I’m entirely sure I’m not author enough for this, but I’m an expert procrastinator and I have university work to be doing. I occasionally write books and do book-things. If you’re procrastinating as hard as I am and want something to do, you can also follow me on twitter @helen_hiorns or check out my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/helenhiornsauthor
When Winter was Coming
A year and a bit ago, I was on the way back from Skipton from a few days away with my parents. We were in some form of lockdown, or some kind of tier system, that meant I was allowed to leave my area but not allowed to have anyone in my home, and I’d moved from almoooosssst enjoying (or at least not completely hating) lockdown to being in Quite A Bad Place. The trip was mostly all above board because for our activities we only went on walks — outdoor things! — and stayed in a hotel where all our living quarters were separate. I think we weren’t really supposed to eat in a restaurant together— that I was allowed to go to a restaurant but not with anyone— but I’d spent the ten days previously self isolating from my bubble, and also from everyone else, and I really, really, really needed it.
On the way home, my parents dropped me back off at my house and at that point all the rules felt pointless enough after sitting in a car together that I invited my parents in for a cup of tea and to use the loo before they drove the rest of the way home, which was defo a Rule Break.
I should also say at this point that I hadn’t had a working bathroom light for about five months.
In my defence, it wasn’t like a light bulb change, it was the pull-mechanism, which was definitely out of my ability to fix and didn’t really feel like an emergency enough situation to get someone out to fix it in the middle of a pandemic (if my mum ain’t allowed in my house then I don’t want a stranger). It had gone in the summer, so it hadn’t felt like such a big deal. And I’d been living alone, so I’d been operating an open bathroom door policy and the only challenge with that was feline related. It was, like, illegal for anyone else to be inconvenienced by this. Except, of course, my bubble. We rotated around who cooked Sunday bubble dinner, so about once a month I ended up sending them up to the bathroom with a torch, and it was broadly funny if, yes, not ideal.
But I figured if my Dad was in the house he might as well fix my bathroom light.
I should also say that when I bought my house, my uncle came round and checked all my electrics were safe and replaced my fuse box. At that point, he said he’d come back to label my fuse box, but I never arranged it.
I should also say that my house has — or had, now, I suppose (spoiler!)— an alarm system. When I purchased the house they wrote down the alarm code on a bit of paper with the phone number for their gardener, and left it pinned to the notice board. I used the alarm for about two weeks before I decided it was highly annoying and sacked it all off. I kept that piece of paper for three and a half years, before I had a pandemic inspired clear out and thought “I’m never going to hire a gardener” and threw it out idly. Two weeks after that, I had the vague thought of “that piece of paper has my alarm code on” and didn’t really follow the thought through to completion.
Back to last year.
Dad goes “I need to turn the fuse off to change the string on this light.”
I say “ah.”
The conversation then goes a bit like this.
Dad: Which fuse is it?
Me: I don’t know.
Me: Also, if you get the wrong one, the alarm will go off.
Me: And I don’t have the code.
We look at each other.
Me: Never mind. I’ll email the alarm company and get the code and I can live a bit longer without a bathroom light.
Dad: No, no, I’m sure I can do something.
Me: It’s fine, Dad.
At this point, my father goes to my alarm and starts pressing buttons to “disable” it while I google the alarm company, find their contact details and send them an email, and my mother drinks her cup of tea.
During the length of one cup of tea, my father has managed to make my alarm make a loud beeping bee-beep noise whenever someone moves in either the living room or the kitchen. Bee-beep it goes as I walk to where my dad is now prodding more buttons. Bee-beep it cries as the cat runs away from my mother. Bee-beep it says as I ask my Dad just how he has achieved this.
Me: Dad, please leave it and go home now.
Dad: But I’ve made it worse.
Me: Well, yes. But I think there’s still capacity here to make it worse.
Dad: I can fix this.
Me: I really can live without a bathroom light, Dad.
Dad: I suppose it only makes a noise when someone moves.
Me: True, but I do have a cat, so this could be all night.
Dad: Googles ‘how to disable a burglar alarm’.
Approximately two minutes later, Dad plunges us all into darkness and, obviously, sets off the burglar alarm.
The cat, who at this point has only met me and my bubble, streaks off upstairs to hide under my bed.
Mother comes to hover in the kitchen and say “Andy…..”
Dad is now trying to use the light of his phone to disable the burglar alarm.
The alarm continues.
I frantically go back to googling the alarm company and discover that their emergency phone number isn’t staffed on a Sunday evening and optimistically try their “emergency pager” which does, of course, absolutely nothing.
The cat trembles.
The alarm shrieks.
Dad fumbles in the dark with a pair of wire cutters.
I frantically look over old WhatsApp conversations to see if I gave the alarm code to my old lodger in those two weeks I used it, but I’ve got a new phone since and I lost nine months of back up because I didn’t want to pay 78p a month for more cloud storage.
Dad finds the ‘right’ wire and says “aha!” triumphantly. For a moment, we are plunged into blissful, glorious quiet…. And then the alarm starts from outside.
Dad looks at us. We look at Dad. The cat continues to hide.
Dad, somewhat madly, declares “there must be a back up wire!!” He runs to the front door, flings it open (and the alarm volume racks up as the door opens; inside, Mum winces) then he comes back in and yells “your bedroom!” and runs to the stairs holding his wire cutters aloft.
I follow to watch the continued destruction of my home.
Me: Dad, do you know quite what you’re —-?
Dad: It’s in your wardrobe! (Flings open door to my wardrobe) Quick, check it lines up!
I dutifully open the window to the outside, am immediately deafened by the alarm and confirm that I can see some wires that purport to be something to do with an alarm on the other side of the wall of my wardrobe.
Dad triumphantly cuts another wire.
The alarm continues.
Dad says “I don’t understand it.”
The alarm blares. I blink at him. None of us ask the question “what did that wire do then?” because it does not feel like the right time to ask. We walk back downstairs, defeated. Dad says “that should have worked” as the alarm screams bloody murder.
Mum asks me if I have home emergency cover. The alarm has now been going off for twenty minutes and this all seems worth a phone call and an emergency engineer, so I head back upstairs and dig out my folder of paperwork, my policy number, and am halfway through listening to the spiel about how having an emergencies on a Sunday being more expensive, when the alarm stops.
We all look at each other. Breathe.
Dad says “It must have been running through the emergency battery.”
I say “Hmmm.”
Dad says “Done you a favour, really. Would have been a nightmare if that had happened when you were on your own.”
I say “Hmm.”
Dad says “How about that bathroom light, then?”
I pointedly remind them both of the time, send them on their way and assure them that I can live without a bathroom light.
And the moral of the story is: never break local lockdown rules.
At the very least, it’s loud.
(And actually, Dad turns out to be right. The alarm company get back to me a number of days later and tell me they’d have to send out an engineer if I don’t remember the code and less than a month later we have a power cut in the middle of the night and I’m woken up by someone else’s burglar alarm feeling oddly smug).
(And yes, I have since fixed my bathroom light).
Winter was hard last year.
I didn’t write this story down then both because things were just so long and because I didn’t really believe I should be talking like breaking lockdown rules was okay, when I believed in their purpose and soooome of the logic. I self-isolated for ten days either side of my questionable ‘support bubble swap’ and I was always cautious and only really pushed the edges or broke the rules when things were really getting to me, but I’m not going to pretend I was a rules-saint.
At this point, I’d been spending time with other human beings, in the flesh, for about five hours a week (Foodbank; a walk; bubble dinner). For us in Bradford, it was month seven or eight of lockdown, there were the early rumblings of Christmas being cancelled and I absolutely didn’t believe that things would be any better in January, either, and everyone had zoom fatigue, and hanging out outside in the cold fatigue, and I just started to feel isolated and vulnerable and tired. I’d start just crying at my desk in my study and not getting any work done when I tried. I was really frustrated at myself for not being able to work effectively, because I pride myself on good work ethic and productivity and getting Stuff Done, and I was paralysed looking at emails and staring at the screen in my study alone and crying. Every time my lovely workplace was asking us to think about things that would help our mental health, all I could churn out was every daylight hour that I could see people outside I’m supposed to be working and it’s illegal for there to be anyone in my home. And taking longer lunch breaks just meant more time in the evenings staring at the screen and willing myself to work. I hadn’t done anything fun in months, because even when some fun things were allowed in the summer for most of the time they were only allowed as a household. It was too dark to go for anymore walks and we’d done sitting in the park in the rain for hours on a Saturday and I was lonely, and sad, and my parents said we could go to Skipton for a few days —- leave Bradford!!!! — and I thought about having more than two hours of social interaction with a real life human being and I said yes, and then the rules changed again and that meant I probably should have gotten them to change our restaurant bookings to outdoor picnics to make it rule compatible, but I did not, and when I got back I thought to myself you’ve had your company now, that was your nice thing and then I went into hibernation.
I put hope in a box, stopped making plans, stopped trying to wrestle with my emotions and ride the corona waves, and accepted mediocrity.
And it was okay.
It was better than the alternative, which was sharp and painful and kept inspiring all these ugly emotions that I didn’t like, like jealousy, or this feeling of being entitled, or wanting and longing things. I felt less crippled by it all when I just gave up and settled for existing in my empty house with my cat.
I passed the time. I did some painting. I had a week off work on a week that they upped the lockdown rules — again — and I went for two walks with other people and spent the rest of the week doing a paint by numbers and watching Supernatural and hermitting enough that I stopped looking at or answering my phone, and I didn’t actually hate it. I think I could probably sink into being a social recluse pretty easily, actually, even though it would be terrible for me. I had to drag myself back into communicating with other people for work again and it took a lot of effort and I felt a lot like I’d rather sit and paint and be, which was strange, because six months previously I’d been properly, properly scared of taking a week off alone in my house.
I made myself an alcohol advent calendar and my dad bought me a cheese advent calendar and I don’t even remember putting up my tree on my own, but I guess I did, and I half-watched the news and told myself I didn’t have any hope and absolutely didn’t think about Christmas.
