So Now What?

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.

Five Seconds of Fame

I keep listening out for the doorbell, I keep looking out of the window, but the street is empty. The postman, greengrocer, Amazon delivery and Co Op groceries have all been, but They never come. Another day when a long pole, with a microphone on one end and a television interviewer at the other end, has not appeared at my front door.

How do they choose all these citizens who keep showing up on the news and breakfast television? I am not talking about science experts, political commentators, journalists and doctors, but ordinary people who sit in their living rooms unashamed of their ghastly wallpaper and awful fashion sense. Out of millions and millions of us how do they get chosen to be interviewed for several minutes in a segment that will be repeated endlessly on the main news and on News 24.

If they happen to have recovered from Covid they obviously have a head start over the rest of us, but it’s not just people pondering on pandemics, I have always been ignored. Every general election, the long years of Brexit, no one knocks on my door or stops me while I’m out shopping for my opinion. Though I would flee in the opposite direction if I did see cameras; too windswept, wrong clothes for television…

But if a reporter did call on me at home they might not get away; all those years of stored up opinions.

 ‘Yes we need more lockdown not less, gatherings of more than two people forbidden, identity cards, everyone to stay inside their own postcodes, disposable BBQs should be banned, litter bugs should be tasered on the spot, private motor vehicles confiscated, air travel banned… it was so nice during the first few weeks of lockdown…. Perhaps you and the cameraman would like to buy one of my books, I just happen to have a box full… or buy all my books…

Maybe a little bribery would secure their release…

Everyone is filmed at home now so if you haven’t had the chance to appear on television you can always pretend. Facetime with your boring family could become one of Alan Bennet’s brilliant Talking Heads – which are perfect for isolated actors and have just been remade.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08ftkkx

Or dust off your bookshelves and pontificate late at night on tomorrow’s newspaper headlines.

In the kitchen you can have your own masterchef celebrity banquet bake off.

‘What are you making?’

‘Bangers and Mash, it could all go horribly wrong… I’m just going to test the potatoes, okay, this is the moment when it could really go wrong, I could end up with third degree burns, I need to strain the potatoes now… make sure the camera lens doesn’t steam up…  yes the sausages all free range, they were running  around in a Hampshire field yesterday… oh oh is that the smoke alarm, I forgot to check the sausages…

Perhaps it would be better to stay in the garden. Gardening programmes are so popular now for peaceful healthy escapism and you can even send in videos of yourself and your delightful children giving a guided tour of your fantastic / unusual / beautiful / bountiful garden. Gardener’s World receives thousands of them, so you might not get chosen unless you have turned your bathroom into a tropical paradise, installed a waterfall in your living room, or turned a six foot sunless concrete square by your back door into the Garden of Eden.

Perhaps it’s best if I don’t film my garden; putting carefully cropped selected flowers on Instagram is my limit. Though if the people with poles do turn up tomorrow I could give them my views on new major projects injecting money into the economy; have all the motorways turned into cycle routes and gardens…

Have you ever invited television cameras into your home?

Locked Down or Locked In?

Like Japanese soldiers found hiding on remote Pacific islands decades after the Second World War, unaware the hostilities had ended, I fear I may emerge from isolation months in the future to discover everyone else has been out and about, holidaying and having fun. Scenes on the news of crowded beaches and beauty spots and anti racism protests, leave many of us wondering if we have missed a miraculous and sudden end to the pandemic.

One of my earliest memories is looking out of our upstairs window at sunshine and blue skies and feeling shut in. Until I was nearly seven, by which time my parents had a toddler and baby to cope with as well, Mum and Dad rented what they called a flat, but was really the spacious two top floors of a large Victorian terraced house. A quick glance on Zoopla reveals you would pay over a million and a quarter for such a house in that road today. But Mum had to lean out the kitchen window to hang the washing on a pulley line, suspended high above the back garden of the ‘wicked old lady’ ( mum’s words ) who lived on the ground floor. She never offered to let me play in her garden. But I certainly wasn’t a prisoner; my parents were always taking me down by the river or to Kew Gardens, Marble Hill Park and Richmond Park for fresh air and exercise. I feel so sorry for children literally locked into cramped flats because of the virus. Most children in England will not now return to school till after the summer holidays. While many are having fun and never had so many walks and bike rides with their parents, some children are isolated indoors because of their health or underlying health conditions of someone in their family.

