1 April 2020
Today could’ve been my 20th Wedding Anniversary!
But obviously it isn’t! Instead I find myself very much single, very much a mum and very much stuck indoors in the middle of a national corona virus lockdown! Covid -19 does, however, leave me with far more time than usual on my hands. In consequence I elect to battle upstairs with the rusty ladders, sway unsteadily into the loft and root around for my old wedding pictures. Eventually, I unearth them, buried in an old black briefcase and I sit down with a coffee to dwell upon life. Let’s face it, life never quite turns out as you planned!
Look at me all smiles, white frock and flowers. Blissfully unaware of the tidal wave that was to come crashing through my life just a decade after saying “I do!” Marital breakdown is a terrifying time. I felt as if someone had just swept into my life, torn it into pieces and cast them from a tall building, to see if they could find a place to land. The pain, the heartbreak, they were body blows. The dawning shock that I was now a ‘single mum‘ was difficult to comprehend. I remember the horror of having to tell people and trying not to cry. I hated being cast as a victim, and feared everyone’s pity. I remember the challenge of rethinking how to live every part of my life, how to maintain stability for the kids and how to pay for it all.
But I made it through. I rebuilt my entire world. I learned that if, like me, you don’t like being a victim then don’t be one! Take back control! The teens are successful and seem, at least for the moment, to be very happy. I have kept a roof over our heads. I have held down a full time job. I have managed, with a few personal sacrifices, to provide the kids with many of the opportunities I enjoyed as a child. I run, I read, I write, I play music, all of which is a joy. I still shudder when faced with a DIY tasks or an over-ambitious cooking quest. I still shed the odd tear over the sheer grind of daily life when you are the only adult in the house. But, having battled through the complexities of the family law courts, give me any official, legal or financial dilemma and I rise to the challenge better than most.
Do I miss the companionship and closeness? Do I miss having a ‘partner in crime’? Do I miss having a husband? In one sense, yes I do. I miss the husband the girl in the picture above was dreaming of. The daughter of a cinema manager and musician, weaned on films and tales of romance, I fear that she actually thought that life was destined to be ‘like the movies.’ Somewhere deep inside, I suspect she believed that ‘true love would conquer all,’ and that with marriage came the guarantee that everything would end ‘happily ever after.’
But no marriage breaks up because it’s happy. Towards the end of our alliance, life was very miserable for both me and Ex-hub, And I am sure that neither of us misses that at all. Life is strewn with cliches, possibly because they are wise old words, and this one always strikes a chord with me
‘It is better to be alone that in an unhappy relationship’
So whilst I did not make it to my 20th anniversary, the last 2 decades have certainly not been wasted. I emerge with great strength, determination, multi-tasking talents beyond compare and three incredible children. And I’m ready to make the most of … tomorrow! Forget anniversaries and landmarks, I have learned that it’s best to take life one day at a time …
Thursday 16 April 2020
It is the story of the day. It could well be the story of the year. Ninety nine year old, war veteran Captain Tom Moore, walking with the aid of a zimmer frame, completed 100 laps of his garden to raise over £15m for the NHS. Originally, he set out to raise £1,000 for NHS Charities Together by completing laps of his garden before his 100th birthday. But his story captured hearts and inspired people across the globe and, after more than 700,000 people made donations, his fund raising went stratospheric.
I’ll confess that I start most Covid-19 days feeling pretty emotional, as the radio relays yet more heartbreaking tales from those hit by this cruel virus. I pick up as the day wears on, particularly if I’m working, but it is tears for me most mornings. So this rousing tale is a real tonic. One DJ calls for Tom to ‘be knighted‘. Another suggests ‘Sports Personality of the Year‘! His former regiment, are in the garden, lining his final lap with a guard of honour. Tom is lauded as ‘inspirational’ and ‘A symbol of true British spirit’ . The NHS voice their gratitude.
Tom’s daughter however turns her thanks to those that have supported her father.
“No words can express our gratitude to the British public for getting behind Tom, for making this into a heartfelt story”
Hannah Ingram-Moore, goes onto to explain her how the ‘adventure‘ has ‘reinvigorated‘ her father ,
“I believe that life is all about purpose, we all need purpose, and, whilst he’s had a life full of purpose, he did fall and break his hip and became much less independent than he had been for the preceding 98 years, and what you have done, the British public, and everyone who’s supported him, is giving him his next purpose.”
