Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Days of lockdown Part 3 - my position

My position, like most people's, is probably unique to me.  Others have similar views but we are in different situations.  This is mine.

Before lockdown began, I could see it coming.  I stopped using public transport at the beginning of March and didn't go anywhere I wasn't prepared to stay shortly after that.  I visited my parents for what I expected to be the last time for months.  After I'd had time to do all of that, eventually we were in lockdown and my 100 days began.

I wore a mask whenever I went out, which to begin with was fortnightly to shop for food for me, and for a couple of months for a friend who was shielding.  A friend who mows my lawn would have a cup of tea on the patio and we used wipes for things we were both handling.

People were talking of lockdown being for a few weeks, or returning to normal, or variations on those but I was never expecting that.  The history of pandemics, I was told by my historian friend, is that they usually have a second wave which is worse than the first.  Then there's our government and the decisions it makes.  Nothing our government was doing was encouraging me to think otherwise - everything was decided at least too late and sometimes insufficient measures were introduced.  To say nothing of the confusion ...

Gradually lockdown was "eased".  People started doing things they hadn't done for months.  I haven't been to a pub or restaurant and don't intend to for the time being.  I'm still wearing a mask when out and in shops and now - quelle surprise! - we're being told we have to.  For a long time, shopping was the most risky thing I could do and now people are waking up to that.

I haven't hugged anyone, not even my friend who had her cat put to sleep.  I have once had coffee outside a cafe with a friend and once in a garden and I've had one set of friends and one family visit on my patio, with food and drink, which we all accessed separately.  Before that I was becoming depressed about how almost every person I know was managing to do something in the way of a holiday with family or friends and I didn't seem to have anything ahead to look forward to.  Yes, I could go away on my own to a safe location, but the point isn't the going away, it's the 'with people'.

I am now self-isolating for two weeks prior to going to visit my elderly parents for a week.  I will enjoy that as it's always good to see them and as they have a live-in carer, I get to talk to three people whenever I want.  I phone them every day but I know my occasional visits are an emotional lifeline for them.  When I'm there I do hug them.  After 14 days of seeing nobody and feeling exactly the same, it's unlikely (though I admit possible) I have the virus so it's a tiny risk to take.

The observant amongst you will have noticed that the title of this post, although it's Part 3, is "Days of lockdown" without the 100.  This is because lockdown is not over, it's only eased.  Many people seem to think everything is ok now and we can relax completely.  It's not ok now and we can only relax slightly.  

Many of my friends think the same as I do but they all have tales to tell of their friends who don't.  I really don't understand where people's head are at.  Hundreds of new Covid-19 cases every day in the UK and many deaths EACH DAY.  Occasionally you get a low day, 9 or 12, but often it's still over 100 deaths in a day.  

So are there any plus points in my new normal?  Yes.  I've had my house repainted on the outside.  A flash of inspiration about how the colour would show the garden to its best advantage now that I'm able to spend more time there, and now here is crocosmia in all its glory.

Secondly, I've not been anywhere or done anything to interfere with my weight-loss regime so have been able to stick to eating very strictly four days a week and relaxing completely at the weekend, with the result that I have already exceeded my annual target of losing 7lbs during the year.

Thirdly - and this is not as incompatible with secondly as you'd expect! - I have discovered that after all fresh yeast is so much better than dried.  For a long time when lockdown began, dried yeast (and flour of any sort) wasn't to be found anywhere but our healthstore had fresh yeast and strong flour.  We had no shortage of bread but I decided retirement was as good a time as any to resume making my own bread.  It's been a great success and I've branched out to focaccia, and almond croissants (see top photo) which are a favourite of mine.  All delicious.

And that's it.  There have been other positives in my life but they either haven't been as a result of lockdown or have been second-best alternatives to seeing people regularly.

The next post in the series will broaden out, I think.

P.S.  I see I used the picture of the almond croissant before.  But I'm leaving it, because it was that good.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

100 days of lockdown - Part 2, patterns

When I began to write "Things to be thankful for" I knew some days they would be very little things because nothing in particular had happened.  I managed to find something positive every day even when things were bad and that with one exception I managed to find something different every day.  At times things were bad too - how do you feel thankful when the world is constantly spinning and you can't lie down to sleep?  But I managed it.  For which, I guess, I'm thankful!  Here's the summary of categories.  (Some things came into more than one category, before anyone does the maths!)

