Yes busy all day and a long day at that, we stretch ourselves to breaking point, but we know people won’t survive without us.
Why do I do this job? No day’s the same, never time to get bored, sometimes the load is very heavy, other times light.
We used to chat, but now we have to keep our distance. The good side of that is we can work quicker, we need to work quicker.
No I haven’t, I pride myself in never making mistakes, make sure I have read the instructions properly. We can’t afford to make mistakes, this is people’s lives we are dealing with.
I do ring the bell, I know some aren’t bothering now we don’t have to get a signature. It’s heart breaking knowing people want to talk, desperate to see another human being, they call out, trying to thank us, pitiful, but I’m already on my way to the next person.
No I don’t feel exploited and I certainly don’t want do-gooders boycotting the company. I need to earn money and I like being out on the road, by myself, out of the house.
Yes I have, four, the wife deals with all the home schooling, another reason I enjoy my work.
Vital? Of course, where would you all be without your Amazon deliveries?
I may not be a medical person, but I can help those who are, make life easier for them. We’re only taking the children of key workers now, but we’ve extended our hours. They work long hours, so do we. My staff are super committed, they love their job.
Yes we are seeing a lot of anxiety among those we care for, they are sensitive to the tensions at home. They know life is not normal at present, we give them plenty of one-to-one attention. We give them individual balanced diets and plenty of fresh air and exercise. Our aim is to socialise them within their bubble groups and we have a full programme of activities and rest periods. They love the outdoor adventure playground and the indoor fun gym.
Yes we are fortunate to have this beautiful setting at Sunshine Valley. No not at all, the price reflects the cost of running an establishment like this, the high staff ratio and the excellent staff qualifications; but there is a discount for NHS. Well, all my employees are professional dog walkers and I have a degree in dog psychology. You can tell your listeners their Fur Babies will be totally safe with us at Sunny Valley Doggy Day Care.
Lockdown Three has none of the drama of Lockdown One, though it is more cutting edge than Lockdown Two when schools were open and we thought we still had Christmas to look forward to. In an echo of the brilliant dramatic twist twixt lockdowns when Christmas was cancelled at the last moment, because Covid 19 reneged on its promise to give us five days off, the director instituted a brilliant scene from Downing Street in which the PM closes all schools, not the day before, but the very day after they started the new term ( a sentence nearly as long as lockdown ).
Lockdown Three promises to be longer than Lockdown Two, but with the same advantage of covering winter months, so people will be glad to huddle indoors. Are we prepared? I think it would have been more dramatic if we could be like the French and fill in forms to produce to show we have a good reason to be out. We are allowed out for exercise, to get immunised and to buy food and some people might actually have to go out to work… My freezer now has one drawer full of sliced apple from the tree in my garden; it thrived during last spring and summer’s sunny lockdowns, with no desire to leave home. Another drawer is devoted to the Christmas feast postponed till Chreastersummermas. I still have enough room for regular rations.
As my first winter being a widow it seems apt for normal life to be suspended, not that I would wish a pandemic on the rest of the world merely to take the pressure off me deciding anything. While half the population, from politicians to front line services, are busier than ever, the other half may be shielding or out of work, life curtailed to the banal or at least a gentler pace. There are plenty of positives; new hobbies, putting your CD collection in alphabetical order, having cooking fun. Gardening may have taken a back seat, but you can fill your home with pot plants and cut flowers; perhaps your family will not be able to find you in the jungle when at last they can visit.
There are new experiences for most of us. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tomorrow starts its second series of digital, livestreamed concerts. You can buy tickets for individual concerts or the whole season on line. We had a camera club zoom party and I won the Bingo; no need to go out on a cold night with plates of food, or clear up afterwards. Every Saturday night I join in a Zoom quiz; a window on the outside world.
If you get bored you can always order yourself more presents from Amazon ( yes I know we shouldn’t, but we all use them because you can find what you want, or even things you didn’t know you wanted, and it always arrives ). Nearly everyone in my family from four to forties is obsessed with Lego ( Lego is certainly not just for children ) and after many hints I was given my first Lego set – Lego Architecture mini London. It was tiny, fiddly, fun and addictive; a total change from blogging and writing. I have ordered myself a big box of Lego bricks and bits so I can make my own creations.