Tom has made me smile. Tom has brought some much needed joy into my day. But his daughter has really woken me up. Perhaps rather than giving in to gloom and sadness, perhaps rather than descending into lock-down despondency, I should be channelling my efforts into supporting this national fight. What contribution could I make? Because Hannah Ingram-Moore is quite right, trying to make a difference wouldn’t only help the community, it would help me too, “We all need a purpose…”
Saturday 18 April 2020
Has is really been only 4 weeks? I am struggling …
During the first 2 weeks of Lockdown I was working. It was busy. It was challenging. It was creative; rethinking how to operate with most pupils and staff working from home. It felt strange and scary but very fulfilling. At home, the girls dyed their hair and ordered yoga mats. Small boy grew (and grew) his curly locks, jacked the basket ball stand ever higher and actually did quite a lot of school work. My brother rallied the entire family with Bingo, The Grand National and Quiz night on Zoom. And I felt optimistic about us sailing through these strange new times.
Then came the Easter Holidays … on Lockdown. The sun shone, the alarm was switched off, all structure fell away and it should have been idyllic. But, unable to go out, unable to meet friends, unable to do anything ‘non-essential’ everyday quickly became much like the one before and I began to find the going incredibly tough. The Government experts advocated exercise, so I ran most days. On social media, friends were cooking, cleaning and revamping so I tried those too. I baked. I spent hours spring cleaning cupboards and organising ‘useful string’, matches and batteries into recycled plastic tubs. I queued on DIY sites to order paint and rollers. I even washed the cutains! And it all used up a few hours but it didn’t lift my mood. Jobs I’d normally squeeze in between doing things that make me happy , had suddenly become the focus of the day … and I was lost.
And I still am. I know how important it is to stay at home. I am horribly aware, that those battling this cruel illness would swap their situation for mine in a breath. I do give thanks each day that my children are, up to this moment, safe and well. Nonetheless my dial is resolutely stuck on ‘sad and low’ at the moment. I love my teens, but I also miss adult company. It is really not a great time to be a single parent.
I do have my kids however. The girls, in particular, have been far more upbeat than me. My eldest found a ‘Make me a Cocktail’ app and we mixed delightful drinks for our sunny garden which was fun. Prom-dress daughter insisted that we preserve ‘Take-Away Friday’ and this week we even found a chippy to deliver, which was heavenly. So I resolve follow their example, get a grip, get inventive and rethink how I handle the next 3 weeks . I need a way to make the days count, as opposed to just counting the days. I need even more of their inspiration …
Sunday 26 April 2020
It is Lockdown Week 5. To give my day a goal, I decide to clear out my wardrobe and, in a dusty ‘memory box‘, I find our first shoes…
There is just something about shoes and the teens immediately adore these dinky specimens! Small Boy runs sound the house twirling one on the end of his finger, shrieking in disbelief that his mammoth size 11s were ever this small. I have to recount, several times, any details I can dredge up of each one taking their first steps. The ‘Whens?‘, the ‘Hows?‘, the ‘Who else was theres?“. I’ll confess, apart from a rough recollection of their ages, I am fairly hazy on most it it and thankful that I do, at least, have the footwear. What I definitely do remember, however, is that toddlers wobbling unsteadily to their feet was always one of my favourite child-rearing landmarks. I think that is why I held on to each first, precious pair of tiny loafers and sandals.
To you new parents out there, heed my warning ! Speaking? Seriously over-rated as a developmental stage . Do not seek to hasten it unduly! The day a small child first learns to say ‘No!‘ or ‘Why?‘ , rather than simply beaming with delight every time you appear, is the day your parenting challenges truly begin! But moving…walking, crawling, rolling, bottom- shuffling, however your child first begins to strike out, just marks the start of wonderful possibilities and independence . Exploration. Discovery. The desire to travel. Walking is a first step towards adventure. And our shoes will be trusty companions on most of our escapades.