  • There were 21 things related to my garden and 4 to do with wildlife.
  • There were 17 things that were directly related to Covid-19 or lockdown.
  • There were 15 things related to people.
  • There were 14 things related to food and drink.
  • There were 9 things related to weather and 5 which were specifically about rain.
  • There were 6 things related to shopping or treats I'd bought.
  • There were 5 things related to my health.
  • There were 15 things that didn't fit any of the above categories.
  • Although I spent several days thinking I mustn't mention bees again, I found I hadn't actually mentioned them once!
The list is quite interesting to me because I think it might relate the amount of time I spend thinking about all the different categories.  Undoubtedly my garden is hugely important to me and I spent a lot of time in April and early May working in it.  I'm pleased to find that people figure quite highly because people are important to me but sometimes I fear I get distracted by other things going on in my life and don't spend as much time with or on my friends.

Food and drink - well, considering how much time I spend thinking about food and drink it's surprising that I only mentioned them 14 times.  

The list also shows that I haven't gone overboard on comfort buying and don't dwell overmuch on my health.  I'm not sure about the accuracy of these two.  I have actually spent a lot of money during the past three months but much of it has been on equipment for making silver clay jewellery, having decided that's the direction I want to go in at the moment.  And as for health, well I do spend quite a lot of days thinking about my post-viral fatigue and whether I need a nap or not as well as the various injuries and aches and pains I have.  But I suppose I don't tend to talk about these very much as I think I would soon bore people.

I'm very glad I did this and glad that I maintained every single day for 100 days.  It would have been easy to miss the days without anything obvious but my list sometimes made me think carefully about what was important and sometimes it took my focus away from things I needed distracting from.

Lockdown isn't over.  The news describes it as "eased".  However, I knew I needed to set a finishing post, for one thing because I really was going to be repeating myself sooner or later and for another I wanted to concentrate on other types of post and forms of writing.  It's good that I've been prompted to blog, which has been increasingly neglected over the past two years or so.  

And finally, coming to the end of writing my 100 things seems to have coincided with my starting a new direction for my creative work.  The last post I wrote before lockdown was last December, when I wrote about retiring.  I'm quite excited to find something I want to do and am now going to get on with it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

100 days of lockdown - part 1, the list.

 On 23rd March I began posting daily “things to be thankful for” on Facebook.  I didn’t know how long I’d go on doing this but eventually decided I’d stop on day 100.  That day is today.  This first post is simply the list of each thing I’ve been thankful for during the first 100 days of lockdown, mostly without the explanations that often followed.

2.      The osmanthus is smelling wonderful.
3.      Lunch outside in March. And this lovely soda-glazed bowl by Lansdown Pottery
4.      I treated myself to new pyjamas, for loafing about in after baths.
5.      My local stationers, James and Owen, while shut are still answering the phone and for minimum order of £10 are delivering while they have stock.
6.      It's my birthday, in case you hadn't noticed 
7.      I have a garden.
8.      My local garden centre is doing deliveries.
9.      There is a peacock butterfly in my garden most days.
10.  Birthday daffs. Arrived as buds so had no idea they were going to be double blooms.
11.  I'm still able to do my own shopping at Waitrose. 
12.  Roger has found a way to upload photos to Instagram on the PC.
13.  Roast beef this evening and I found some Yorkshire puddings in the freezer!
14.  It still hasn't rained! Allowing me to make slow but sure progress in the vegetable garden.
15.  A neighbour I didn't really know brought me a gift way out of proportion for giving them some seed trays.
16.  I bought more and different tulips last autumn than I remembered and now they're coming into flower.
17.  Saw an orange tip butterfly in the garden.
18.  BT OpenReach, who sent someone immediately to investigate my disconnected phone and established exactly where it's disconnected
19.  My life is so easy compared to many. I'm aware that this could be transitory, so I am living each day as best I can.
20.  My cousin's wife is happy to do my parents' shopping so their carer doesn't have to go out.
21.  I am discovering the benefits of WhatsApp groups.
22.  My beetroot have germinated and are visible above ground.
23.  I have lots of sparrows in my garden.
24.  My landline is fixed!
25.  Amazon.
26.  Rubbish tv
27.  Rain, for the garden.
28.  The mahonia smells so strongly of honey, even when I'm 6ft away the other side of a fence.
29.  Butternut soup for supper today.
30.  My friend Anne, who not only collected my prescriptions this morning but also went back this afternoon for the one they'd forgotten and topped up the bird feeders as well
31.  I've just slept for 45 minutes without neck pain.
32.  I am able to sleep lying down!
33.  My GP, who really didn't seem to mind my asking for another telephone consultation.
34.  Today I am feeling better than yesterday, probably back to how I was the day before, so I have had a shower and brushed my hair!
35.  A nice day where it wasn't expected, so I was able to walk around the garden taking photographs.
36.  Another rain-free day when I managed a few more outdoor tasks.
37.  Rain, for the garden, which was fairly desperate for it and my usual firm of gardeners, who are still at work.
39.  have yet to be bored!
40.  I have lost 60lbs since I began to take myself in hand at the end of 2011.
41.  I'm learning to live more slowly.
42.  I find that I am interested in work again. I wasn't sure I would be when I retired.
43.  My knees are almost back to where they were, following falling down the stairs in November.
44.  These beautiful Californian Poppies, which are annuals but overwintered in my garden.
45.  My zoom 'socials' with crafty friends.
46.  Not one but two friends sat 2m away from me on my patio and had a drink today, at two different times.
47.  Brassicas have been in the garden 24 hours and so far not eaten by anything.
48.  Even on low days there are friends I can phone.
49.  A good audio CD to listen to while doing boring dressmaking.
50.  Not all my brassica plants have been munched and none so badly that they won't survive.