We adults may grumble and some people have found themselves in dire situations, but we are not sheltering in a basement in a war shattered city. For writers, bloggers, artists and gardeners it’s just another day at home, an endless succession of days at home, but it’s okay. Obviously I could not survive without BBC Radio, books, music, the internet, television and of course chocolate.

When we were having our medical dramas just before lockdown, there was another patient who seemed to be following Cyberspouse from ward to ward. He had no visitors because he had a frail wife at home and no family near. I knew this because I heard all his conversations to medical staff and on his mobile, but his greatest upset was not having anything to read and nobody seemed able to get him a newspaper. When any medical staff asked how he was he told them he was soo bored. He was reduced to doing origami with the paperwork they left behind. By the third ward I made sure I brought him a newspaper and he was overwhelmed with gratitude. Boredom can be a worse threat than a pandemic.

What things have been essential for your survival in isolation?

Friday Flash Fiction – Freddy

They didn’t do clapping and banging saucepans last night, did that mean Covid was going away? Freddy didn’t want Covid to go away, he wanted it to stay forever so he didn’t have to go to school ever again and Mummy and Daddy didn’t have to go to work ever again.

Freddy was good at home schooling; he did all the work his teacher set, he did lots of BBC Bites, he liked those and the extra work his parents set because they didn’t think his teacher gave him hard enough work. Even when Mummy was doing conference calls and Daddy was busy on his lap top, Freddy carried on working, looking up countries in the big atlas or writing a story. If he kept being good at home schooling then he wouldn’t need to go back to school.

At the weekend they had had an important conversation with him.

‘The Prime Minister says your class can go back to school, but we have some bad news… now don’t be too disappointed, but Daddy and I have decided you should not go back yet. We are very proud of you doing so well at home schooling and it might not be safe at school; remember how we measured two metres?’

‘Yes and our desks are closer than that’ said Freddy hopefully.

‘What Mummy means is that some of the children who aren’t as clever as you might forget at playtime and bump into you.’

Freddy knew for sure who would bump into him, purposely and give him Covid. He certainly didn’t want to go back to school if They were going to be there.

‘Are the other children in my class going back?’

‘Some are, perhaps when things settle down you will be able to go back.’

Freddy didn’t want things to settle down. Perhaps They would go back to school and catch Covid and die.

At bedtime he listened to his mother talking on the phone, who was she talking to?

‘Yes I know, it’s a difficult decision, we’re just lucky we can work from home and Freddy has taken to home schooling so well. But it’s not really fair on him, being an only child, he needs to be with other children. Yes, I heard about that, extending the end of term.

Friday Flash Fiction – Thursday Evening

Cassie looked at the atomic clock on the wall, one minute to eight. She waited till eight on the dot before opening the front door.  It it wasn’t for Doris next door she wouldn’t step outside, but it was the highlight of the elderly lady’s week, banging her saucepan and clapping for the NHS. Now it was the tenth week and there was talk on the news of this being the last, going out on a high. Their little road had never reached a high, not compared with the lively streets shown on the ten o’clock news and later on the local news. They had no singing, dancing or pipers piping, no string quartets or even any NHS staff to show their appreciation to. The children across the road would miss it; the chance to come out in their pyjamas, bang on saucepans and delay bedtime. Apart from that, next door the other side would chat cautiously across the fence to their other side, Doris would have her weekly catch up with the family the other side of her. Not every house came out; several parents of the children would wave to Doris, perhaps wander to the middle of the road to exchange a few words. Who would decide if their road should stop the ritual?