And then they said we could have Christmas.
And then they told us we couldn’t.
That was a bad day.
Once again, I’d been trying to minimise risk, so had already been self-isolating from my bubble for over a week the day they cancelled Christmas. I had been going into the office a few days a week because it meant I actually did something, but I’d cut out that, cut out foodbank, cut out walks: hadn’t seen a person for a week. I was sat on the floor of my front room wrapping up Christmas presents and then I turned on the news and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed from my gut and remembered why I’d set aside this ‘hope’ thing in the first place.
It worked out okay, for some of my family. We made a new plan. I swapped bubbles to my parents again and my parents came and picked me up and drove me down to my childhood home for a few days. I got to see one of my besties for evening walks around the village and came back and watched TV with my parents, greedily drinking in company, and being around someone else, and someone doing things for me. I’d been so so tired of doing everything for myself. Bubble dinners were such a blessing because it didn’t mean another meal purchased and cooked for and cleaned up by me. My mum did my laundry and I hugged her a lot and I cried over the amount of cheese she’d bought for all of us that now we couldn’t all eat. We drove back up to mine on Christmas Eve, and I’ve never been so pleased to have them in my house. Making cups of tea. Deciding what to put on the tv. Playing a board game or just talking to me over breakfast.
It really confused me, actually. I hadn’t really had any social interactions that weren’t intentional or purposeful for nine months. I had, like, work meetings. Specific social video calls. Walks. Bubble dinner. Then my mum was half chatting to me as she pottered around the kitchen while I was trying to drink my morning coffee, completely baffled that she couldn’t tell that I was clearly busy with my coffee, swamped, not prepared for conversation.
We saw my sister, brother-in-law and niece on Christmas Day and it was a good day, even if we missed Scotland sister et al and it was hyper-intense, all our Christmas joy condensed into one day (and actually my parents had formed a childcare bubble with my sister to help with brother-in-laws shifts, so we ended up taking niece out for the day etc in between, so really we were very, very blessed).
Whenever my parents leave after Christmas, I’ve always been ready for them to go. They’re brilliant but they’re a lot and they hit my house like a hurricane, taking up all the space, invading (sometimes setting off alarms), and usually at the end of the festive period I’m ready to have my house back.
This time, I cried for a few hours after they left. Not big ugly tears, this time, just a few, slow tears. I knew it would be a while till I saw them, but I think I was crying more because the respite from the constant-aloneness was so lovely, and made me realise how tired I was.
It’s so exhausting to be alone every hour of every day. For anything to happen you have to dredge up the energy or the motivation or the idea. You can’t just piggyback on someone else’s evening plan. Watch their tv show, or sit and chat and waste time.
And then I went back to hibernation. Me and my cat and my lack of hope and eventually spring came, and I was thirsty for it like I’ve never been in my life; longing for the arrival of the snowdrops, drinking in every new bluebell, revelling in every day the weather got warmer. I planted things in my garden and watched it all come to life again. Me and the world and my soul and my hope.
I think we’re being unfair to ourselves if we don’t accept that these things have left scars and don’t acknowledge the fact that we’re all really, really tired.
Housemate and I were celebrating our quarterly Christmas back in September (fully incorporated into our schedule these days) and were midway through our festive breakfast, when this Christmas song came on our playlist that I’d listened to a lot last year, and I just started crying there at the breakfast table. Hello, trigger.
This wave of hopeless, listless, exhaustion just came slap bang out of nowhere and slapped me round the face, clogged up my throat, and I had to sit there and sit in my grief for a moment.
I’ve changed some things about how I live my life, since lockdown.
I have this new rule where every other weekend is a ‘home’ weekend to stop myself getting so tired, so under-introverted, and I’m trying to listen to my body more, and I grow things. Spent half my Sunday the other week digging up the remains of my chard, kale and leeks, to put my overwinter plants in the ground. I practice sabbath (badly) and I changed jobs and I (think) I’ve worked out how to get the best out of hybrid working. I’m trying to spend more time being creative, less time wasted. I drink less coffee, but buy more nice coffee. I have my beautiful Bertie, now, and he’s the best change of all.
I finished redecorating my front room on November 30th, then immediately dug all the decorations out from the loft and put up the (first) tree, and me and housemate put on a Christmas playlist, and I made mulled wine, and we hung up decorations on the tree, joking about whether she could be trusted with the tree after the 2019 fiasco. I like scrubbed together decorations attached to memories, so we hung up the Christmas macaroons baubles I bought with my friends at the hilariously middle class Harrogate Christmas fair, and I hung up the bauble with my name on that I got in primary school, the multi-coloured disco balls from secret santa and the decorative fork with-a-middle-finger-up declaring “2020” that one of my best friends made to commemorate last year.
(We exchanged gifts sat in the bandstand of a park, armed with a flask of mulled wine, sixteen blankets and a couple of bottles of Smirnoff ice because “if we’re going to drink in a park we might as well reclaim our youth.” As it turns out, most of us don’t like the stuff anymore, but there was a certain something about shivering with cold, smothered in anti-bac, singing Christmas songs at anti-social volumes in the park, together).
As we were decorating, that song came on again. I watched housemate hanging up the felt gingerbread from my sister’s wedding, and looked at where Bertie had yet to shrug off his Christmas hat, and to the advent calendar that my Mum had given me the confectionery to fill a few weeks ago when they came over to help me strip wallpaper.
And that time I sang along instead.
Holidaying with a small person who doesn’t belong to you
Toilet roll situation :
Actually, now housemate is back the toilet roll is going down a little bit faster. It’s almost like two people are more than one person.
Weeeirrdddddd thing happened this week and to be honest I still feel a bit uncomfortable about it. Had just started making a leek, courgette and fake-bacon mac and cheese and I couldn’t find any more macaroni. When I thought about this a bit more, this sort of tracked, because I think I did only buy one bag of actual macaroni and then last time I made mac and cheese the packet said that the bag contained three portions of pasta and I always assume that they’re lying to me a bit, in the same way that coke is lying when they say a 500ml bottle of coke is ‘two portions’ or in the same way that the serving suggestions for quality streets is two quality streets (show me a person who eats just two quality streets in a sitting and I will show you how quickly I can judge and ostracise others) so I figured that three portions really meant two portions. Anyway, as it turns out my mistrust was sort-of-founded, in that I ended up with about five portions of mac and cheese and basically ate nothing but carbs and cheese for a week (which is fine, if not recommended). So, okay — no macaroni! No worries! I’m only a part-time mac & cheese purist and I’d already kinndaaaaa surrendered that today by adding leek and courgette so I just figured I’d go for regular old pasta.
At this point, I’m half in the under-the-stairs cupboard which serves as the land of the ‘not currently on the go’ rice/pasta/couscous etc, the large collection of tinned things, bulk buy cat food and the frankly horrifyingly large amount of plastic bags, searching for macaroni. Housemate is cooking something over at the stove and is near the ‘mid-way-through-cupboard’ that’s just above the kettle. I ask her what pasta is open.
She says…. ‘There is no pasta.’
Now, this is not a disaster on the scale of herb gate, because there’s a single bag of penne in the backup cupboard, but…. But this is the last bag of pasta.
Not ashamed to say that I don’t really believe her. Come over to the ‘mid-way-through-cupboard’ and sift around the six varieties of rice, eight middle class grains, various bags of nuts etc and conclude that she is correct.
We are currently eating the last bag of pasta.
Profess myself to be a bit uncomfortable.
She says ‘is this another way the pandemic has scarred you for life’.
I say ‘ha, ha’ but, three days have passed and I’m still thinking about it.
There’s only two portions of pasta left in the house.
One if the supermarket portion size is lying again.
(Except the spaghetti and the lasagne sheets, but they don’t really count. You can’t exactly have those in a pasta bake).
Mum’s top sentiment of the week:
Recently saw Scotland Sister (for the first time in 18 months!!!) who reported that a collection of my jeans have been passed on to her as Mum declared they will ‘never fit me again’. I’m fine with this given these are jeans that I had when I was seventeen and I am perfectly content with being a different size to my seventeen year old self, but apparently my sister said something about this being harsh and my mum said ‘no, it’s because Helen has such a high ass’.
Not really sure what to do with that.
Holidaying with a person who doesn’t belong to you
By brilliant, wonderful, fabulous luck, the week commencing Monday 17th May — sometimes known as the week that inside became legal again – happened to be a week my family booked two caravans on the East Yorkshire coast. Granted, in the original dreamings of this plan, May wasn’t such a colossal disappointment, weather wise, and we didn’t have to bring quite so many coats, waterproofs, wet weather plans and backup options. Well, in the actual original plan we were going to Disneyland Paris in September 2020, which then became Disneyland in May 2021, which was then downgraded to Haven in February. However, these things happen, and it all worked out because on the day it opened I finally finally got to escape Bradford for more than three nights for the first time since 2019.
(Now, let it be noted here that I understand that I am privileged that normally holidays are part of my life. I do know that. And on this occasion, one of the immense privileges was BEING IN A PLACE WITH OTHER HUMAN BEINGS THAT I LOVE FOR SUCH A LONG TIME).
Holiday plan is my parents & me in one caravan and sister, brother-in-law and beloved niece in the other caravan. Parents are in the process of moving to Yorkshire because they can no longer tolerate the pain of being so far away from me (/ their niece), but are still midland based. Have seen them a few times since Christmas as looking at houses is something you’ve been allowed to travel to do since one variation of lockdown easing (I think one that coincided with gardens?) but not for long and not without wearing six coats, holding an umbrella and huddling under sister & brother-in-laws gazebo-esque thing wishing I was warm. To ease up on the length of their drives, I nip across to Leeds to catch up with my sister’s lil family unit, for pre-travel brunch and familiarising myself with the toddler plus holiday equation.