My little real Christmas tree in the front garden has been undecorated, but today I had a Glastonburyish idea; I am going to leave it there and tie a ribbon on every day till we’re out of lockdown.
Cassie though it ironic that she had spent last Christmas Day alone and now when everyone else was facing Christmas alone she was having two guests for Christmas lunch, three if you counted the dog. When she had invited Sam the rule had been three households for five days, but Boris had changed all that on Saturday. They were still in Tier 2 so she didn’t think they were breaking any rules; Christmas Day only and no overnight stays, but she hadn’t bargained for Sam’s long lost son turning up. Even in pre Covid days this would have been quite a drama. But there was no question of him being sent back to Scotland, would he even be allowed back in? Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister, did not want anyone entering or leaving Scotland. Sam had insisted Lucas ring his mother, so she could call off the frantic search round their huge highland estate, but more to ensure future prospects for cooperation.
Sam was thrilled with the turn of events, he felt he had a connection already with his sixteen year old son. Cassie could not see things in such a positive light, Sam was a long way from being able to provide a stable home for a teenager who still had two years of school ahead, but it was not her place to say anything. Of more immediate concern was meeting Lucas. As an only child brought up by her aunt and sent to a girls’ school she knew nothing about teenage boys. Doris next door had reassured her all she had to do was treat him like a normal human being and perhaps he would be interested in her geckos.
Now as she looked at the time and checked the oven she wondered if Sam had heard the latest news; at one minute past midnight on Boxing Day they were going to enter Tier 4. Any positivity she had felt about the pandemic or her own little life seemed to be fast fading in recent weeks, a new strain of Covid, worrying statistics…
The doorbell rang and as she opened it she was taken aback to see a broad shouldered young man taller than Sam, standing behind him.
‘Cassie, this is Lucas.’
For some reason she had imagined a smaller version of Sam, pale, quiet and nervous, an unhappy runaway; so she was further surprised when he greeted her enthusiastically in a booming baritone Scottish accent.
‘Lunch smells nice.’
‘It’s just a little pork joint,’ Cassie apologised ‘I’ve never cooked a turkey in my life.’
‘That’s okay, didn’t Sa…. my father tell you I am vegetarian?’
‘Daaad, that’s disgusting, it’s still oozing blood.’
‘You can’t beat a rare 16 ounce steak, it’s your sawdust burger that looks disgusting.’
‘At least I’m not eating a sentient being.’
‘He’s not sentient anymore, besides, he had a good life roaming free and eating all that lush Scottish grass.’
‘You mean he was one of the unlucky ones, castrated, never destined to be the prize bull.’
‘Even the prize bulls are herbivores; if they can turn grass into muscle, why do humans need meat?’
‘Your daughter’s right Geoff, even if you don’t care about the animals you eat, you need to care about your health.’
‘…and I am eating all the delicious veggies you cooked to go with my juicy steak.’
‘But you had egg and bacon for breakfast and a huge ham sandwich for lunch.’
‘From outdoor reared pigs, I thought that was okay. Humans have always been omnivorous, that is why the human race will always survive… Phew, is it me or is it hot in here. I’ll take the dog out and enjoy a death stick, ha ha.’
‘Daad, I thought you were going to try vaping.’
‘That’s for teenagers, sucking in steam that smells like a sweet shop, my grandfather smoked forty a day and…’
‘…lived to be a hundred, yes Dad, you have told us that a hundred times.’
‘Your father’s been a while.’
‘Probably chatting to next door, his smoking buddy…. Oh it’s okay, I can hear Rex… why is he barking like that?’
Geoff opened his eyes, the dreadful pain had disappeared. The sun shone in his eyes, but that couldn’t be right, it was a dark autumn evening in Mildred Avenue and where had that stupid mutt gone? Green fields, rolling hills, a meandering river, reminded him of that Scottish holiday. Peaceful, the air so fresh, no sound but the bleating of sheep. He stood up and took a few shaky steps; he had lost his glasses somewhere, but his eyesight was perfect. Sheep dotted up on the hills, cattle grazing by the river, this was paradise, but what had happened to his house, his road? Was he in a film set, or in heaven? No, there was a farmhouse in the distance, best to ask there.
No sooner had he thought this than he was there, in the yard, chickens pecking around him, a sheepdog lying in the sun, a sow brushed past, followed by her piglets.
‘Hello, anyone around?’
‘So you have arrived Geoff.’
He couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. ‘How do you know my name, who is this speaking?’
‘Your long suffering guardian angel.’
‘Ha, ha. Very funny. Am I dreaming, fell asleep on the sofa watching Countryfile?’
‘No, you’re dead.’
‘You’ll be telling me next I’m in heaven.’
‘You are, though it’s not your heaven.’
‘Whose is it then? Don’t tell me the Jehovah’s Witnesses were right all along, are there lions here?’
‘All God’s creatures, you are just seeing all the ones you have eaten.’
It dawned on him with a mixture of relief and fear; he was in intensive care, his wife and daughter must be feeling smug. All that nagging about him being an obese middle aged chap, vulnerable to Covid, going down the pub and not social distancing. Hallucinations, that’s what happened when they put you in an induced coma, not so bad, but he must not relax. He would show them, he would get better; if Boris and Trump could recover, so would he. His hallucination was still rabbiting on.
‘Your daughter was right all along. The answer is reincarnation, it’s time for you to go to your next life.’
Two could play at this game, he hadn’t finished with this life yet. ‘Okay Gabriel, or whatever your name is, who will I be next time?’
‘A pig; but don’t worry, you have earned a dispensation as you were not a bad husband and did not commit any crimes against humanity. You are about to be born in a muddy Hampshire field, suckled by a healthy sow, playing with your siblings till it’s time to go into the barn to be fattened up.’
Freddy was glad he wasn’t Scottish; Scottish children had to go back to school in August, but when he heard his parents talking about school uniform he felt those butterflies in his stomach. September was coming too soon and the Prime Minister said everyone had to go back to school now. When he heard his parents talking to the other grownups at the barbeque he hoped maybe it wouldn’t happen.
Can’t see how it will work, bubbles, ridiculous…
Bubbles, were stupid. When they went to see Grandma and Grandad in their bubble, he thought they would be floating in a gigantic rainbow bubble and he would push and be sucked in with a loud pop. When they got to their house and went round to the back garden for a picnic, there was no bubble; Grandma and Granddad were just sitting in their house waving through the patio door. Freddy wasn’t even allowed to go indoors and play with Daddy’s old Lego. What would a school bubble look like? Perhaps they would blow bubbles instead of doing work.
On Sunday morning Freddy’s bubbly thoughts popped when he realised Mummy was talking to him.
‘Hurry up and finish your breakfast, we want to get to the shops as soon as they open, Marks and Spencer for your uniform, then Clarks to have your feet measured.’
‘I don’t want to go to the shops, it’s too windy.’
‘But you like having your feet measured on that magic machine.’
‘It’s not magic and I don’t need new shoes.’
On the way to the shops he sat in the back seat of the car while Mummy and Daddy argued in the front seat, like they usually did.
‘Sunday, who goes shopping for school clothes on a Sunday?’ said Daddy.
‘No one, it will be lovely and quiet.’
‘I don’t believe it, the car park’s full.’
‘We shouldn’t have left it to the last minute, we’re never going to get all Freddy’s stuff for school.’
Freddy’s spirits soared, he couldn’t go to school if he didn’t have his uniform and PE stuff.
‘I don’t mind if I can’t go to school.’
‘Don’t worry, even if you have to go to school in your pyjamas you are going’ laughed Daddy.
Pyjamas… Freddy imagined himself sitting in the classroom with his Lego pyjamas on and everybody laughing, especially …
‘Come on, jump out, we’ll park here and walk down the road to the shopping centre’ said Daddy.
‘Oh no, look at that queue for Clarks’ said Mummy ‘and for Marks, well we’ll just have to be patient, oh there’s Sarah, look Freddy, Annabel’s here with her Mummy and Daddy.’
Freddy felt shy, Annabel looked different, then she smiled as the grown ups started chatting, standing carefully apart. Freddy smiled back, but couldn’t think of anything to say.
Annabel’s mummy had plenty to say.
‘How is it going to work? One child coughs and the whole class gets sent home? Or you get to school and they take Freddy’s temperature and say too high, he has to go home…’
Freddy’s smile got bigger as Annabel started laughing, then whispering, creeping nearer.
‘Freddy, when we get to school, let’s do coughing.’
He remembered what his parents were always saying when they had that hot weather. Stop running around getting too hot. All he had to do was run around and cough a lot and everybody would get sent home from school…
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.