 Cassie stood on the front path, no saucepan, just a self conscious clapping, then relief as neighbours started to retreat indoors. Doris would come for a final chat before going in, standing the exact two metres apart; Cassie had even measured the distance across the flower bed and hedge to reassure her. Doris would then relay news gathered in the precious quarter of an hour. Cassie hardly knew any of her other neighbours; before Covid she had been busy at work or out exploring her new city and happy to close the front door on the world.

Apart from Doris, the only real people she saw were those who passed by while she was watering the front garden. She was still happy to work from home and that looked set to continue. The almost constant sunny dry weather had given a holiday feel to the whole experience, it made the garden a lot more work than she had expected, but she was still enjoying it thanks to Doris. Her poor neighbour was bereft at the closure of garden centres, not able to go for coffee and plant buying with her friends. Cassie had gone on line and found a nursery that delivered bedding plants; in quantities that required her to share them with Doris.

Doris admired Cassie’s front garden, it was almost restored to its former glory. Her new young neighbour had done a good job reclaiming it from the several years of neglect after Ken’s health declined. At least he didn’t live to see this virus business; he would have hated being called vulnerable and put into lockdown. Doris hated being in lockdown, but she had come to terms with her situation and she was lucky; lucky to be alive, lucky not to be sitting in a care home in pink fluffy slippers, like that clip she kept seeing of an old lady’s feet on every television report on care homes. Very lucky not to be in an intensive care unit, expected to use some electronic devise to communicate dying words to her family. Well her son and his lot wouldn’t be able to visit her in hospital anyway, not from the USA. He was very good, phoned her regularly, even offered to organise on line shopping, but she had told him no need. Cassie next door had got a vulnerable delivery slot for her with Sainsburys, they shared an organic fruit and veg box every week and her new neighbour even bought the Radio Times and newspapers when she went for her daily bike rides. It was a mystery what Cassie did at work, how she managed to do all that from home. Doris didn’t pry into her life, modern women didn’t need a chap, they were happy to live by themselves, though she apparently had a friend from work who happened to be a man, that she talked to every day on the internet.

They were lessening restrictions, but would that make much difference to herself Cassie wondered. She had no local friends to meet outside and socially distance from, not a group of two, let alone a group of six. James had suggested they could theoretically meet, but the ferry was still out of action, neither of them had a car and public transport was still to be avoided. He would safely remain on the other side of the water. But she still looked forward to talking to him. There was something missing from her life. She had relished living in a new part of the country, by herself; spending her free time as she pleased, wandering round galleries, going to the theatre or cinema, dropping into coffee shops, taking in the ambience, people watching. Now all that was taken away.

The Game Of Life- Covid 19 Edition

Essays submitted to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme detailing its listeners’ coronavirus experiences are to be archived by the British Library.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52487414

The Covid Chronicles were launched in March when presenter Evan Davis asked his audience to write in with personal accounts of life during lockdown. Perhaps this is what I would write, though I have exceeded the suggested 400 words.

The last day life was normal for us was Burns’ Night, 25th January 2020. Friends came round for dinner, my husband cooked. The day before, his birthday outing of choice was a trip to Ikea, our last outing.

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Life hadn’t been completely normal since his cancer diagnosis in autumn 2018, but chemotherapy had gone well and 2019 was filled with what was normal for most of us last year, holiday breaks, long walks, family visits, going out with friends…

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By February this year things had gone off at an unexpected tangent and downhill. Family were flying over, driving down, coming in shifts and helping out with stays in three different hospitals. We were aware of the virus, but the main defence was hand gel; how ridiculous that seems now. The main entrance of Southampton Hospital, where his major operation took place on 2nd March, was like an airport; twenty four hour Costa Coffee, shops, cafes and people, lots of people. The intensive care unit was a quiet little bubble away from all this; you had to phone from the waiting room to be let in, but that was the only restriction.
On two occasions we were called into a little room to talk to a doctor, but after a few days my husband was on a ward. In the background to our little lives hospitals were planning for the virus to get worse, suddenly he was transferred to our local hospital and we were wondering how this Coronavirus was going to pan out. Our physiotherapist daughter had already been organising the NHS and her brothers and now she made sure our house was ready, persuading the ‘social care team’ I would cope fine in my new role as carer. I don’t drive, but I’m fit, we have great local shops, family would continue to come and stay at regular intervals and friends would be dropping in for coffee and jigsaws, what could possibly go wrong? The reluctance to let my husband go suddenly changed to a flurry of Covid 19 bed emptying activity on his ward.

