The Covid Christmas Chronicles

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Day three of the long awaited Christmas holiday and things are not exactly going to plan…

Ho ho ho! Did I dare to think that Christmas 2021 was going to mark a return to more festive familiarity; with the extended family WhatsApp whirring into December discussions about a month ago? Alas, no sooner have I collected both Uni girls from the station; handed round the glasses of seasonal Baileys and unveiled our new Christmas board games than…

I am floored on Saturday by a revolting attack of vomiting and severe headaches. Generally, there are few low level ailments that stop me; as a single parent of the past decade I’ve learned that being ‘under the weather’, duvet days and most variations flu/common cold/fever etc, are simply not a viable option for the only adult in the house and, thanks to my amazing allies, Anadin Extra and Lemsip Max, I’ve trundled on. But this; well I can hardly raise my head from the pillow! At 7pm, I attempt to prop myself on the sofa for the long anticipated ‘Strictly‘ final but, before the first ‘9’ paddle (Oh Craig; why not a 10?) appears on the screen, I have crawled back into bed to toss, turn and … well throw-up for the rest of the night until…

Sunday and “Ding dong merrily on high!” the sickness finally stops. I summon the energy to take and keep down a painkiller and my headache dulls to blissfully acceptable levels. Festivities are surely back on track! My eldest and I head into town, indulge in yuletide gingerbread lattes, find a few late gifts and splurge my Tesco ClubCard triumphantly on copious amounts of food and drink for the Christmas Day dinner. My mum comes over and the five of us have a hilarious evening of board games and mince pies. I do choose to wear a face mask, explaining, “I really don’t want anyone catching this disgusting sickness bug”, but that measure aside, it is holiday business as usual! In suitably high spirits, we all agree meet-up plans for the week ahead and turn in for what I hope will be a better night’s sleep.

But it is not great, because an irritating cough has set in and I am wide awake even before the 6am work text, ‘Remember to take your lateral flow test‘ pings onto the screen. Within seconds, the test goes a bright-pink, determinedly double-lined, impossible-to-miss … positive.

“Bloomin’ covid !”

Monday; very much the ‘Bleak Mid-Winter’! I drive to some god-forsaken testing centre where a disinterested youth, briefly looks up from his phone screen to pass me a PCR kit and nod his head towards a make-shift booth. Like some irrelevant miscreant, I skulk home to await my fate.

Let me be clear… I am not even remotely close to being ill any more, at worst I cough occasionally and feel mildly spaced out. Nonetheless, ‘I have covid!’ Moreover, I am an important key worker, who has ploughed through 2 years of disruption and chaos without a single day off and ‘I have covid!’ Even if that tester was completely unimpressed, can I not be allowed centre of attention status in my own home? And so, I trounce around the house like some spoiled brat, demanding star treatment from a bewildered trio of teens who do their best but, quite honestly, could carry me around in a sedan chair and serve my meals on a silver platter and I’d still find something to criticise. By the time I stomp off to bed on Monday evening, no-one is speaking to me and… I am confident that none of you would blame them…

Tuesday, brings: the PCR confirmation and me to my senses; well ‘Hark the blessed Angels sing!

I reorganise ‘Christmas mum-plans‘ with my brothers, apologise to… everyone in the house and start thinking instead about how to make holidays fun from the confines of my four walls. No traditional family film outing, but endless outstandingly awful, cheesy Christmas movie-originals on Netflix. At some point we may crack and turn out attention to worthy, unwatched classics, Citizen Kane; Breakfast at Tiffanys, Casablanca… but for now it is, unashamedly, the Christmas Prince trilogy! No lunches out, but at the touch of a button, lunches delivered in. No rushing around to perfect table trimmings or stocking-filler gifts, but … loads of time together, three cheers and Fa la la la la for my board games and …. a very welcome change of pace.

