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 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.

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…

Lockdown week 5: Shoes…

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…

Lockdown week 4: Struggling…

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 …

Captain Tom

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 chanelling 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…”