In theory, I have done this a number of times, but not since September 2019 and now niece is slightly less likely to wet herself in the entrance to a restaurant in Disney world (“MASSSIVE WEEEEEEE”), or nap, or be pushed around in a pram, and is now a glorious nearly four-year-old who’s going to school in September, has opinions and an imagination and an absolutely stonking northern accent.
As I come out of the train station, I hear niece yelling “Helen, I missed you!!! (extra gratifying as I saw her not one week previously) , we have a legal hug (!) and then toddle off to brunch.
Over brunch, we have lengthy conversation about how daddy likes sugar in his coffee, aunty Helen likes milk in hers (I don’t know why we persist in calling me “Aunty Helen” when I don’t think niece has ever called me this) and Mummy doesn’t like milk. We move on to niece telling me about her princess dress and then her telling me about how lungs work, which is a new favorite subject of hers. She has decided she wants to be a doctor-nurse (as well as the world’s first consumer of daddy’s baked beans and my mushrooms on syrup-coated pancakes). Parents then ask her about the intestines. She increases in volume by approx. 1 decibel and says “Food makes poo!!!” which I’m sure is nice for all the other people who have booked the day off to enjoy eating inside a restaurant for the first time in 7 months.
Brunch very tasty, then we set off.
In theory, the drive is between 1 hour 30- 1 hour 45 ish, but in reality takes about 3 hours. The whole thing is almost satirical, because two minutes into the journey niece ask “when we will be there?” and follows this up almost immediately with “I need a wee”. Someone also thought it would be a good idea to teach her the song ‘Summer Holiday’ which she sings incessantly. She declares that she wants to wee at the caravan, loops back round to ‘when we will be there’, then back to ‘Summer Holiday’. In the end, we stop at a shopping outlet in York and sister does a mad dash with niece towards the loos.
When we get back, niece is inconsolable about not being allowed to buy a giant rainbow teddy they had to walk past on the way back from the toilets. Daddy convinces her not to commit to full on tantrum by handing her a Bing Magazine, which I have been reliably informed is toddler crack.
We set back off. Niece asks ‘when we will be there’ for the six thousandth time, makes up a new verse to ‘we’re all going on a summer holiday’ (which features Grandma and Grandad quite heavily) and gives me strict instructions about which stickers from the magazine to give her.
We hit a traffic jam.
We continue to sticker.
The traffic continues not to move.
We continue to sticker.
Niece asks ‘when we will be there?’ again.
We continue to sticker.
Somehow, we end up in a conversation about bodies where niece forgets the word for penis and asks ‘what do boys have’ and points at her crotch. Sister and brother have gone for the real terminology, rather than the slightly creepy slang. Very much appreciate the sentiment and reasoning behind this, but does result in niece turning to me and asking me a question that I have never been asked before in my entire life, that I can honestly and truly say that I was not expecting, nor did I have an answer for.
Helen, do you have a big vulva or a small vulva?
After we have all stopped laughing (while trying not to laugh, because I hear you’re not supposed to do that), Bro explains that we can’t ask questions about other people’s privates and Sister puts on a video about pants and things being private and what not, which is a nice respite from both ‘Summer Holiday’ and stickering, which at this point is making me feel slightly ill due to combination of country road and new migraine drugs.
Respite does not last.
We continue to sticker.
After another rousing verse of ‘Summer Holiday’, I say to her “I like going on holiday with my Millie.”
She looks me dead in the eye, offers me that perfect smile and says “I like going on holiday with my grandad.”
Discovered that caravan’s attempt at ‘curtains’ are essentially as effective as using cling film for curtains at around 5am yesterday. Unfortunately, sister and bro have also had a similar discovery and niece works on this logic that if it’s light outside then it is not bedtime, which means that no one has really slept since we got here. However, Dad is gunning for the grandad of the year award and retrieves niece from sister and bro’s caravan and brings her to ours very early, where she proceeds to run very loud laps up and down the corridor.
Am besotted with my niece. She’s overflowing with energy and innocence. She has an imagination to be jealous of and this self-confidence that I hope she never loses. She loves to play. She loves to be silly, with this gorgeous toddler-laugh. She likes to be a Princess and a Knight and to fight evil peas with her new magic sword. She loves to swim, splash, swing. She makes up her own songs and sings them to herself, which is a trait that I admire and share, and she’ll sing my made-up songs back to me as we trot down to the play park. She’s curious and strong-willed and unburdened by life. She plays and jumps and stomps and sings and chatters away and I love, love, love all of these things.
Am slightly less keen at 7am on a day I have booked annual leave and have spent the night trying to sleep squashed against the wall in a tiny single bed, on the third day of not sleeping.
So, when niece comes toddler-running (thump-a-thump, thump) into my room, I pretend to be asleep.
This is ineffective.
She asks ‘why you still in bed, Helen?’
I tell her that I am still tired.
She says ‘why you tired, Helen?’
Consider explaining the exhausting nature of existence: about the laundry never being finished and the fact that I have recently been told it costs nearly £1000 for a new back door with a cat flap in, about the fatigue of wanting to make more ethical choices but also wanting to do things cheaply and efficiently, about trying to hold ‘I need to pay to renew my garden waste subscription before the 31st May’ in my head alongside the number of new coronavirus cases, and work, and the existential angst of feeling slightly stagnant and just wishing that you could sit down and have a glass of wine, while trying to remember how many glasses of wine you’re allowed to have in a week before you have to lie about it when you have to fill in one of those GP questionnaires.
Instead, I settle on ‘ I didn’t sleep well.’
She says ‘why you not sleep well?’
I say ‘I just didn’t, Millie.’
She says ‘why?’
I say ‘I just didn’t.”
She says ‘why?’
I say ‘will you tell Grandma I’d like a cup of coffee?’ and get out of bed.
After two and half hours of playing a game where niece demands grandad/ grandma / I build a tower with Bing themed jenga blocks, just for her to knock it down and then ask that we rebuild it, we head to some of the site sanctioned entertainment to do some high quality crafting.
Today, we are painting plant pots and making a garden. Niece bouncing (literally) with excitement as she selects the caterpillar plant pot and the paint pens. After approximately one minute of scribbling on this with pink pen, niece declares that she’s finished.
Persuade niece that we could add additional details to the caterpillar, such as feet, or eyes, or a mouth. Niece concedes and says ‘your turn’ and then suggests that feet, eyes and mouth should also be pink. Follow these orders. Niece declares we’re finished again. Suggest we add some more decoration. She asks for ‘pots’. Not really clear what she’s talking about, so take a gamble on some spots. This doesn’t appear to be what she wanted exactly, so aim to draw a tiny plant pot on the arse of her caterpillar plant-pot, which goes down well, then suggests she colours them in. Niece colours one in (pink) while humming something that sounds a lot like the pants song about private parts, then hands me back the pen and says it’s my turn again. We end up adding her name, and age (‘yes, because I three’) and she concedes to black pupils and I decide I can’t persuade her we’re not finished anymore. Nice man leading the activity gives us some compost, some grass seeds and suggests we add daisies or some grass to make a garden. Niece adds one more of each of these and we head back to the caravan, via the play park, to play another thousand rounds of the Bing game.
Just before we head off for lunch in Scarborough, niece declares that I have ‘normal sized boobies’ (which I’m going to take as a compliment, I think) and I wonder how it’s possible for it to be noon and to have already been awake for two whole days.
Eat pizza and visit castle. Surprisingly gorgeous day, with the threat of rain holding off. Niece gained fake sword at some point while I was buying and eating a doughnut, which leads to some sword fighting (with my ‘tend sword and her real sword) and her asking lots of questions about why someone took the walls and the roof off the castle. Not entirely sure anyone knows, so suspect we might all give her slightly different answers about bad guys and treasure and it all being a long time ago.
For some reason, sister thought it would be a good idea to go to the ‘children’s entertainment’ so after nine hundred and ninety nine more rounds of the game with the blocks (we’ve now added a variation where instead of just building and knocking it down, the Three Pigs /Red Riding Hood / Goldilocks narrative happens alongside it, which at least stretches out the time lapse from building to demolition to over 20 seconds) and dinner, we all head back down to the centre, mask up and take our assigned seats.
There are some things that don’t pandemic well. This is one of those things. We are not allowed to leave our seats and niece cannot see the stage from our seat and it is very hard to explain to her why she can’t run towards the poor, poor sod in the gigantic bear costume ‘singing’ (read: awkwardly swaying along to a pre-recorded track) to dance. This girl loves to groove. This girl has the music in her. This girl is too small to see the stage and too small to understand why she has to sit in this seat when she can’t see the stage.
Niece gets upset.
Mum says ‘why didn’t they pick a guy who could sing’. Unsure if she believes the bear is really singing live.
Niece still upset.
After some more dramatic outworkings of toddler upset, bro and niece end up watching the gigantic bear swaying at the edge of the balcony-bit, where no one else is standing or sitting, and the rest of us order extra drinks.
After a loo trip where I get nominated to drive the toilet train (niece is allowed to pick who takes her to the loo, a strategy which I’m relatively sure my sister introduced because she thought she’d have to do it less) and get a socially-distanced photo with the giant bear (weird), niece gets back to our table just in time for this franky bizarre quiz, which is incomprehensible, challenging and quite loud.
Have just realised that they are, in fact, playing an opera version of Baby Shark at the point where niece says ‘um, Helen, why do you have a big drink?’
Oh, the innocence of youth.
Have been selected for toilet duty again.
Earlier today, niece proudly declares she is able to sit on the seat all by herself (as in, without someone holding her up so she doesn’t fall in) and we are all gathered to watch and say “wow” except Grandad / dad, who doesn’t do toilets.
Niece clearly thinking about this too, partially because I was her second choice of toilet buddy.
She looks at me from the toilet and says “why gandad not do toilets?”
Have played a lot of the “why” game already today, so defer to the eventual conclusion.
“Because he doesn’t Millie” I say.
Niece drops her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and says “grandad does do toilets when no one else is here.”
This at least explains why niece doesn’t have any accidents in the hour after grandad / dad has collected her from the t’other caravan, before anyone else is awake.