I am super-lucky, I know, to have such a mild dose. Be it the variance of Omicron, or my recent booster or just a fortunate roll of the dice, I am very grateful that I am not poorly, as so many friends and work colleagues have been with this wretched virus. And I will be glad to get out! When one of my brothers sends news of the reduction in isolation time to 7 days, I almost break the land-speed record to dig my box of LFTs out from under the bed and cross everything for a negative test (no joy yet alas!) But until I get my ticket to freedom, I will concede that sitting out the frenzy of the pre-Christmas prep has certain advantages. I may have to live without bread sauce on the 25th and have frozen peas instead of parsnips… but quite frankly I am struggling to remember why that was ever important ….

Autumn Half Term 2021

It may be work on Monday, but that is still two days away which make it the perfect time to look back on a great half term, visiting ‘the students’ ….

Monday sees us powering up the A1 to return my Eldest to Uni, after she descended upon Manchester for a gig at the weekend. Small boy and I stay over, tucked into a B &B in the heart of student land and allow my daughter to ‘show us the sites’. We stroll around the Dene, with its waterfall and mill, we wander the University campus, seeking out the ‘Old Library’ where, nearly 2 years ago we came for ‘the interview’ and … over curry and wine, we meet the boyfriend (which, I think goes very well!)

Tuesday, after a post-lecture lunch with our lovely girl, we hit the road once more; destination Edinburgh and Prom-dress Daughter…

Gosh it is wet and wild in the Scottish capital and parking… just a night mare! I have a £60 PCN on my windscreen within 15 minutes of arrival. But all of that just evaporates away as a familiar smiling face bounces into our city centre hotel room and whisks us out for food … and cocktails. The next day, my two younger teens spend happy hours together perusing local bookshops. All three of us ‘nearly’ see the Art Gallery… come to think of it, I ‘nearly saw’ it about 15 years ago too, on an Edinburgh weekend with a best friend. On that occasion we got side tracked by the bar; this time it is the more wholesome excuse of covid- secure tickets selling out!

Never mind,…’ I cry recalling my previous visit, ‘…even if we can’t do the Gallery itself, the gift shop is great!’

And, to offspring who love to hear those retail tills ringing, the gift shop does indeed prove a hit; and maybe it is this very moment that catalyses a spell of clothes shopping too! Small boy perfects his ‘oversized clothes’ look with a pair of very (very) large jeans and Prom-dress Daughter, who has managed to shrink most of her clothes in the student launderette, gratefully seizes an opportunity to boost her wardrobe.

All too soon it is Thursday and Small boy and I must bid farewell to yet another family member and turn the car towards England once more. I detour via the Lake District, where my son is meeting up with his Dad for a few days, and by now, as heavy rain, foretold in ‘amber warning’ forecasts, viciously sweep across the North of the UK it proves quite a trip for us all. My Ex -hub is delayed by vehicle fires in one direction and we have to navigate several road floods in the other. Eventually, several hours behind schedule, Small boy is handed over … at a truck stop and I head home!

And the fun is not over for me either, for I am not the only parent with offspring in Higher Education. One of my very best friends now has a child at a Northern University, which gives us the perfect opportunity to meet up too – hooray! She comes to stay with me for a couple of days.We drink plenty of wine, she catches -up with her lovely family and as the younger generation leave for their own parties and social events, we head into Media City for a bit of culture at the Van Gogh alive exhibition and… wow!! I can, and will, post pictures but to appreciate this incredible show, you need to go in person. I can best describe it as a ‘concert of art‘; as we are enveloped in a vibrant,visual exploration of Van Gogh’s art and life with a gorgeous, rich musical soundtrack to stir the emotions and give the experience a magical and immersive quality. We watch wide eyed and open mouthed and just love it!

But as Saturday dawns, my friend too must drive homeward. Small boy returns and we collect Boris the Gecko from his boarding quarters at the local pet shop. I decide that I like half terms … a lot! Work will start again on Monday but for now.. I am already dreaming of my next school holiday …

We holiday not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

Holidaying …without kids…

Saturday 28 August 2021

On the heartwarming ‘Raising Boys’ blog, there is one article, ‘7 Rules for taking a Toddler on Holiday‘ that takes me on a poignant trip down memory lane and inspires this week’s post. For this year, I find myself emerging on the other side of this parental vacation voyage. In August 2021, I leave my kids at home and go holidaying with my friends again!