Shoes are there on our first day at school, our first interview and our wedding day. I still have the walking boots I bought for an Inter-railing trip in the 1980s. I am pretty certain that I have long since discarded the flip-flops which took me around SE Asia. The glass slipper helped Cinderella to find her prince. Ballet Shoes saw Noel Streatfield’s adopted Fossil sisters strive to find their true paths in life. Hercule Poirot’s patent leathers accompanied Christie’s detective across the globe. And Dorothy’s ruby reds (silver for the purists!) took her all the way to Oz and then back home.
And, because I need to get back to my wardrobe, what better place to end than with Dorothy. The story of the heroine, of my mum’s favourite movie, is woven into the rainbows currently adorning our lockdown windows and walls. On Thursdays we not only ‘Clap the Carers’, but musicians also play ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’, her iconic song. The rainbow is a familiar symbol of hope; as far back as biblical times it signalled Noah’s calm after the storm. In recent years it has also come to represent the beauty of diversity and equality for all. But additionally Dorothy is the girl who realised that ‘There’s no place like home‘ and that is a powerful message for the public at the moment. Important as it is however, Dorothy for me is the girl who may have come back to Kansas in the end, but had one hell of an adventure on the way. With her glittering slippers, she embodies the wisdom that life is not just about the happy ending, it is very much about dancing down a yellow-brick road and making the most of everyone you meet and every chance you get along way. Dorothy reminds me that when this lockdown ends, we will be invited to step back into the journey of life once more. And I, for one, cannot wait for the day it is safe to buckle up my shoes and get walking again…
Sunday 3 May 2020
May! Oh my goodness. Was there an April ? How many weeks since I last saw a pub? Did I dream it, or was there once world where we used to eat somewhere other than the kitchen? Was I ever challenged by goals greater than clearing out the garage? Will life ever get back to normal?
The giddiness that marked the start of Lockdown now seems like a very distant memory. Whereas my eldest dyed her hair pink 6 weeks ago, this weekend, I have to confess to my slight relief, she purchased the chemicals to turn it back to a glorious, chestnut brown.
Prom dress Daughter redecorated her room and it looks terrific! The lime-green and peach colour scheme she chose 5 years ago is gone and in its place, we have clean, crisp, white walls and one feature splash of lilac. However her shopping list for new furniture, fixtures and fittings , a carefully, crafted creation as long as … lockdown itself has been put on hold and with it her motivation for each day ! (Cruel Covid means that none of our tips are operational and I have forbidden the dismantling of old beds and desks until they open their gates once more.)
Home schooling – what a roller coaster! More late marks for Small Boy this half term than in his previous 10 years of schooling, as I battle daily to get him our of bed. Prom dress daughter is sinking, under a sea of essays on complex , self-taught topics, and anxiety over the impact of all of this on UCAS predictions. My eldest, powerless to do anything about her exam grades and future now, does all the work sent, but without any of her signature drive and enthusiasm.
Gosh 6 weeks is a long time and they are struggling. No friends. No going out. No escape from each other. No break from me! I know that it is my job to fix them and I do try. I am trounced at basket ball most afternoons. I am there for Boris the Gecko’s bathtime. I turn my hand to homework. I try to be a counsellor, careers advisor, cocktail mixer and confidante… But the truth is that I am not good enough. No-one is. To quote the wisest of cultures,
“It takes a village to raise a child“
And I am only one. One definitely stretched and certainly stressed single mum, who is finding the going very tough…
VE Day Anniversary 8 May 2020
Many years ago, a friend bought me a box of fortune cookies so that I could start each day with a crunch of biscuit and, of course, a wise inspirational motto! This was my favourite,
“Hope is like food, without it we die“
And where better to start lighting Lock Down with a ray of hope, than on the 75th Anniversary of VE Day itself.
Some parallels with our current situation are evident, but the chasms of difference far more striking. World War 2 – 6 long years. World War 2 – 75 million lost lives. Conditions on the fronts, unthinkable. At home, families battling the Blitz, evacuation, rationing, separation and loss. Lock Down really does not compare. But with everyone staying at home, it is true that we do find more time than usual to reflect upon and mark this notable date in the diary. Street parties are the order of the day! Ours is scheduled for 4pm, and it turns out to be a more stylish event than I had planned for….
