside his mother’s house. Julia insisted social distancing would be maintained, while her husband Jack queried whether social distancing was even a thing anymore. They did sleep in the van; James had not had time to look up council regulations and see if this was legal, but there was much toing and froing to the bathroom and the washing machine had been on constantly since their arrival. The twins weren’t that bad, not according to his mother anyway; they were just high spirited, Covid cabin fever and he just wasn’t used to children of that age, whatever age they were… he had forgotten and dare not ask, his family would be shocked at his lack of interest in the precious ones, his mother’s ONLY grandchildren as she liked to frequently point out.
Another piercing scream rent the air. This time James did a few quick manoeuvres on the keyboard and the screen went blank; New York would either think England had been hit by a nuclear bomb or perhaps that his local wifi had gone down. He rushed over to the window and leaned out to see an arc of water gleaming in the sun. Jason was chasing Jacintha with the garden hose and this time she let out a screech of triumph as she ducked under the washing line and the family’s bedding hanging out to dry took the full brunt of the high powered hose.
So what next? What in the world shall we do now? When shall we… don’t pan dem ic!
Has it ever been so hard to make decisions, for anybody, anywhere in the world? Perhaps only the odd hermit in a cave is carrying on as normal, without having to think any more than usual.
Pre Covid decisions such as what to have for dinner or what to wear often took me longer than the life changing ones such as moving across the world, choosing a job or a house, accepting or rejecting a marriage proposal… now we have even more banal decisions to make; where shall I wear my mask, when shall I take it off?
Now politicians and parents, councils and carers have to make minor and major decisions weekly, daily, hourly and I’m sure many of us wish we had Jacinda Ahern or Nicola Sturgeon telling us exactly what we should be doing next. In a pandemic it does help if you are an island or a small country, but in the modern world that is no guarantee of protection.
Did I imagine it or did I hear a police chief from somewhere say on the news ‘…and we will smash your car window and drag you out if you do not tell us where you are going.’
Countries, states, counties, cities, councils all over the world have needed and still need to make firm decisions and if your local leaders have taken the right decisions, tell us about them. But if your leaders are waffling, hesitating or spouting total nonsense, your household or business needs to make its own decisions. However, deciding what next is like trying to read those multi lingual leaflets you get with everything from medicine to your latest electronic toy. The print is so tiny you can hardly find your own language, let alone read it and if you do get out the magnifying glass you probably won’t understand the instructions anyway. Shall I open my shop/go to the shops. Can we send the children to school? Shall we book our holiday/wedding/funeral … shall we cancel our holiday/wedding/funeral? Is it even safe to open my front door?
Or shall we just hide away. It is strangely comforting in these times to follow domestic routines; washing on Monday, getting your on line shopping on Tuesday, posting your blog on Wednesday, vacuuming on Thursday, mowing the lawn on Friday will make you feel in control of your little life, even though it will make no difference to the rest of the world.
A good news item this week was that ‘a new scientific breakthrough has, for the first time, allowed geologists to pinpoint almost exactly where Stonehenge’s giant stone uprights and lintels came from. Scientists from the University of Brighton have traced the stones to a small very specific two square mile patch of woodland just south of the village of Lockeridge, Wiltshire. Builders of Stonehenge probably chose it as their source of stone because of the exceptional sizes and relative flatness of many of its sarsen boulders.‘
So no one has ever noticed before that in a little wood nearby, there are huge stones lying around that just happen to look like the ones at Stonehenge? Did no one ever trip over them or fall down the holes left when the Stonehenge Sarsens were extracted?
The other ‘exciting revelation was this… ‘Professor Nash was able to analyse the Stonehenge sarsens because a core extracted from one of the monument’s giant stones during repair work in the 1950s (and taken to America by one of the engineers involved in that work) was returned to English Heritage last year.’
What! Some chap is tidying up his office and suddenly thinks ‘Now where did I put that bit of Stonehenge sixty years ago…’ Was he embarrassed to return it after all this time?
Sam always had the radio on when he was in the hotel room, just to own a radio and have somewhere to plug it in was a luxury. It was more than entertainment, he was catching up with what had been going on in the rest of the world while he had ‘been away’. By the evenings he was physically tired, but his mind could not rest, he did not want to be alone with his thoughts. Science programmes, current affairs, the arts, he lapped them all up; he was interested in everything, like he used to be in the old life. Perhaps he would have been a polymath by now, talking on intelligent programmes instead of just listening in.
Her voice caught him off guard, was it her, yes, the presenter repeated her name. Sam tuned into what she was saying.
No, I had never thought of being a writer, too busy living life, just an ordinary wife and mother, then my marriage broke up.
Broke up, like dropping a glass on a tiled floor, broke up… she had left him, taken the child… left him for no reason he had ever figured out.
It was just me and my little boy, it was hard, but after a while I realised I was happy, I could survive on my own, not just survive, make something of my life.
Sam felt his chest tighten; had she ever been happy, was that not a life they had? He was happy, she made him happy, Lucas made them both happy. He had everything, the new research project, promoted to senior lecturer, getting the mortgage for the little house that was the home of her dreams; when had her dreams changed? She was still talking, bright and confident, a mature woman now of course. He felt the physical blow of being left all over again.
…when Lucas started at the village school in Scotland I started writing and trying to run the smallholding I had inherited with the cottage…
And that is a story in itself and inspired one of your novels?
Yes, I was tracked down by the programme Heir Hunters and I wanted to find out more about this fourth three times removed cousin who was a recluse.
Sam found himself almost smiling, you couldn’t make it up, his suburban London ex wife in the wilds of Scotland, maybe she had made it up … but then anger flashed through him, his son should not have been living in a dilapidated cottage hundreds of miles away, no wonder he had lost touch completely.
Now your fifth novel comes as people question why so few people own so much of the land in Scotland, your heroine comes from London on holiday to the highlands and ends up marrying the local laird. What gave you that inspiration?
I must emphasise that it is not autobiographical, my own laird Duncan is nothing like the haughty landowner in my novel. And actually Duncan and I are writing a book together about rewilding and good husbandry.
So your life now is very different from your dreary life in suburban London?
Yes I have the big family I always wanted, with Lucas, Duncan’s three and our son and the twins…isolating has been like a family holiday for the nine of us, teens and pre teens all getting along together.
Sam switched the radio off. She had everything and he had nothing. He had lost everything in the divorce and he wasn’t even sure how, house and son gone, his own mother never forgiving him for letting her grandson be taken. But he must not descend into darkness again, think first. He turned on his lap top, the other vital possession the Big Issue had furnished him with, navigating the internet was still awkward for him. She must have been famous, just entering her name, or rather his name that she published under, produced results. Up popped her author website and a colourful blog about her highland life. Thousands of followers, perhaps he was the only one in the country who had not heard of her books. He tried to stay calm, at least in the interview she had not denigrated him, not even mentioned him, was that worse?
He needed to talk about this, not internalise, that’s what the counsellor told them when they had the ‘help’ during lock down. Most of them only put up with the do-gooders’ waffling to keep their hotel room, but some of it was helpful and he knew he had rights, a right to contact his son. But he had to stay off the streets and build some sort of life, even then it was unlikely his son would want anything to do with him. There would be no sleep for him tonight, but tomorrow he would tell his story for the first time.
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.
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.