Lockdown week 10: That’s life…

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 life
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)

Lockdown week 9: Rules…

Saturday 23 May 2020

Dominic Cummings, should he stay or should he go? It’s a no-brainer for me.

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)

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 comparable, 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.

Lockdown week 8: A moment of magic

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.

My Dad – in the Museum directory!

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 …

Lockdown week 7: VE Day

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…

Lockdown week 6: May

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…

Who’s Bruce Hornsby Mum?

Sunday 26 May 2019

Tips for different generations working together…

One of the things that is brilliant about families has to be the mix of generations. The ‘elders’ are often naturally assigned the role of ‘teacher’, and I do owe a lifetime of debt to the inspiration, spirit and sheer joyous times my parents and grandparents gave me. But, additionally, I learn tons from my kids about life, love, tolerance … and this week music! I suppose it is that very mix of the young, listening to but also challenging and changing the old, that is the way the world moves on… the family as the microcosm of society?

This morning I am driving two of the teens to Wales, to spend some time with my mum. Small Boy and I rise early, to wrestle his bike into the car, alongside conventional cases, basketballs … and a set of weights! By 8:30 am, we are all done and just waiting for my eldest to complete her packing. I opt for a second cuppa. Small Boy heads for the piano and soon the lyrical runs and melodies of Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’ fill the house. Wow – that is sounding amazing after only a few days. My talented son then moves onto Elton John (‘My Song’) and Bruce Hornsby and the Range (‘Just the way it is’). Spluttering into my tea, I realise, with a glow of pride, that this is a catalogue of many of my favourite songs. I have inspired my child to appreciate great songs of the 20th Century. I am passing on my wisdom and emotional depths to the next generation. I hurry to the piano room to share this thought, but am quickly knocked off my perch,

Who is Bruce Hornsby Mum? I am playing ‘Changes’ by Tupac

Ha ha ha … that’s me told!

Tupac (stage name 2pac) produced a rap version , featuring the Hornsby classic, in the 1990s. Small Boy plugs me into his phone to listen …. and I love it. The rap adds an angry relevance and urgency to Hornsby’s original track about poverty and racial division in the US. Here’s a mash up if you want a listen … the language on Small Boy’s version was a little too fruity for my blog… and I prefer the rap over piano, as opposed to key board!

And this is my second musical mash-up of the weekend. Had a great night listening to the Black Sheikhs in a Northern Quarter pub, as part of the Manchester Jazz Festival. I can really struggle with jazz , so was surprised at how much I enjoyed this gig. The quest of the Black Sheikhs is to jazz/swing-up a full range of pop tunes..anything from Bowie to Bieber; Adele to AHA. Some worked better than others; Bieber unexpectedly good, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ a bit of a low point for me, but the whole set, and the whole bar, was jumping with energy and humour from start to very late finish. Top night!

My eldest now appears with a plethora of bags for her short stay in Wales, so I only have time to say, let’s make the most of the range of ages in our households. Let’s rejoice in mixing old with young, mashing-up and mixing up…it can only make ideas grow and strengthen and build communication and respect across the generational divide. Rap or jazz on the car radio anyone?

Black Sheikhs

Juicing Diet: Day 4

Thursday 23 May 2019

I find myself really getting into the routine of a daily juice, and today I recklessly push the boat out with a daring dash of lime …for extra zingy goodness!

Break-time toast is definitely a thing of the past! It’s evenings without a glass of wine I’m finding tricky. Prom-dress daughter has no exams tomorrow, my eldest has a ‘Reading Day’, and Small Boy is teaching himself a bit of Billy Joel (Piano Man – aww he knows it’s my favourite) … so a mood of relaxed, happy holiday tranquility envelopes my homestead and a chilled glass of white would be just perfect. I resolve to be strong, which with only Cherry Brandy in the house, is not the most difficult challenge of the day! Also, tomorrow is a work night out, never an occasion for sobriety, and I decide to save myself for that. With my halo firmly in place, I opt for an evening cuppa and set off to investigate some new juicing recipes.

This set of tempters, from Juice Meister, Jason Vale look amazing https://juicemaster.com/recipes/juice-recipes/….

Juicing Diet: Day 2

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Day 2 gets off to a fine start and I actually leave for work, on time, with a green juice in my bag. At break, as others abuse their bodies with coffee and toast, I smugly sip upon my nutritious sludge feeling virtuous and … invigorated! (Whether this is the vitamin boost, of carrots, spinach and apple, to my system, or simply the euphoria of actually having got a juice ‘to bottle’ only time will tell.) Then comes the text…

Mum, it went really badly 😢😢

It’s disaster and despair from the maths GCSE paper for my lovely Prom-dress daughter. I try many encouraging replies but there is clearly no consoling her, and there is clearly only one remedy for this situation … ice cream! I arrive home early-evening, laden with tubs of Ben and Jerrys, a bar of dark chocolate and a bag of salted peanuts. It’s surely breaking every diet regime known to mankind but I really don’t care. The treats, some family time and a good old sing- along to a favourite ‘Adele‘ album brings the smile back to Prom-dress daughter’s sad and disappointed face. At least for a few hours. After tea it’s Physics revision …. not our favourite thing…

So Day 2 in review. Still no alcohol or toast and I even managed a juice! I doubt that a double bowl of ice-cream and a fistful of salted peanuts will have done much to improve my running speed … but let’s face it some things are more important. Being a ‘fitter and faster me’ would be awesome, but trying my best to be a half decent mum is surely what I’m really here for….