The 75th Anniversary is marked with a Bank Holiday, so I am not working (much) and, instead, am already having a lovely day. One of my friends Zooms in for a long and leisurely coffee in the morning. Another whisks me off to Dublin on a virtual tour of the Guiness Brewery, in the early afternoon. This is a taste of life as I used to know it. Sociable, lively, boozy and fun. I am drinking in the buzz of Temple Bar when my eye drifts to the road outside and I am jolted back into reality. Houses on our street are festooned with bunting. Driveways proudly showcase elegant table and chair sets, table cloths, wine coolers, flowers, and cake stands. I realise that the old rug in my car boot, purchased at a music festival in the mid 90s, is simply not going to cut it. I hastily bid farewell to Ireland’s capital and re- focus on my own front lawn!
We just about make it. I dig out an old, batik cloth, from a trip to Indonesia in 1989, to hastily cover the piano stool, which is carried out, masquerading as a table. My iced buns, scattered on a plastic picnic plate, already look dangerously close to melting. Small Boy is swigging his second Koppaberg before we’ve even ventured out of the front door. But, just after 4, gripping two bottles of Cava, we scramble onto our weather-worn garden chairs ready to party.
And it is terrific. All our neighbours are out. There is 1940s music on the play list. There is sunshine and smiles and lots of sparkling wine. We meet people we lived beside but, in the busyness of 21st century life, never found time to speak to before. And all this from the social distance of our front gardens.
“It feels like we’re on holiday!” slurs one of the Cava crew.
And they are right. It does. It feels different. It feels special. It feels amazing, however high the hedges, to be in the presence of other people. A 7-week break certainly makes you appreciate what is important in life. On Sunday, we will all gather as a nation to hear if the current Lock Down restrictions are to be relaxed a little. Whether or not conditions ease, this brief glimpse of life back in society, in public, in company has given me a the boost of strength I’ve been lacking in recent weeks. I know I can see this through with more drive and determination from now on. Hope for the future, it makes it all worth fighting for…
Sunday 17 May 2010
Cleaning the blinds! Have I reached a whole new lock down low?
We have now completed eight long weeks of socially distanced living. This week restrictions were eased a little and we moved from ‘Stay Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’. In an attempt to kick-start the economy, many more people were encouraged to return to the workplace. The Teaching Unions and the Government locked horns over the proposed re-opening of primary schools. Golfing, tennis and ‘going fishing’ were all given the green light and we were allowed to meet up with a family member, at a 2 metre distance, on a park bench. Not many of these changes do much to fill up my calendar however and so ….
And so, I find myself actually parting with hard earned cash to order an astonishing, tri-pronged, duster-socked blind cleaner. Buffing my blinds back to glory is the mission of the day! Now, even the most modestly house-proud amongst you probably needs to cover your ears as I make a confession. In the eight years I’ve lived in this house, never once have I cleaned, dusted or given a second thought to those poor blinds. Happily, however, my slovenly ways do now offer several advantages. One, as a blind-cleaning novice, I can be forgiven for any idiotic purchases of cleaning products or devices. Two, as I toil and sweat over many years worth of grime and grease, the impact is incredible.
Yellow? Why no! Those Venetians in kitchen are actually white!
But three, I can now thank the good Lord that today aside, I have never wasted a single other minute of my precious life on jobs like this! A WhatsApp from my lovely Mum pings in and I take the cue to stop for a very welcome coffee break.
The caffeine is wonderful but the message brings a moment of sheer delight. Whilst I have been scrubbing away with my plastic trident and anti-static spray, Mum has been busy with internet research. Buried on an directory of cinema organists, at a museum in Essex, she has found an entry for Dad. It is unbelievable. I phone immediately to hear the full, triumphant details of her sleuthing. It is an epic tale but, believe it or not, the trail began with a Covid-drawer clear out!
So, maybe it is wrong to scoff at all the corona cleaning and declutterng. A little time, out of our usually frantic lives, to rediscover old treasures and revisit past memories is definitely an opportunity we should cherish. Who knows what gems we may uncover? Blind cleaning however – just don’t do it …
Saturday 23 May 2020
“Who cares about good looks? It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.” Dominic Cummings (Senior Advisor to PM)
Dominic Cummings, should he stay or should he go? It’s a no-brainer for me.
The story is headline news. Dominic Cummings, Senior Advisor to Boris Johnson, is found to have travelled over 200 miles, to his parents’ home in County Durham. Why? His wife was displaying Covid-19 symptoms, and he feared so would he. In consequence, they planned to use the support of their North East family to help with childcare. On the face of it, a very reasonable and sensible plan. The issue? This all took place in the first week of the UK Lockdown and flaunts key directives in the Government’s Covid code.