52.  An unexpected phone call from a cousin.
53.  The garden centre has re-opened and I had a lovely drive over the common to reach it.
54.  I have rediscovered fresh yeast. It is *so* much better than dried.
55.  Had such a nice day doing 'stuff' that I almost forgot about this!
56.  All day breakfast for supper tonight.
57.  A new CD arrived today, though I haven't had time to listen to it yet.
58.  Pea plants went in yesterday and so far un-munched.
59.  My parents (91 and 92) are on the Waitrose priority booking list at last.
60.  The ice-maker in the door of my new freezer. I've always wanted one.

62.  The recipe for carrot cake that is from a magazine and in my recipe folder. It's the best carrot cake there is.
63.  Four weeks after being chopped down to 1ft high because of two years' of terrible aphid infestation, my forty-year-old honeysuckle is sprouting again.
64.  Another pleasant day.
65.  Got all my veg planted out now.
66.  The Californian poppies (that Joy gave me the seeds for) have been the star of my garden for weeks and weeks.
67.  The bed we ordered in February, for my parents' carer, has finally been delivered.
68.  After quite a long time watching videos and taking measurements, have a mask pattern that really fits me nicely.
69.  Six rather nice bottles were delivered to me yesterday, as a gift.
70.  Ten weeks and I'm still here.
71.  My parents; ageing all the time but still themselves.
72.  I have some lovely friends.
73.  Rain.
74.  Wine
75.  Home-made cream tea.
76.  I find it so easy to make meals that everyone likes.
77.  Managed to get out of the bath at parents'.
78.  Sweet peas are blooming beautifully.
79.  First veg of new season for supper tonight: spinach.
80.  Sunny photographs are good to look at on a dull day.
81.  Watching a squirrel searching for the nut feeder which had been there earlier was really entertaining.
82.  New Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse just worked perfectly straight away.
83.  Helped a couple of people feeling low today.
84.  Picked blackcurrants and a few red gooseberries this weekend.
85.  I'm still sticking to my eating regime and losing a little weight here and there.
86.  A really good day today.
87.  I had a nice tax rebate, which more or less paid for the new laptop which was delivered today.
88.  Day 2 of a 3-day almond croissant recipe. This has given me something interesting to do with food but which I can't eat yet!
89.  A new Dylan album.
90.  Walnuts keep well for 11 years in the freezer.
91.  Rain made the vegetable garden soil extremely easy to pull weeds out of without the aid of any implements.
92.  I can't follow the post I shared this morning with something I'm thankful for because it would seem incredibly petty, whatever it was.
So today I'm just thankful.
93.  Today some purple crocs arrived that were the right size.
94.  Gloucestershire has an R rate of 0.6 at the moment.
95.  Had a wonderful one-to-one tutorial with Amy Surman Jewellery - Home Jewellery School this afternoon.
96.  Though it's not the whole story, I seem to have got my creative mojo back.
97.  My friends are all sensible. They, like me, take a long view of Covid-19.
98.  Winning a game of chess.
99.  I don't do a job where I have no choice whether to be inside or outside

100.    I've survived 100 days of lockdown without serious
           health problems, physical or mental.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

A bit of a surprise.

At the end of November I fired the kiln for the last time this year.  It was a lustre firing and everything turned out well, including this serving bowl, which was an order.

And then ...

I decided to retire.  This was a really big deal for me and a decision I never thought I'd make.  To begin with I didn't think my state pension would bring in as much money as my earnings as an artist but when it arrived in September I was very pleased to find that it does.  So no drop in living standards ...  so I don't need to make a mug ever again if I don't want to?  Or a cereal bowl?  Or promise stock to anywhere?

What's not to like?  I always said I'd never retire because I wouldn't want to.  Finding out I do want to was something of a surprise. 

Let's be clear - you don't retire from being an artist.  An artist is not an occupation, it's who you are.  I'll always be one.  And I suppose I'll still do accounts every year, since I can sell the work I've made and will do.  I can make more things if I feel like it.  I can make different things.  I can work in different materials.  I might write more (or not).  So technically, as far as tax goes, I suppose I won't be retired as long as I'm keeping accounts and selling stuff.