Yes, my friends and I have shared many holiday permutations over the years. In our student days, lots of adventurous travel. Booking a flight, packing a rucksack, a tube of travel wash and the iconic ‘Rough Guide to…. wherever‘ and simply setting off for a few weeks … occasionally months. Then marriage and settling down, lit up by the sociable toddler years, when our cheery, chubby offspring were only too happy to team up with any children in sight and so came with us on trips to see our pals. Built sandcastles together, shared tents together, giggled, laughed and probably cried on ‘long’ parent-led walks together. Alas, this harmony was soon to hit the challenge of the teenage era! Definitely a more barren time in terms of keeping in touch. Awkward adolescents are fare less keen, we discovered, to immediately bond and socialise with each other, simply because they are around the same age and, back in the 1980s, their parents became buddies at University! So our holiday meet-ups, regrettably, dwindled away … until this year.

With Small Boy joyfully driven to Wales to enjoy a seaside holiday with my Mum and his ‘caravan friends’, my girls more than keen to have the house to themselves for a week, I am free to head to the beautiful Northumberland Coast to join a house that ‘sleeps six’ with a group of university friends. And there is not an single child in sight!

And it is wonderful! Seven days of adult company and a full 180 degrees different from my usual life. A large G & T greets me upon arrival on arrival. We enjoy leisurely meals out and fantastic food in with wine, chat, laughter and no-one rushing to finish and get back to the x-box. Countryside and coastal walks are planned with pub or cafe stops … and without needing to resort to threats or bribery. The very civilised ‘Great Estuary Debate‘ aside, (to chance a wade across at low tide or play safe with a longer roadside route?’ … that was the question) there are also no arguments, no sulks, no squabbles. On the beach, some do swim and board, someone even brings a bucket and spade… but not me. After years of having to occupy, entertain and cart equipment for 3 children to the sand and sea … I just bring snacks, drinks and my kindle.

Of course, there are still some decisions to be made… just not ones you’d usually hear on a teen family vacation,

I thought Yemeny pilaf for dinner tonight, or possibly salmon‘ calls one of my friends from the kitchen ” Any preference?”

Oooh – tough choices!

And we don’t forget about our children completely. We share parenting tales, we swap proud pictures and we call them most days. But predominantly, I find, I have a precious and refreshing week for me; afternoon and evening drinks, lazy morning lie-ins with a good book interchanged with occasional runs, convivial jigsaws but competitive board games, fresh air, stunning scenery, much tea, many biscuits, fun and friendship.

Do the kids miss us? Today I drive home and arrive at a house where the curtains are closed, the shed is full of uncollected Amazon parcels and there not a scrap of food to be found in fridge or cupboard. But those who are in welcome me back with hugs and smiles, so even if they haven’t missed me, even if they have had a lovely break from my ‘mum – nagging’, I think they are pretty pleased to have me back. My Eldest sends a text explaining that she is ‘out’ until later and Small Boy reminds me that he is heading to a gig in the local park at six. I resign myself to tea without milk, an afternoon of washing and conclude that whilst we have all had welcome change of pace and routine, that life will be ‘back to normal’ before I’ve even unpacked my bags.

Or maybe not; I fire up my laptop, start to type and escape back to holiday mode for an extra indulgent hour or two…

Talking about running…

Thursday 22 July 2021

Yuk, yuk and triple yuk! My garments are literally sodden with sweat as I return from a short run this morning; my first in nearly 2 weeks. Do I regret choosing one of the hottest days of the year to dig out my running shoes again? Not for a second; my head needed this!

In his book, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running‘, Murakami, observes,

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that…”

And whilst is would be clearly ludicrous for me to draw many life parallels with an award winning novelist and regular amateur marathon runner, even as a steady 10K jogger this chimes with me. Take this week for example…

Like most teachers, I crawl to the end of the academic year and the long Summer Holiday dawns with me too exhausted to think, feel or do anything, beyond basic auto-pilot mum duties. So for days I do nothing but shopping, washing, taxi-ing … and paying for lots of things. I lounge about. I loaf about. And as for exercise; I shun it completely. I am “too tired to run.” It is “too hot to run.” I need a “break” from my run.