Juicing Diet: Day 1

Monday 20 May 2019

Day One of my healthy juicing diet does not go according to plan!

Juice Diet: Day 1

I am up before 6 am, but that is because Small Boy has been sick! As I am, bleary-eyed, dealing with this, Prom-dress daughter, who needs to set off “Now Mum!” because “I have a GCSE Warm-Up session this morning”, discovers that her school skirt is still damp. I finish with the disinfectant, steer Small Boy back to bed and hastily try to iron the skirt dry, whilst my on-edge daughter hops nervously around the living room in her tights spooning down porridge and some chopped up apple (because I have run out of berries!)

A few minutes later, slightly less damp, and cheered by many ‘Good Luck‘ hugs, Prom-dress daughter races off to catch the bus and I head towards the juicer armed with a chopping board and knife. But this is a day when not even one piece of veg is destined to feel the chop, because the phone now rings. It’s my Ex. He is very excited about a plan for Small Boy to head ‘Down South’ for a World Cup Cricket Match. But the travel is complicated …too complicated …for everyone … except my Ex. I try very hard to find a way to squeeze it onto the busy calendar but eventually, having entertained many of my Ex’s variations on a theme of me, spending hours I don’t have, driving the highways of our land, I have to say no! Small Boy will be disappointed but, as I hear him racing across the landing to chuck up once more, I decide that the news can wait!

Small Boy announces that he now feels ‘much better‘, but he is the colour of my magnolia walls and I decide that a day off school is due. I call his school, I call my mum, who agrees to pop in, I sort out dinner money and bus fare for my eldest and, grabbing the remains of Prom-dress daughter’s apple I now head to work.

I make it home again by 6:30 pm, Small Boy looks much better and even manages some tea. After eating, it’s GCSE Maths Revision for me and my middle child! We call it a day by 9:30pm and I am now alarmed at how much I am craving some alcohol. The only offering in the cupboard is the dreg-ends of some Cherry Brandy but even that looks tempting! Somehow I resist and sit back with a cuppa to evaluate Day 1. On the plus side, I did avoid break-time toast and alcohol. But the boost of juice-fuelled goodness? Errr …does eating half an apple count!

In need of a boost…of juice!

Friday 17 May 2019

I am appalled at how rubbish I am on this Friday’s run and it leads me to commit to a week free from alcohol, free from toast and rich in … juices! Now that could be a real challenge!

It’s our first fine Friday for many weeks. We tough, Lancashire lasses have doggedly run through rain, sleet, snow and gales over the grim and grey winter months. Some colleagues have marvelled at our unstoppable madness, and many have chortled at the sight of us returning windswept and wild from our endeavours. So the upturn in the weather has us giddy with excitement. Many routes are proposed. Reservoirs and valleys are spoken of, as are fields and trails but eventually we settle on a beautiful route through the woods. It should be a glorious treat … but it’s also a three-hill-killer and I am quickly slain. I do get through it, mainly because the one rule of Run Club is that ‘we never stop’, but it is a huge struggle. I am at the back, I am red faced, I am dry mouthed, I am hot, I am bothered and I am slowing down with every step! How can this be, I ponder? How can I go running twice a week and now start to go backwards? It makes no sense and I start to puzzle about what is different.

I am under the weather this week, in fact I do have to confess to a ‘Granny Nap’ today, when I was shocked to jolt back into consciousness from confused doze on my desk at work. Could that be it? It was also an off road route. Is that too much for my trusty trainers? And continuing the doubt in my running shoes, I add, to sound like a bona-fide athlete, that I do carry a permanent and painful niggle in my right ankle. So like the proverbial bad workman, do I blame my tools? Umm …one thing that certainly cannot be helping is that break-time toast at work and wine-fuelled evenings, out and in, have developed into definite guilty pleasures of late! A doctor friend recently told me that he aims for 2 alcohol-free evenings a week … and I’d be struggling to meet that threshold at the moment. Here, at least, is somewhere for me to start, healthier diet.

I have a plan! After a few moment clattering around my kitchen cupboards, I unearth…the juicer! I place it proudly on the worktop, dust it down and then gingerly plug it in and risk the on- switch. It whirrs back encouragingly and I decide there’s no time like the present. I rummage around in the fridge for a few wizened fruits and vegetables and off we go! With in moment I am triumphantly sipping on a glass of green sludge which tastes…pretty good actually. It’s surely giving my weary body the boost of nutrition and energy it needs! I put aside, for now, the chore of of having to clean the thing, and raise my sludge glass , ‘To a week free from wine and toast but rich in nutritious juices! To a fitter and faster me!‘ …