Not entirely clear why we let him get away with it the rest of the time.
By Friday, niece has decided she wants to sleep in ‘grandma and grandad caravan’. There was a certain inevitably about this and we bargained with her that if she promised to sleep the whole night then yes, sure, we can have a sleepover.
Run with this ‘sleepover’ concept to try and get a sleepy-niece. We’ve had a good day full of making grass heads, going to the play park, going swimming, hiding from the rain etc, so we suggest that it will be the height of fun for us all to get into our jammies (PJs) and watch a film together snuggled up under a blanket.
Niece very keen on this idea!! She is very pleased about us all being in our jammies! She picks for us to watch ‘Shrek 3’ which we technically also watched yesterday, but niece was also yelling ‘YOU THE CHILDREN, I THE TEACHER’ and insisting on demonstrating the macarena, which I taught her in the car on the way to the beach the other day (she does both hands at the same time rather than one at a time, but she’s surprisingly good at the macarena. Especially the hips-wiggle-clap bit), so wouldn’t say that have actually seen Shrek 3 so, fine.
We are joined by a teddy cat, a teddy unicorn and an unidentified teddy. About 50% sure that all of these are called ‘Princess Millie’ but that might be ungenerous. Still, law of averages (our grass head was entitled ‘Princess Millie’ with great pride earlier this morning). Twenty minutes into this film, we are doing bits with the teddies having different voices and plot lines. Teddy-cat is stretched out on my legs purring. Teddy-unicorn keeps knocking teddy-cat over, because kids are brutal. There’s lots of falling off knees ‘will anyone save me’ and swapping teddys and I still don’t know what’s happening in Shrek 3.
At some point, we decide another blanket might help and I declare that this is a ‘blanket sandwich’, unsuspecting that this is clearly an invitation to a game. Niece declares ‘I’m the ‘ mato in the sandwich!’ (translation: tomato) and then burrows into the sandwich, and then says ‘I’m the cheese!’ and then ‘blanket sandwich!’ and I still don’t know what’s happening in Shrek 3.
Twenty minutes before the end of the film, niece gets off the sofa and says ‘umm, can we play a game now’ and we end up back to the blocks.
(The next day, we watch Shrek again. Still don’t know what happens).
Somewhere in the midst of the post-beach, post-bird garden, pre-packing part of the day, we are trying to get niece to eat lunch. Niece is trying to get us to open a chocolate bar for her. Niece declares that she doesn’t want her sandwich, she wants chocolate. Negotiations are attempted. Hard lines are attempted. Niece asks each of us in turn to open the chocolate, but we present a united anti-chocolate front.
Grandma says ‘what happens to those listening ears?’
Niece beams and says ‘they ran out of batteries’.
It’s hard to contend with this level of cuteness.
Nevertheless, fifteen minutes later, niece has mimed putting new batteries back into her listening ears, we have narrowly avoided tears and I am making her a new sandwich.
She has asked for an olive sandwich.
She is not to be persuaded otherwise.
Present her with sandwich.
She asks for crusts to be removed.
I remove the crusts from her sandwich and present it back to her.
She says she only wanted a black olive sandwich, with the green olives on the side.
I meticulously pick out all the green olives and put them next to her sandwich.
I give her the sandwich back.
She proceeds to take the whole thing apart, put cheese in it instead, and eat it.
Decide this battle is not one worth fighting and start work on her previously rejected cheese sandwich. After a few bites, reject this too, as niece has been rejecting it pretty consistently for about an hour and it’s now stale and unpleasant. Make myself a new sandwich (cheese, not olive).
Niece says ‘ you missed one of the green olives’ as she continues to dismantle her black-olive-crustless-sandwhich. ‘Silly Helen’.
By this point our primary game is ‘Ticket to Ride’ which, when niece is involved, usually involves each of us putting coloured train tracks on the right part of the board, or the game where niece takes out all the pink coloured train cards, gives me the rest and then challenges me to a game of match (niece has a 100% success rate of getting her all-pink cards to match. Suspect the game is somehow rigged). However, today we’ve progressed to playing Goldilocks ticket to ride, which goes like this.
Grandad/ Dad (depending on who you ask): * goes to put track down*
Niece: No, not there! A blue one!
Grandad / Dad: how about here?
Niece: No, that ones too big!
Grandad / Dad: this one
Niece: Too small!
Grandad / Dad: This one?
Niece: too dirty!
Grandad / Dad: This one?
Niece: too boring!
Grandad / Dad: This one?
Niece: too cold!
Granded / Dad: well, that’s all the blue ones on the board and you said it was blue.
Niece: No, red!
Grandad/ Dad: Okay, this one?
Niece: No, too hot!
Game has now reached new facets of painfulness. At this point, it gets a minus three fun points from me. Grandad/ Dad suggests that we go to the play park instead, before it starts raining. Niece says we haven’t finished the game and lets him put down two pieces of train track. Move on to sister’s turn. She tries every single place on the board for them all to be ‘too big/small/hot/cold /dirty/boring’. I say ‘are you sure you don’t want to go on the swings, Millie?’
She does not.
We go round the board once more.
Grandad / Dad says ‘I really want to go on the swings Millie’.
Niece says ‘not yet!’
I am told that I can’t put my track there because it’s ‘too dreary’.
We go round the board again.
Niece says that we can all go to the park.
We all breathe a sigh of relief.
Niece, sis and bro went home last night, which leaves Monday feeling oddly quiet and calm, although not necessarily unpleasant. Take a detour to Filey (lovely!!), have brunch again then parents set off driving me back home to be reunited with my PERFECT cat and my plants and my housemate (housemate and I have taken to talking about Bertie like he’s our child, with updates and what/ when he has eaten and his litter tray habits).
On the way home we listen to an hour long radio show about shower doors spontaneously exploding and I develop a minor complex about washing ever again, but am gratified that no one sings the pants song or ‘summer holiday’ all the way home.
Take a detour and buy six more bags of compost to fuel my gardening addiction, then parents head off home.
Am quite overwhelmed by such a lovely week surrounded by people I love, after such a long time, and as I get back to the very important job of pruning my tomatoes I’m left with this satisfied sleepiness, this contentment, this awareness of how excited I am to sleep in my own bed and the ever present wondering of what on earth a ‘Bing’ even is.
Two Thursdays later
Have just got back from office-straight-to-foodbanky thing after looooooonnnng day of work, where there have been unexpected deadlines and everything is finally hot which is nice but I forgot that the hot makes me grumpy and likely not to sleep. Additionally, message from sister suggested that they will be picking me up for our bro-sis-niece-Helen trip to Alton towers “by seven AM”. Wasn’t aware anything happened by seven AM. Not entirely used to things happening when I can see the seven (of the AM type) on the clock, particularly on days when I’m not working. We are staying in a cbeebies hotel and I expect the whole thing will be very, very fun, but also already feel slightly broken and we haven’t gone yet.
It’s now eight thirty pm. I have been out for twelve hours which I used to do multiple times a week and now makes me feel like a zombie-person (as in tired, not like I want to eat someone’s face. Although maybe if I was tired and hangry and they were annoying) and I have not eaten, nor packed and I need to wash my hair, yet somehow I end up sat on the floor of my kitchen next to one of the dining chairs. Think I got down to stroke a cat but now I am just there, looking at the edge of the table and thinking “oh”.
Housemate is sitting opposite me on a real chair.
I say “I don’t know why I’m sitting on the floor.”
She says “I see that.”
I say “I think I’m stuck.”
She pushes my wine glass nearer to the edge of the table so I can reach it from the floor and says “At least you can be stuck on the floor with wine.”
God bless Grace.
(They arrive to pick me up early the next day. Alton towers is greaaaat and exhausting and hot and tiring and long and fun and I think I might need a holiday from holidaying-with-toddlers for juuuuuusssstt a couple of weeks, or something).
Exiting blah blah Land
Number of days it’s been illegal for me to be in the same room as my best friends:
369 in total, including: one period of self isolation, three national lockdowns, two local lockdowns and two tiers (on three different occasions). 236 consecutive days but NO MORE DAYS NO MORE DAYS NO MORE DAYS NO MORE DAAAAAYSSSS.
Toilet roll situation:
Who cares? You can’t hug a toilet roll. Well, you can, it’s just not nearly as comforting as hugging an oversized teddy or a cat or, in fact, a person. Trust me.
Who cares??? Even worse to hug that toilet roll, especially if it’s spaghetti. Macaroni is probably the best and not just because I have an emotional connection with Mac and cheese. Although, yes.
Mum’s top sentiment of the day:
I AM GOING TO HUG MY MUM TODAY SO WHO CARES WHAT SHE’S BEEN CHATTING ON ABOUT.
(Unless she says ‘no I don’t want a hug’. Consent is important y’all.)
Bible in a certain time period update:
My super cool spreadsheet now estimates that I will finish on the 21st June, so now going to rename this “Bible in a pandemic.” It’s a good depiction of it all really, in that it’s taken longer than anyone expected or wanted, that parts of it have been slightly underwhelming (here’s thinking back to all the defiling skin disease business), but we’re sort of making progress.
Pretty much just got some Old Testament, some psalms and Revelations to go and that’s always an upper.
Lots changing! Things! People! Restaurants! Hugs! Housemate back!
Looveeeelllyyy to have the return of another human in the house. While both Boris and Bertie have been great roomies (excrement on the carpet notwithstanding; the cat, not the giant teddy) there are a lot of really good things about upgrading to a companion with, it has to be said, higher conversational capacities. Plus, she cooks things and reorganises cupboards and whatnot, which is great. So far no repeats of #herbgate (RIP Basil) and she comes with a spiralizer for all my spiralizing needs (limited, if I’m honest).
Housemate has been back for over a whole week now and have learned a lot of things in that time.