What will I be doing?  I'm surprised to find that the first answer that pops into my head is that I'll  be spending more time on my garden.  Quite traditional. I'll be making sure I have time for my friends and will continue to visit my elderly parents at least once a month.  And after that ...

I don't know!

This makes me happy.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Mental Health Awareness Week

We're just at the end of Mental Health Awareness Week.  I really hope it's had an impact and I feel it may have done.  I watched an amazing documentary about Nadiya Hussain, the Bake-off winner, talking about her anxiety disorder.  She was extremely brave to put it out there and allow herself to be filmed exploring her anxiety and what had happened to her in the past.  If you haven't watched it, I wholeheartedly recommend it and you have just under four weeks left on iPlayer to do so.  Bake-off is watched by so many people and Nadiya is such a lovely person that I hope it has drawn people to watch.

Elsewhere other celebrities have talked about their mental health issues more openly as well.  Without any facts or statistics to back it up, I feel that there is increasing awareness of mental health issues.  There's much to do, but it's started.

But what of you and me?  "It's good to talk" isn't just about celebrities. In a way it can damage or enhance their reputation but we don't really know the effect it's having on their families and their 'real' lives.  Ordinary, less famous people may feel they have more to lose in talking about their mental health.

For this reason, I've been very open about mine.  I blogged here when I first started taking anti-depressants and I realise that time has flown by without an update.  Well, I'm doing fine, thank you, on the mental health front.  The first two weeks were hideous, with sometimes overwhelming anxiety.  The doctors I spoke to occasionally at my practice were very understanding but said that it was a known side-effect that should go after a couple of weeks.  It did, but it was a close thing.  I'm so glad I stuck it out.  The doctors were all clear that it was up to me and gave me as much information as they were able, one of them even contacting a specialist to answer one of my questions to which she didn't immediately know the answer.

So a few months on and I'm still taking the antidepressants and expect to do so for the time being.  I'm pleased to say that in spite of a difficult time with injuries and illnesses and family worries, I'm not depressed.  Sure, there have been occasions when I felt defeated, not sure when I was going to escape the vicious circle of illnesses, but it wasn't depression.  Without the medication, life would have been much more difficult.  I was suffering from depression, I knew it, I went to the GP and he prescribed the best treatment.  It really can be that simple.

A friend of mine posted somewhere that the worst lies are those you tell yourself.  Maybe the best way to avoid those is to talk more to other people.  When you actually hear your lies repeated, then maybe you'll be aware of them and realise them for what they are.  I don't know.  But what I do know is that Mental Health Awareness Week is a really good thing and I hope that we will all take on board what we've learned and carry it forward to the rest of the year.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Is it spring yet?

I'd like to start by saying that I certainly do believe in climate change.  What is happening to the sea, for instance, and the melting icecaps just can't be denied.  However, and this may be a little controversial, I don't believe that any patch of unusual weather is a sign of climate change.  We've always had it in this country.

In February we had some exceptionally mild weather, but it's not by any means a first.  I remember the odd week in February where I sat in my attic studio with the window open all day.  I can't tell you what years that happened in because they only happen occasionally, but they do happen.  Then we get the rest of winter, which is what we're getting now.

Mike3 used to say, "He who celebrates the first warm day as the start of spring gets the longest spring but he who waits till the last frost gets the longest winter."  I like that.  So I think spring has begun, but slowly.  Things in my garden think so too.  Some of them like this aubretia, have never totally stopped blooming, even in the snow, and now are really starting to come into their own.

Meanwhile, I've been on antidepressants for more than five weeks and I'm pleased to say that I'm feeling a great deal different.  You're not supposed to notice any improvement for a couple of weeks at least but I started to feel better after about four days.  It's difficult to describe but I just knew I had feelings that had been absent for a while. 

It wasn't plain sailing.  I wasn't warned about the possible anxiety as a side-effect and it was most unpleasant.  Luckily for me it wore off after a couple of weeks, which it does for most people though not all.  And then I was back to being myself.

I think I'd been depressed for longer than I had thought at first.  Life things get in the way which can be blamed for how you feel, but now I am doing and thinking things that I'm aware I wouldn't have done in the last six months or so.  It creeps up on you.

What I don't mean is that everything in the garden is rosy.  I'm not on cloud nine or even cloud six.  Life is what it should be if your brain isn't warping it, in other words there are good and bad days, good and bad things happen, and last Friday at a friends drop-in-for-tea afternoon nobody talked about Brexit at all.

At the moment I'm particularly enjoying this tall euphorbia.  Its vibrant green flowers are very long-lasting and have brightened up my garden for a couple of months.  In the background in a tub you can see a shorter euphorbia with pale leaves but still fairly bright flowers.  It's proved to be an ideal tub plant.

PS, there's still another week of Another Beastly Art Exhibition at Nature In Art, from tomorrow till Sunday.