By mid-week, do I feel rested and refreshed? Alas, I do not. I feel smothered in sluggishness and hemmed in by the humdrum. As the main adult in the house, there are more important things I need to be doing; creative tasks; decision making tasks; project planning tasks…but these just seem overwhelming. My head is a muddle and I hover on the edge of gloom and despondency.

So this morning, despite little sleep, a bunged up nose and the searing sun, I haul myself off for a bit of pavement pounding. And I feel instantly better. Settling back into the familiar running rhythms is reassuring. I am out of the house. My route is peaceful and spacious. The brain fog lifts and an order for the day begins to dance into place. By the time I am home, showered and sipping my first coffee, I am filled not only with energy but also enthusiasm for the day ahead.

To be tentatively heading ‘back on track‘, feels a wonderful relief, so I briefly ponder ways to maintain this level of motivation and focus? Should I commit to some exercise goal throughout the Summer? The magnificent Murakami aims to run 6 miles per day to maintain the ‘stamina and endurance’ needed to support his writing? Yikes, that is beyond me! More realistic would be re-vamping my January homage to Ron Hills, of ‘running at least a mile a day’. I sip on my coffee and decide to give myself a few days to decide. In the meantime, I elect to put distances aside and go day-by-day. Today is today and tomorrow, I will go for another morning run…

Oh to be young ….

11 July 2017

At around noon, Prom-dress daughter, three of her friends, assorted luggage …and a mini fridge, set off, in a very small Fiat 500, en route for my mum’s caravan in Wales.

‘Oh to be 18 again!’

Laughter and excitement fill our house as they all assemble. I pop briefly into the lounge, in an attempt to discuss the route, but am waved away with confident flourishes of Google Maps and leave them discussing the far more important issue of what to add to the car playlist! And, as bottles of gin and fizz are cheerfully clanked into the car boot, I realise that now is also not the moment to check if anyone has brought ‘a waterproof‘ or a ‘pair of stout walking boots’. No this is the glorious age when you are old enough to start breaking away parental supervision, sensible shoes and practical plans, and life can be centred on fun, friendship and freedom. And I don’t feel overly worried or anxious as I wave them off…I just feel envious! My mind wanders back to the halcyon days of my own youth and those early  ‘gal pal’ holidays.

Me, as a teen

My first, aged 16, was also at my parent’s caravan. Ours was an epic journey indeed, involving a National Express coach, a train followed by a steam train, a local bus and then dragging our bulging bags and cases through the caravan park. Once there, I have no idea what we ate and doubt we had a raincoat between us. What I do remember is sunbathing on the beach with a crackly radio permanently set to the ‘Radio 1 Roadshow’, occasional and very tame night-time adventures at the ‘caravan club’, lots and lots of laughter and delightful days drifting by without a care. And that is the feeling I miss, now that I am a grown up.

I say this even after a week when music makes a magical return to my world. The curtain raiser; a trip to the Bridgwater Hall. And here, just as I am sipping on a cheeky white wine spritzer with the opening chords of the overture rising through the auditorium, my phone pings with a request to  play in an actual concert. 

I’ll confess I feel a little stunned at first,  because I am 16 months out of practice. However, I resolve to ‘go for it, slug back a little more alcoholic courage and reply with a ‘yes!’  I spend my week digging out reeds, working on my parts and rediscovering the challenge of scheduling meals, work and life around rehearsals.  And it is great. Great to be making music with others again, great to be part of the noise…but it’s not the same as being 18.

At eighteen, I was touring the wonderful Veneto region with the city Youth Orchestra and don’t recall giving my part, my reeds or any solos a second thought. In truth, I’d struggle to name the programme for a single concert! At that young age, it was all about the friends I roomed with, post-concert drinks, bleary-eyed breakfasts, sunshine and adventure in exciting foreign settings …without a parent in sight. Old enough to taste independence but still too young forthe weight of responsibility. Was it, for the briefest of windows, a golden age?

Who knows, but here’s to a fantastic holiday for my daughter and her lovely friends. Lets face it, after 16 months of pandemic, they all deserve it. Make memories, make it laughter- filled and, above all, make the most of being young….