- Eating meals with other humans is excellent. I really think we were made to eat with company. It’s one of those necessities that goes from “has to be done” to “brilliant, affirming, community building and wholesome” with company. We never really managed to nail eating together properly pre-pandemic, so am excited to commit to creating a new rhythm of eating together. Except breakfast. Can’t be doing with people before coffee. Hate people before coffee.
- Faith is easier with others. Loving watching church with someone, praying with someone, worshipping with someone. Yes yes yes.
- Apparently, we are supposed to have two twenty second hugs a day for our well-being. Therefore we calculated that — subtracting a hug a week after the introduction of support bubbles — I am in a hug deficit of over 24 hours. We considered rectifying this and that commitment and dedication this would involve… and then we decided that Bertie probably counts. So now after another five hours or so I’ll probably let Grace stop holding me.
- For the last week have been following Julia Cameron’s suggestion of a “media deprivation” and am banned from reading, tv, social media, scrolling, emails, messaging etc. Was bored enough that I tried yoga on housemate’s suggestion. After consultation, I have learned that you’re not supposed to do it on 1.25 speed while drinking wine.
- I have learned that baths and coffee are good for your brain, which is probably why I’m so devestatingly intelligent.
Also adjusting to other aspects of real life.
Outdoor areas at hospitality venues
How great is it to be able to exchange money in order to skip the labour of, days/ week in advance, considering what one might like to consume, walking to the shop, purchasing said items, realising on your way out of Asda that your top four shirt buttons have come undone due to the way your over the shoulder bag sits, battling through the sudden rain storm, wishing that you had purchased less alcohol food and/ or bought your super cool trolly to make carry quantity of alcohol food easier, placing food items in fridge, still wanting selected meal x number of days later, cooking said meal, eating it, loading things in the dishwasher, hoping you have purchased enough dishwasher tablets, putting on the dishwasher, unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the entire kitchen because in the process of cooking freezer chips you have managed to drop a bowl of icing on the floor, melt a chopping board, get cheese on everything and get something sticky and unpleasant on the hob? TAKE MY MONEY RESTAURANTS. HAVE IT.
Going to work
Have started going to the office about once a week now, mostly to combat the growing inability to dredge up motivation to do literally anything in my house. While occasionally sending Bertie a resentful look and telling him “I’m doing this to put food in your bowl” sometimes helps, sometimes he looks at the perfectly fine food I’ve put in his bowl like I have deeply offended him and chooses to aggressively eat the paper wrapping the toilet paper came in until I give him something else instead. Office is good. Turns out my Christmas trees were still there because last time I was in the office it was November. Decided to embrace Christmas cheer and keep ‘em. Put the lights on and everything. Like to think I’m very popular at the office.
Private outdoor spaces, such as gardens
Lots to say about gardens!
Firstly, good practice for learning how to communicate with others in group settings without having the option of turning my camera off if I can’t be bothered to make my face look like it’s listening anymore. Good creative exercise in coming up with a different excuse than ‘so sorry, didn’t catch that. Bad internet day’. Also good practice at learning how many blankets / sleeping bags / layers one might need to avoid turning into an ice cube if one chooses to sit outside during the frostiest April for a number of years that I can’t remember.
(The worst part about this picture is that I got sunburned this day).
Also, I reorganised the shed. Bought a bench. Committed hard enough to gardening my feelings that I should now have quite a plentiful harvest of angsty tomatoes, aubergines (if that damn white fly haven’t killed em), chillies, peppers, figs, cape gooseberry, onions (red, white, spring), garlic, beetroot, cauliflower, radish, pumpkin, summer squash, courgette, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, strawberries, kale and herbs. Oh and housemate said she wanted to eat more leafy greens because they’re good for helping you grow your brain, or something, so in the name of improving her brain I’ve bought some spinach and lettuce seeds. Oh, did I mention rocket? That too. Apparently, I have a lot of feelings. Who knew?
(Everyone who has heard me whining, basically).
This is not to mention the epic 2021 sunflower race. You could say my life is pretty exciting. You could also say that I have spent too much money on compost. The latter statement would definitely be true.
Get vaccinated when you are offered it and encourage others to do so
In a plot twist that we’d joked about previously, pals and I were off on another compost run / garden centre trip last Saturday (when, I ask you, when am I going to have enough compost for all my gardening needs), when pal received a text from vaccinator-volunteer-friend saying that there was some of left over pfizer that was going a-wasting and that, if we could get there before 1pm, we could get us some of that immunity. It was approximately half twelve and we were a twenty five minute drive away. Cue beginning an epic quest for increased protection against serious illness!! Arrive with five minutes to spare!! Join a long queue!! Stand outside in the rain unsure whether we’ll be turned away when we get inside!!
Pal says “I nearly wore my waterproof, then I decided that we were just getting out of a car and going into the garden centre” as the rain steadily makes us wetter and colder. I say “I nearly bought my umbrella but decided I didn’t need it” as we discuss how waterproof our shoes are. Never mind!! Six billion months of pandemic has prepared us for this. We have socialised outside – at a social distance – in rain, in snow, in December, in the dark, in gazebos and while pretending a parasol is equivalent to an umbrella. We are not put off by rain!!!
(Three days later, I got something out of my handbag and realised that I did actually have the umbrella with me all along, I just thought I didn’t. I haven’t told pals this yet. My bad.)
An hour or so later, we walk out, jabbed up, stage-1 vaccinated and pleased but confused about the group road trip to the vaccination-station.
Later, slightly regret buying five fifty litre bags of compost as we try to transport these from car to garden with dead-arms. The attempt to use the bin as a trolley is questionable. Housemate arrives just before three bags of compost nearly land on my head,
In all the excitement, I end up slightly late for our second fake Christmas with the housemate, which we have decided to celebrate quarterly.
Indoor hospitality venues
Today, I am officially embarking on one of the least pandemic-y experiences I’ve had for the last six thousand months. I am going to eat brunch inside (INSIDE!!!) a restaurant then go on holiday with my parents, who are not members of my household, and spend annual leave with other people in a place that is not Bradford.
On the beach. The beaaaaachhhhh.
Of course, it’s tipping it down with rain and is due to continue to do so alllll week. Still.
(When I took annual leave at Easter I started writing a blog post called “101 ways to use annual leave when literally everything you want to do is illegal” but it turned out that I peaked at point 6, “create a logic puzzle game to play alongside watching the trash television show ‘are you the one?’ whereby you have to work out the matches before they do using logic.” After such gems as that, you’re pretty much left with paint by numbers, Netflix and continuing to garden your feelings).
Feel tiny bit like I’m coming alive again, although this little ditty skirts over the parts of my psyche that’s clinging onto the safety of hibernation, or the parts that are kicking and screaming about all the change. Loveeee my housemate, but also miss my bubble who have been my People ™, although now we can reinstate Bubble Plus Dinner ™ when I’m back from holidays. Am discovering little wells of places in which I am Not Okay, all these little solo-pandemic-er hangovers where I have internalized lots of fear about loss of control and being forced into isolation again, which is fun. And by fun I mean crap. But it’s good. Aloneness is different to loneliness. They’re adjacent, but not the same, and mostly I have been just alone rather than lonely, but it still takes this special kind of energy to do it for a long time. Now that I don’t have to do that I feel well rested for probably the first time in my entire life, because for once I’m not under-introverted and too busy. I want to keep that, but I also want to do things. Go places, see people, laugh, live, hide all weekend to garden and grow nice food to give to people I like. And help housemate eat her way to be a better brain. It’s all a lot and occasionally too much, with lots of things all stuffed into the big blender of emotions that is the human experience, so at this time I like to remind myself of the constants that have remained true before, after and during this coronavirus business.
10 things about life that were disappointing before the pandemic and are still disappointing now:
- When you get liquid in your washing up gloves and the fingertips get all squishy and you have to admit defeat or turn them inside out to dry them out.
- When you take things out of the dishwasher and they’re not entirely clean so you have to rinse them again.
- That unless you strip your bed and get naked, it’s impossible to finish laundry.
- That even though my cat goes outside now, he’d rather crap in my front room than in my neighbours garden (I don’t hate my neighbours which is biblically ill advised, just aiming for some quid pro quo, eye for an eye, cat poo on my grass for cat poo on your grass deal).
- British weather.
- That in the last two weeks I: left an extension cable under the part of my conservatory that leaks when it rains excessively and fused all my electrics, found a bit of broken plate on the floor with unknown providence when hoovering, broke a glass at 11:30pm and had to hoover up glass shards rather than sleep, that the next day I spilt red wine all over my carpet at 11:30pm and had to stain remove rather than sleep and then the next day I broke the freezer drawer.
- When you say “man I’m going to sleep well tonight” because you’re completely exhausted and then you lay awake for hours wondering why you ever, ever said that.
- That even the things you own to clean other things have to be cleaned.
- That every weekday when my alarm goes off I feel like I am a vampire that has just been raised from the dead and I have to convince my pathetic corpse of a body that it wants to leave the perfect cocoon of bed and put on less comfortable clothes and arrange my limbs in a less comfortable way on a less comfortable surface and do things that are less nice than sleep, but the second it’s a weekend I wake up naturally at 7am feeling like a regular spring chicken.
- Bin juice.
Number of days it’s been illegal for me to be in the same room as my best friends: 319 in total, including: one period of self isolation, three national lockdowns, two local lockdowns and two tiers (on three different occasions). 175 consecutive days.
Toilet roll situation (resurrecting this old category for old time’s sake): Still on a pretty solid supply of toilet roll, although if I was to plot a graph of toilet roll stocks we’d have a third-wave style peak-and-drop because last weekend my beloved friend/neighbour/colleague tasked me with the very important task of babysitting her loo rolls. This was not because we have all gone completely insane, but because they were staying at their mum’s (their bubble #CovidDisclaimer) and their loo roll showed up. I happen to be a proud owner of a key to their house. The only time I’ve actually used this was that time I broke into their house to attempt a good dead of delivering flowers and home cooked food after the birth of their son, but sadly managed to break in while Joe was actually there and nearly gave him a heart attack when he came downstairs after hearing the door and found me in his front room (sorry, pal). But, for some reason, they didn’t take the key off me after this point, so I wandered up the road too protect the 48 loo rolls from the elements. Alas, they bolted the door, so I ended up carrying the 48 loo rolls past 20 houses and babysitting them for a while (always nice to have extra company, even if it’s loo roll). Also, someone had left them daffodils on their doorstep! These had somewhat dried out…. And couldn’t stay in my house because they’re toxic to cats, so I delivered these to another friend. So, if you are the ones who left my friend/neighbour/colleague flowers… they did get slightly displaced and slightly dehydrated but it was a happy ending in the end.