The phone-ins, the opinion polls and the columnists have not stopped on this one. The Cabinet rally around, their aide. Michael Gove argues that, “caring for your wife and family is not a crime” and indeed it is not. Some callers to the radio debate shows challenge me to think about “what I would do in the same situation”. And I actually do not know. But I do know, that others did not follow Mr Cummings, in allowing their instinct to override Government guidelines. Instead, to support our national effort, they made huge and heartbreaking sacrifices when faced with similar situations. What I think, moreover, is that whatever I did choose to do is entirely irrelevant on this occasion because Cummings and I are not equals, even as parents. I am a key worker, a mum and a daughter trying my best to follow the spirit of the Government rules. Mr Cummings is the senior advisor to the Prime Minister, a member of SAGE, integral to strategy decisions at the highest level of Government. He may not be an elected representative, but, as Boris’ right hand man, he must accept the level of accountability that comes with a role of such privilege and power. It is imperative that he ‘walks the walk’ as opposed to merely, ‘talking the talk ‘of the administration he serves and influences.
So, Mr Cummings, you may quip that appearances do not matter. For you, I would argue, they absolutely do. In accepting such a pivotal job within Number 10, you gave up the luxury of opinion to interpret and stretch the government guidelines to suit your own circumstances. In its place you accepted the weight of responsibility that accompanies this highest level of public office. And, for me, even if with genuine oversight rather then arrogance, you have fallen far short of these expectations. In so doing, you undermine the very messages you have shaped and sold to us as those that will ‘Save Lives and Protect the NHS’.
Others, including Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, have accepted their lapses and resigned, with honour, for similar actions Is it time for you to go as well? Undoubtedly yes.
Sunday 31 May 2020
My parents may have been member of the Elgar Society, but they were also huge fans of iconic Rat Pack singer Frank Sinatra. He was the soundtrack to my Dad’s wake and this week, as I hear Small Boy jazz-handing his way through the intro to ‘That’s Life’ it starts to lift my mood…
I am in need of a small morale boost because Week 10 of lockdown does not start well. I get turned down for a job. An exciting, challenging new role, featuring travel, data and lots of writing is dangled before my eyes and then snatched away. I think I’d be pretty good at it, but I do accept that, in an online interview from my kitchen, I struggled to sparkle.
Rejection! Always such a blow. And so I resolve to set aside a little time to indulge in disappointment before picking myself up again.
Space to be gloomy, however, in a socially distanced world? Well it’s tricky! There’s no pub to retreat to. No rehearsal to take my mind off things. No long drive – well unless I masquerade as a senior government aide! Nowhere in the house to escape from my children and their volley of teen-centric demands. My only option is to go out for a run. So I do. I am out for over an hour. And as my feet pound the pavement, round and round in my head, Frank cheers me on,
“But I don’t let it, let it get me down
‘Cause this fine ol’ world, it keeps spinning around…”
And do you know what, Ol’ Blue Eyes, you are right! The uplifting anthem seems to chase away the cloud of negative thoughts and clear my brain for recharge. Is it the familiar, easy melody? Is it the fit of the lyrics ? Is it merely an overdose of exercise endorphins? Is it simply the joy that comes from a precious 70 minutes to myself? I cannot say. What I an certain about however, as I eventually sink in sweaty relief onto my sofa, is that I feel better. Not just about the job but also better about the the last 10 weeks, the scary prospect of the next chapter of Covid and careering on through life itself.
The ups and downs, and let’s be honest the last couple of months have dealt up plenty of both, will keep coming. But, mirroring my run, for every uphill struggle, eventually there will be a glorious downhill. All around, living, loving, time itself; they play on, inviting us to join them and add to the tune. It feels suddenly reassuring to be just a little part of something much bigger.
Tomorrow the calendar page announces that 2020 has made it to June. Here’s hoping that when it comes to the first month of Summer that Frank is singing for us all…
That’s what all the people say
You’re riding high in April
You’re shot down in May
I know I’m gonna change that tune
When I’m back on top in June..”
(That’s Life : Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon circa 1963)