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At home things went as planned, some friends were already voluntarily isolating, but others came round for coffee. Our last family visitors left the evening after Mothering Sunday, by the time they were on their way home, on Monday 23rd March, the Prime Minister was telling everyone to stay home and close everything. We were already confined to home, now everybody would be at home; though I certainly wouldn’t have wished for a world wide pandemic just to feel we were all in the same boat.
My husband soon got The Letter – the most vulnerable people to stay at home for twelve weeks; I was now a shielder as well as a carer. By now we all understood the theory, it was a duty for everyone not to get Covid 19. My humble Covid Challenge, my contribution to the NHS was to keep my husband out of hospital and not get the virus myself as I am his sole carer.

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So here we are in our cosy little bubble, thanks to our kind next door neighbours and the local greengrocers, butcher and Co Op doing home deliveries, I don’t go near any shops. I only venture out for a walk and to our doctors’ little pharmacy; one customer at a time, the staff wear masks and shields. The amazingly fine weather and the garden have given lockdown a holiday feel. As a retired couple with lots of interests we’re used to having relaxing days at home; now every day is a relaxing day at home. Real carers are people who look after severely disabled children or partners or parents with dementia, for year after year. Apart from having to think what to have for dinner and cook every single day, life is easy and there is time for gardening, writing and blogging.

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In the Game of Life, Covid 19 Edition, over 35,000 people have died in the UK.

We have been given another extra turn and got some bonus points; loved ones and friends have been safe so far. Lucky to have a garden, not have to worry about losing a job or trying to home school children. Lucky that what happened to us came just before lockdown.

Have you written a Covid Chronicle or kept a journal?

Silly Saturday – Quarantine Quests

Some of you may be coming out of isolation, some of us are still in confusion, but it is imperative that you have completed this list of ten goals to achieve before re-entering the world.
1. Share on Facebook, one a day, the covers of thirty books that have shaped your life. If you have not even read thirty books in your whole life you have time to read them now.


2. Share on Facebook, one a day, the forty music albums that had an amazing impact on your life. Think carefully about your street cred and decide what image you wish to project.
3. Train your dog or any pet to do amazing tricks and post them all over social media. Not got a pet? Now is the time to raise a puppy, cub or foal while you are at home all the time.

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4. Upcycle just about anything to plant plants in and post smug pictures to demonstrate your green credentials.

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5. For the more ambitious, design and create a totally new garden with a wow factor that will mean you never need to go on holiday, or even out again. No garden, no problem. Create a hanging garden on your balcony. No balcony, no windows? Create a terrarium. But don’t forget to post the pictures.

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6. Create new dishes from scratch and share one a day – share on the internet, the good news is you don’t have to actually share the food, you can eat it all yourself.

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7. Macro photography is ideally suited to your new insular life. All you need are a few flowers and endless patience so you get shots of bumble bees, butterflies and dragonflies that are superior to the millions of others on Instagram.

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8. If you haven’t tried them before, take up cycling and jogging and be sure to post regular accounts on Facebook of how far and fast you have been. You may even get a starring role on social media if your picture is taken by walkers complaining on the local Facebook group about the idiot cyclist or jogger who breathed too heavily when they sped past.


9. Laid up with a sprained ankle after number 8? No excuse for not taking up sewing. By now you should have made at least a thousand ineffective facemasks out of your old Tshirts or flowery sundress… And also created the longest rainbow/ hearts / We Love NHS banner in your road so you will be ready for number Ten.