Pasta stocks: Completely embarassing amount of pasta. I think my stock piling instincts kicked in too late, because I have:
- 1 pack of fresh lasagna sheets
1 pack of dr0cv dccxx— whoops, Cat.
- I pack of dried lasagna sheets
- 2 packs of penne
- 2 packs of macaroni
- 1 pack of those shells
- 2 packs of spaghetti
- Some fusilloni that came with my gousto box
I am one person (+ cat) so this is probably 570932407302 meals worth of pasta.
Mum’s top sentiment of the day:
It’s perfect that you got the date of Mother’s Day wrong, because now my flowers are all in bloom on the actual day!
(In my defence, when I looked at my calendar for last Sunday… the next entry was for Mother’s Day because absolutely nothing happens in my life, so I assumed that it was the entry for 7th…. But anyway, enjoy your flowers Mum).
Today’s the day folks! It is an entire year since that fateful day that I started coughing in Sheffield, sheepishly got the train home, maskless (😱) and self-conscious, settling in for my ‘7 days’ of self-isolation with nooooo ideaaaaaaa that a year from now I’d consider going to the garden centre to be the most exciting part of my adult life. I had no clue that my ‘leaving the house average’ would become about 0.42 times a day (for legitimate exercise / bubble or permitted volunteering related reasons #CovidDisclaimer), or that I would not get to see my parents for a full six months, or that I would willingingly sit in the garden in the rain for human contact, or that I would start talking to the cat / plants / toilet roll in increasingly bad accents.
I have learnt that I can do five days without seeing a human being and still be fine, but if we get beyond seven then I start to feel a bit isolated. I have learnt that hope is a bit of a mixed bag and sometimes it’s a lot easier to crawl into your cave and hibernate and not make any plans. I have learnt that wild garlic starts to appear in March and it’s the first thing in the woods that’s really green. I have learnt that wine -no-more, although excellent for getting wine stains out of the carpets / off the ceiling, doesn’t do a great job with cat poo (not off the ceiling, thank god). I have learnt that being alone is really different to being lonely, but the former can be hard just by itself. I have learnt that it’s possible to be bored and still have lots of things you want to do and to technically have no plans but still feel too busy. I have learnt that if you add the catholic cards, our personal custom pack, the COVID pack and the british politics pack, playing all bad cards (online cards against humanity) can be funny enough to make me cry laughing. I have learnt that I am probably never going to have enough time to actually put my clothes fully away, rather than low-key pick things to wear straight off the airer. I have learnt that I have been under-introverting my entire life and I have learnt that it is possible for me to over-introvert. I’ve learnt that you should take the side shoots off tomato plants every week. I’ve learnt that on sims 3 they get the ‘stir crazy’ moodlet after three days of being in the house and that those sims can piss right off, because they don’t know the half of it.
I have learnt how lovely it is to have someone make you a cup of tea, or a cup of coffee, after this crystal-clear memory of the first time someone made me a drink for the first time in weeeeeeks and how that small act of service nearly made me cry. I have learnt that I am much more prone to jealousy than I’ve ever realised and that I still hate all those people who went on holiday (except not really) and I have learnt how much grace we need to have for each other in this weird, polarising experience where some people have been dying for a moment’s peace while I would quite like all this ‘peace’ to piss right off. I have learnt that you can buy a device that means you can apply suncream on your own back. I have learnt that being a twenty-seven year old sat in a paddling pool in a swimming costume is an entirely valid life choice. I have learnt that lockdown holidays on your own in your house are okay, really, if not entirely fulfilling or relaxing, and that they’re much worse in winter. I have learnt to be so desperately excited and ready for the spring that the weather basically dictates my mood.
I have learnt that thinking of food to cook for yourself for the millionth meal alone in a row is very dull. I have learnt that it is possible to overdose on paint by numbers. I have learnt that I spend a terrifying amount of time listening to spotify. I have learnt that you can watch Friends three times in one pandemic. I have learnt that you can play Harry Potter Lego Wii twice in one pandemic. I have learnt that you can spend a terrifying amount of money on gardening and gardening related products. I have learnt that growing things makes my brain quiet. I have learnt that having a cat is the best, best, best lockdown company.
I have learnt that pandemics are slow and long and frustrating, but do have this habit of forcing you to realise the things that are actually important to you. Like wine. Wine is very important to me.
Lockdown weekend number fifty something:
Am taking the day off, because at approximately 9:30 on Tuesday I realised that five day working weeks are the barbaric results of capitalist plots designed to cause pain, misery and disappointment (or, I’m really overdue a proper break, but am attempting to preserve annual leave until I can like… legally see other human beings. Or even like…go somewhere. Wild). Am attempting to create ‘sustainable and healthy rhythms’ in my life so that I can say I gained something out of this pandemic experience, so start the day by listening to me bible-in-fourteen-months (the lesser known spin off of bible in a year. Am 76% of the way through. Will get there), then writing my ‘morning pages’ which I have shameless ripped off northern bestie and is essentially just journaling. I write a very interesting entry about how it’s raining and how that makes me sad and then spend an hour drinking a cup of coffee and doing nothing else.
Go to the shop. Have been avoiding it, but am also baking a cake and need cake-things. Think it will be quiet because it’s the middle of the working day, but it’s apocalyptically busy and horrific. Hate everyone, including myself for this terrible decision. Make it out of there alive and call my mum because last night I dreamt she was dead. She isn’t, which is excellent, and she tells me the daffodils I bought her for not-mother’s day are doing well. She is also intending to bake a cake today. Realise I now know what retirement must be like, given last 12 months.
Bake cake. Make lunch. Spend an hour drinking cup of tea in the conservatory, because the microclimate of the conservatory makes it feel like June and June is a much happier place. Sit some more.
Meet friend!! It’s her birthday and as of Monday it’s legal for us to do a ‘recreational outdoor activity’ — such as drink coffee — so we sit in the picnic bench in the park and drink fake-proescco and I give her cake and a fake candle for her to not-blow out (#CovidDisclaimer).
It is completely freezing. Weather is a bizarre sunny then rain but cold, with apocalyptic winds. By the time we have finished eating cake, we decide to go for a walk so we don’t turn into giant cubes of ice. It starts to hail. We keep walking. She refuses to take the whole cake home, so I keep some and drop this back off at my house before…. heading straight back to the park for weekly-walk with pal. Now, it’s raining. Cold-rain. Very cold rain. Still, walk is nice and we talk about how virtually nothing has happened since our walk last week which is good, reassuring rhythm.
Get home and collapse on sofa. Watch Drag Race with friend over netflix watch party until sleep time. Read Coronavirus death statistics in bed then dream about people sabotaging my plants.
Wake up to cat in my face, because he has managed to open bedroom door and wants attention. Protect my legs by bundling them up in three layers of duvet so that if he hunts my feet I won’t end up actually bleeding, then watch ‘marriage or mortgage’ in bed. Get up. Listen to bible-in-fourteen-or-maybe-fifteen months. Write fascinating entry to my journal about how much I love my cat. Spend an hour drinking coffee. Hoover. Cook lunch.
Receive email about family zoom call, so tune in while eating my lunch. Dad (still) very entertained by zoom filters. His entertainment level is only matched by niece, who is three, and keeps asking for her/his filter to be changed. Sister is trying to do other things at the same time and keeps being beckoned back to change the filter to the reindeer. While on the call, I mop the kitchen (yesterday I dropped a bowl of peanut butter icing on the floor while making the cake, so the mopping is necessary), clean the surfaces, take out the bins etc. Mum is knitting a character from Bing (for niece). Niece is eating her lunch (with the reindeer ears on) / pretending to deliver us presents on her sleigh. We have never shared these combination of experiences before, so it’s nice that COVID is bringing us together.
Leave call to do some conservatory gardening.
Go for walk with friend. It’s very cold but it doesn’t rain and it’s very nice to see her. Saltaire is pretty.
Come home, cook dinner, have video call with the besties. Sleep.
Wake too early due to light (hate light). Spend an hour drinking one cup of coffee. Watch church from sofa in PJs, then write journal entry (another fascinating piece about how I’m sad that it’s raining and I like my cat), before getting onto the exciting gardening! It’s exciting because I am graduating one type of tomatoes away from the heat mats and into their forever growbag homes. Fret over skinny aubergines and accidentally buy more seeds because I have a problem.
Spend an hour on my Bertie diamond mosaic thing.
Go for a walk with friend. We compare notes about who we’ve walked with for the last few weekends, because nothing else has happened in our lives. It’s raining a lot. It’s also cold. Probably the most grim weather for a while.
Come home. Spend an hour drinking cup of tea. Write profound and interesting blog post about my lockdown experiences. Post blog and await the adoring reactions and responses from my many fans.
Bertie & Me
Number of days it’s been illegal for me to be in the same room as my best friends: 290 in total, including: one period of self isolation, three national lockdowns, two local lockdowns and two tiers (on three different occasions). 145 consecutive days.
Pasta stocks: gone big on the pasta supplies due to intention to avoid going to the shops as much as possible, cause baby, it’s coronar-y outside. To be honest, this plan hasn’t been going entirely smoothly. There’s a three pronged attack including: supermarket deliveries, occasional recipe boxes from Gousto and fortnightly vegetable deliveries. I have a big plan which has all the food I’m supposed to eat from now until the apocalypse (so, you know, any time from March 2020 onwards). In the first week of this plan, I missed my slot to edit my supermarket delivery online due to migraine so missed half the things on my list (I’d booked a slot to reserve it before they all disappeared with editing-intentions), my veg delivery was snow-ed off and my Gousto box was late. Still, we’re six weeks into the year and I’ve been to the top three times, and I have enough for the next two weeks, which isn’t so bad.
That being said, last time I went to the supermarket the combination of over the shoulder bag and shirt didn’t go very well. Apparently, something about where the strap was sitting just…. Undid the top three buttons of my shirt. I looked down when I was returning my trolly and realised that I’d just been walking around in my bra. Absolutely no idea how much of the supermarket trip was spent with my boobs out, but there we go. At this point, I also was trying to push the trolly, pull my super-cool granny pull-trolly containing three weeks of shopping and carrying two bags of stuff that didn’t fit in my trolly, so I couldn’t even fix it immediately.
There are probably a number of reasons I should avoid going to the shop. Will leave it up to you to decide if “ avoiding coronavirus” or “avoiding flashing everyone” is a better reason. At least I had a mask on to hide my face.
Mum’s quote of the week:
Great minds think alike but some can type faster. So true, Mum. So true.
Nothing has happened in my life in approximately ten months, so this is me just gratuitously talking about my cat. Buckle up your seat belts, folks, it’s about to get pandemic-interesting.
(This being the scale where “reorganising your spice rack’ has become a valid evening activity. If you were wondering, after consulting a friend I decided to go for “frequency” rather than “alphabetical” with any duplicates stored in a separate cupboard. I also threw out some mint that went out of date in 2012. Thrilling stuff).
Bertrand Hiorns-Russel became part of my household approximately four months ago. He is a good additional member of the household in that he doesn’t mean I lose my entitlement to a bubble (or single person council tax) and I really like my bubble. He’s a bad member of the household in that he doesn’t contribute to my mortgage and I’m regularly expected to clean up his excrement. I’ve had many lodgers before and all of them have paid me rent and not relieved themselves in my front room in a box of wood chips (that I know of). According to the paperwork lovingly given to me by cats protection, Bertie’s approximate month of birth falls in this month.
Happy first birthday Bertie!!
Adopting a cat in a pandemic is kind of weird. I’ve heard that normally they do house inspections and you meet the cat etc etc, but I filled in an application, sent them proof of my address, paid my donation then rocked up to a semi-deserted retail park.
Friend who drove me (and reassured me that everything would be fine) and I wander aimlessly around the car park, cross referencing the instructions, before we find a weird, large gate and a bell.
We ring the bell.
Woman comes out in mask and says “you here for Harrison?” (This was Bertie’s name before he became mine)
Woman nods, shuts gate and disappears.
Friend and I look at each other.
Woman comes out and hands me a cat carry with a cat in and hands me several sheets of paperwork, then disappears. Feels weirdly like a drug deal rather than a legitimate cat transaction, but we take cat carry and I sit in the back with my new pal Bertie and drive home.
Bertie is “chatty” which means “makes a bloody racket”. He meows a heartbreaking chorus on the way home while I baby talk to him from the back seat. He is very tiny (my niece, who was very excited about Bertie, had said the week before that he was “small enough to fit into a slipper” because she saw a video of him. He is not this small) and he is very smol.
Friend comes in when we get home (this is in those two weeks of the year where this is legal, as it happens) and we let Bertie go a-roaming and sit very quietly and watch him hide under my sofa. I give him dreamies. By that evening, we are curled up together watching television.
He is, obviously, completely perfect. He is absolutely the best lockdown decision I have made so far.
So here are some facts for you to get to know Bertie before we begin.
Bertie likes to share.
He is a massive fan of Christmas.
And he loves cuddles.
He just loves them.
Lockdown Diaries with Bertie
Morning (Cuddle hour, breakfast time, the zoomies)
Day begins with Bertie clawing at bedroom door and squeaking to get attention. This means he has decided that it is MORNING which means he would like attention and also breakfast. As previously mentioned by cats protection, Bertie is “chatty” (read: loud), so I ignore this for as long as I am able — I love sleep, hate mornings — then let Bertie into my room for what I have affectionately dubbed ‘cuddle hour’.
Cuddle hour either contains Bertie sitting on my chest / face while he purrs and I stroke him, or it contains Bertie trying to burrow under my duvet and hunt my feet. At its best, cuddle hour involves us both falling back to sleep with him tucked under my arm and purring and at worse it contains Bertie leaping across the bed and head butting me in the eye (I’m charitably assuming this was accidental). This also tends to involve a lot of Bertie licking my face.
I do understand that this is a sign of great affection, but it is also unpleasant. Particularly so when Bertie attempts to ‘clean’ my hair which usually involves him ripping a fair bit of it from my skull.
Sometimes, he gets bored of these activities and fights the pull light over my bed. He does this by standing on the edge of my headboard and batting this around. Unfortunately, he’s not very good at this, so this generally ends with 4kgs (Bertie is no longer tiny and smol; he is approximately double the size of when he was bought home) of cat falling on my head.
I like cuddle hour. As I’m writing this, I am not entirely sure why.
Eventually, after I cannot ignore my alarms any longer (or Bertie has hunted my feet so successfully that they are bleeding), I get out of bed.
As I mentioned in one of my other blogs, my bathroom pull light died in August. There was a bit of a saga involved in fixing it (unlabelled fuse box, burglar alarm with no known code etc etc; story for another time) and I am both slightly lazy and was living alone in a pandemic, so I just lived without a bathroom light for five months. After a while, I did get a special ‘bathroom torch’ which I think added a sense of camping-esque-adventure to going to the loo, which I’m sure my bubble appreciated when they came over for bubble dinner. At the moment, you have to take your ‘excitement’ where you can get it. However, these were also Bertie’s formative months and it was very dark outside, so he has become very accustomed to the bathroom door being open.
This means that when I crawl from bed to bathroom and sit on the loo, Bertie generally immediately sits on my lap and demands stroking. If the door is shut, he sits outside and whines and this is loud, so normally I just let him in.
I did not expect to be this person. I think I have retained some respectable boundaries with not letting him in my room at night (this was cemented the second time he fell on my head pre 6am on those occasions where I forgot/ he snuck in). Once, my sister told me a story of their cat falling off her legs when she was on the loo and digging her claws in all the way down and I thought I would never be that person.
I’m not, but only because I make sure I’m wearing layers on my legs. I know the second I sit on the toilet I’m getting a lap full of cat, so it’s good to be prepared.
After I chuck him off my lap, he sits in the sink while I attempt to brush my teeth. The first few times I attempted to be gracious and not just turn the tap on when he sat there, but… I’m already running late enough in the morning and really he should have learnt by now.
Next, we have a compromise where I get to put the kettle on first before Bertie finally gets his breakfast, although he does like to attempt to crawl up my leg during this process just to make sure I don’t forget about his breakfast. We also like to play a game where Bertie decides to forgo the lovely hand painted bowl of water with his name on and instead jumps on the counter, walks over the sink and drinks the leftover cleaning-out-the-cafetiere water that I gave the plants, then I tell him off and he pretends to give a crap and I pretend to believe I have any authority or control over his behaviour (I do not).
By this point, I am usually slightly late for work even though ‘work’ is my sofa and Bertie is in a post-breakfast zoom-phase (zoom like running around like a maniac not like video calling zoom; Bertie has yet to independently video call people). I log in to my laptop / first meeting while Bertie fights the blinds / hunts my now-sock-clad feet / knocks the coffee table (and my coffee) over. Occasionally, he takes advantage of this time to test out his career as ‘butt model’ by shoving his ass in the direction of my video camera, but usually by the time my first meeting finishes he’s calmed down and taken himself off upstairs to snuggle up with my clean laundry.
He continues hanging out on my clean clothes until the afternoon. He does not appreciate being interrupted.
Afternoon (psychological warfare / ‘give me attention hour’)
At some point between 3pm and 4pm, Bertie shows up again which is nice. I like to think that he’s trying to help me out of my afternoon slump by reminding me that I’m working hard to keep him in dreamies, disgusting sachets of tuna and litter, but mostly I think it’s because the sun’s gone in so the laundry room is no longer the warmest room in the house. Sometimes, he does this by depositing himself on my lap and well…. Watching me like a total creeper. Preferably, he comes and sits on my lap mid-meeting and demonstrates to the masses that he is affectionate and beautiful.
Or, if he’s in the mood for a game he very subtly finds his favourite toy and drags it into my vicinity then looks at me which is slightly less helpful for getting through my workload. Sometimes, if I’m particularly reluctant to play with him he passive aggressively plays by himself, by dragging the toy onto the sofa, then fighting it from the floor until it hits him on the head.
Currently, Bertie is an indoor cat. I have made efforts to let him outside, but he’s not completely convinced by it. He’s made it a foot out and then mostly hides in some unknown location ( I think in my bedroom). At this point of the day, I’m very glad about this, because it’s nice to have someone else in my house wanting attention or just being there and well… I’m not allowed out, so why should the cat be?
Last week, I had a minor heart attack because I thought there was someone else in my house and then I realised I’d walked past a mirror and seen myself in the peripheries. I think it’s good for me to have another being around the house. I’ve stopped talking to the plants so much, at least (although this is in part because most of them are dead; tis the season and all that), although I’ve noticed that sometimes I talk to Bertie in a Russian accent for no reason. I have filed this under “deal with after pandemic”.
Evening ( you are but a pillow time)
Currently, I’m trialing a new thing where after I finish work I set a timer for 45 minutes and have to ‘adult’ until the timer goes off. This is in part because I’m trying to have a proper sabbath on Sundays because reasons, but also because I’m trying to segment my day a bit better and stop myself from shutting my work laptop and sitting aimlessly in the exact same spot while time just passess. Not necessarily usually so keen on structure, but life does tend to become a bit of a long homogeneous mass otherwise. I mean, it’s fine. Everything falls into the realm of being ‘okay’ if not particularly interesting or fun, so, yes, structure.