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10. The only time you see another human will depend on which country you are living in. Perhaps you are out every evening clapping for something or someone. In the UK we are out at 8pm every Thursday clapping and banging saucepans for the NHS and anybody who is actually out working. But that is not enough. You must get your road or block of flats on the local news that night, or better still the ten o’clock national news. You will need one bag piper marching down the street signalling it is eight o’clock, a string quartet playing on the front lawn, lots of cute children glad to be delaying bed time and an out of work opera singer leading a rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ Just make sure everyone is two metres apart to avoid a media storm of disapproval.

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Have you achieved any of these goals?

Friday Flash Fiction – Staying Alert

Vivienne held the phone away from her ear, she was tiring of her daughter’s pontifications.
‘Yes Julia, I am staying alert, but the Prime Minister’s waffle was totally confusing, not just to me.’
‘All you have to do Mother is carry on the same, all over seventies still have to stay at home. You can go for a walk, there is no other reason for you to go out; James is organising your shopping and all your little clubs are closed.’
Vivienne gritted her teeth, Julia’s mother-in-law was a magistrate and chairwoman of something important, she didn’t go to ‘little clubs’. She tried to veer the conversation in another direction, though it was hard to talk about anything except The Virus these days.
‘So what do you think about the school business?’
‘Ridiculous, we’re keeping Jason and Jacintha at home, they are doing really well with the home schooling.’
‘Have they learnt to write letters? I haven’t had a thank you for their birthday presents yet.’
‘They have been busy with creative writing, such imaginations; they claim to have found a family of elves in the garden… got to go, I’ve got a conference call coming in.’

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Vivienne’s hand was shaking as she put down her phone. She imagined Julia’s reaction if she told her she had seen a tiny elf in her garden. Of course it must have been her imagination; too much isolation, too much time spent in the garden, though one could never spend too much time outside, especially with James clumping around indoors. But she did credit her son with putting her on Instagram, it was amazing that her new smart phone took such good photographs. Her pictures of flowers were getting quite a few Likes and she was appreciating the finer details of the blooms that she had not noticed before. That’s how she had seen him first, in a photo; pansies have faces, but this was no flower face smiling at her. She scrolled through the pictures she would certainly not put on Instagram. A little green arm, a pointy shoe poking out from the leaves. A six inch elf dressed in green was obviously not real, a trick of the light in the verdant foliage. Vivienne chuckled to herself; if he had been dressed in red and white stripes, like those strange little people the twins were obsessed with putting on shelves at Christmas, then she would have known she was not dreaming.

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Without thinking she tiptoed to the wild corner of the garden, her haven created for butterflies and bees, not mythical creatures. A noise startled her and the dreadful cat from next door shot out from under a bush, across the lawn and up onto the fence. She felt a stab of fear, birds were not the only creatures in danger from the cat, she tried to dismiss the image of thin green legs dangling out of the cat’s mouth.
For goodness sake Viv, pull yourself together, if James and Julia knew what was going on in your mind they would have you in a care home full of Covid cases.
If she knelt down in the soft grass James would assume she was taking photographs, not looking for an elf. She must keep perfectly still. How quiet it was, no planes or traffic in the distance. The sun was on her back, her face in the shade, that’s how she knew it was not the sun in her eyes. There he was, standing boldly smiling up at her, perhaps knowing he was safe from the cat while she was there. Dressed in green, his face a chalky white in contrast to his rosebud lips and pink cheeks. She didn’t dare move, nor would it be right to let her mobile phone come between them, scaring him or intruding on this special moment. Now he was laughing, was there a tiny sound or was it mirth in his expression? No wonder, she must look like an ugly ogre to him with his tiny perfect features…
‘Mother, Motherrr, where are you, someone on the house phone for you…’
The tiny creature’s face flashed with fear and with a sad wave he slipped back into the undergrowth.

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