Bertie is super helpful for this chore time and demonstrates this by: knocking laundry off the dryers while I’m trying to hang them; breaking into the cupboard where his food is keep, somehow getting the food sachets out of the box, shredding the packets with his teeth and ‘storing’ them in unexpected places so I don’t run out of things to tidy; kicking his litter all over the floor to give me ample opportunity to enjoy my new hoover; knocking things off the coffee table because he likes to watch the world burn; winding round my feet on the stairs, knocking over my coffee. He looks out for me, does our Bertie.
Once I’ve adulted, cooked and we’ve both eaten, I usually end up embracing my super fun ‘social life’ which consists of video call home church or video calls with the besties, or video ‘What the book book club’ podcast (this week we’re reviewing ‘Kissing the Coronavirus’ and ‘Pounded by the pound:Turned Gay By The Socioeconomic Implications Of Britain Leaving The European Union’; it’s sure to be a real high point of the week), or playing ticket to ride on the phone to my family. Or it involves playing a video game or reading a book or watching netflix, etc. The common thematic theme for all of these activities is the sofa.
(This week I decided to ‘shake things up’ a bit and sit on one of my other sofas for a bit. It was quite exciting really).
Bertie has perfected the art of only choosing to sit on me at maximum inconvenient moments, like when I have just thought ‘I’d quite like another glass of wine’ or ‘probably time for bed’ and thus trapping me on the sofa for hours a time. Or he straight up sits on the wii remote. During this time, he ‘kneads’ me which is theoretically a sign of great affection, but it turns out even through three layers I still ended up with my stomach peppered with little red marks from his claws.
See also: my hands, my feed and the other week — goodness knows how but I bet it was his fault — my forehead. This is an extra fun game due to the prevalent requirement of alcohol hand gel. Ain’t no party like a hand sanitizer in a cut, party.
It should also be noted that Bertie does not respect the sanctity of the keyboard. It’s like he doesn’t care that I’m the highly successful author of a book, The Name On Your Wrist (no longer known on Amazon as ‘why my life sucks and what you should do about it’ because it seems like they’ve finally corrected that. Shame, it was kind of funny). He has managed to achieve some strange things in his time. My highlights are:
- Somehow sending my bestie a screenshot of my screen while we were watching remote Drag Race
- Somehow sending two sentences of my NaNoWriMo attempt (we got like a week in) repeated about fifty times into the chat function of my online game of ticket to ride.
- Somehow setting my desktop background as a screenshot of me googling how to take a screenshot.
I should note here that there are some variations of this that do involve other human beings in the flesh. Every Thursday I leave the house (!!!) to go to the foodbank, on Sundays we have a bubble dinner rotation and we do the ad-hoc bit of bubbling. Bertie isn’t 10000% on other people because he hasn’t really met any, but he’s getting used to my bubble. He likes to make himself known here, too, like when we played bubble hairdressers and Bertie sat on the pile of my freshly cut hair for no apparent reason, or that truly excellent evening where we had takeout, prosecco, played Just Dance and tried to give Bertie his worming treatment (the obvious combination of activities).
But normally it’s Netflix and blankets and video calls and cat-cuddles. Books (questionable and otherwise) with glasses of wine. Trying to get Bertie to let me paint. Harry Potter Lego Wii 1-4 for the second time this pandemic (decided once per lockdown was acceptable), playing the sims and laughing at them getting the ‘cabin fever’ moodlet after three days of not leaving the house (FU, sim), joggers / PJs and hibernation.
After another thrilling day of doing not much, I extract myself from underneath Bertie with varying degrees of success and then trudge up to bed, shut the door VERY FIRMLY in the name of sleep and prepare myself to repeat the whole process tomorrow.
And the next day.
And the next.
(I think at least one of us has Stockholm syndrome)
5 things I would like to keep after all of this is over:
- Sunday Bubble Dinners! I’m sure that we’ll expand the guest list, but it’s such a great way to end the weekend.
- Gardening breakdown. I’ve already embraced the mania for 2021, with my seeds propagating on the window sill and my potatoes a-chitting. I have a plan. I have seeds. I’m so ready for the snow to go away so I can start planting.
- Having mildly less anxiety about making phone calls. Not saying I’ve been cured (or I’d have given up checking my Drs website every night where their ‘appointments are released’ — which is a blatant lie — and just called them already).
- My killer time-saving strategy of: jumper over PJs and lipstick to make it look like you’ve made a genuine effort.
- Bertrand Hiorns-Russel
180 days of lockdown
Toilet roll situation: Yes, I own some. Stocks are depleting faster than normal due to crying alone into my takeout.
Pasta stocks: Pasta supplies have been replenished by large quantities of pasta that has been donated to the foodbank with split bags. This means that we can’t give it out, so…. Muchas pasta for me. This is mostly a good thing, although it did lead to an incident in which my cat — who is quite into human food — opened a bag of partially open spaghetti with his claws and ate some of it. Dried pasta. Dried pasta. He’s an odd munchkin.
Mum’s top tip of the week: Not a top tip, but my mother did recently knit me some leg warmers. And some fingerless gloves with snowman on. We’re a really cool family.
The Road So Far
March 14th: Develop a persistent cough, return home to self isolate for 7 days.
March 21st: FREEDOM
March 23rd: National Lockdown starts
July 4th: FREEDOM
August 1st: Local Lockdown begins
September 4th: FREEDOM
September 22nd: Local Lockdown reinstated
October 14th: Local lockdown usurped by ‘Tier 2’
November 2nd: Tier 2 usurped by Tier 3
November ??th: National lockdown, take two. (Probably??)
December 24th: Cruelly deprived of a proper Christmas, the author goes on a festive ramage, hugs strangers, goes to visit her mother, aggressively cooks people Christmas Dinner and feeds it to them in her home. The author sings Christmas songs within 2 meters of other individuals, makes vicious demands for carol services, goes on holiday, visits her friends and starts having in depth conversations with her Christmas Tree.
I intended to update this sooner, but I’ve been riding a distinct wave of Lockdown en-rage (like ennui, but angrier) and everything I wrote was distinctly grumpy, whiny and self-pitying. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good look on me, so I decided to spare you all. However, with rumours of National Lockdown looming, I thought I’d compile some of things I have learned over the past seven months.
I have now been doing this crap for 180 days, so you could say I’m a bit of an expert.
FYI, that’s about 80% longer from some of you bastards who have avoided local lockdowns / tiers (here’s looking at you, southerners), so I reserve the right to be 80% more grumpy than any of you. The only people who get any of my sympathy are those from Leicester or that other part of Bradford that didn’t get that 19 day respite. Or people who’ve been shielding. Or maybe those in Scotland/ Wales / NI because I haven’t been keeping track of the rules there. Or people who are going to be significantly financially affected. Or people whose families are further away. Or, well.. Whatever. The point is that I hate you all and am definitely, definitely past my lockdown en-rage.
Helen’s guide to surviving lockdown measures
- If you can’t see your friends or family, you can buy company. By which I mean a cat. Just a mere £95 donation to cat’s protection (plus the money on litter trays, cat trees, cat food, litter, toys, insurance…. ) and there will be someone to watch TV with you for the next 12-15 years, unless the cat is busy doing cat-things. Or eating. Or kicking litter all over the front room. Or fighting the blinds. Or hiding. Or sleeping. Or if you scared the cat by spontaneously singing or laughing.
Introducing — Bertrand Hiorns-Russel (mostly known as Bertie)!
- If you can’t see your beloved besties, replace them with inanimate objects. For my birthday this year, Northern Bestie bought me an Elsa doll to represent OG Northern Bestie & and Barbie that represents her. Then London Beloved Bestie independently bought me a ‘peepee plush’ (AKA, a ‘giant cuddly penis’) after we laughed a lot at this website a million years ago. So now they sit on my sofa and are with me always.
- If no one’s happy to see you when you get home (from your trip to the supermarket / six thousandth walk of the month), create the illusion! If you are not prepared to go full feline-solution to this problem, you can just use a large teddy and place him in the window, eagerly anticipating your homecoming. I missed you too, Boris.
- It’s still a conversation if no one answers. Just ask creepy men on dating websites everywhere, even if you get no response, if you keep talking it still counts. Thank you to my tomato plants, Boris and Berite for such excellent conversations in the last seven months.
5. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and no one is looking. I now own four pairs of jogging bottoms and two different types of dry shampoo.
6. You can always work around restrictions placed upon you. It may not be ideal, but there’s always a work around. For example, the pull string on my bathroom light has been broken since August, so I’ve been primarily showering in the steadily-decreasing daylight hours and leaving the door open so I have the light from the corridor. Not ideal but workable. Also discovered my front room lights intermittently flash (quick enough that it’s imperceptible) and may-or-may-not trigger my Bubble Buddies epilepsy, so she hasn’t been coming into my house. The electrician is too busy to come look at it, but now I’ve bought lamps! Workarounds, my friends. Also true of lockdown restrictions. Probably. For example, hanging out with your friends in the park is allowed (if there’s less than six) and that’s always very practical and convenient
7. Practice gratitude. This is scientifically proven to make you happier and all that jazz. So instead of thinking ‘well this is annoying, I’m now showering in the dark’ think ‘at least no one is allowed in my house, so I am the only person inconvenienced by having no light in my bathroom’.
8. Remember the things that you are allowed to do. It is not currently illegal for me to do my laundry or my washing up. Yes, I have been legally allowed to be in the same room as my mother for 40 days since March, but reorganising the tupperware cupboard is totally legal and corona safe. Obviously, I’m not going to do those things, but it’s good to know your options.
(Also, pottery painting with bubble, pumpkin picking, pumpkin carving in the garden,walks and rainy picnics with my niece. Virtual — and virtually impossible — Halloween quizzes with the beloved besties. Bubble Sunday dinners and bubble cups-of-coffee. Reading books under blankets, lie-ins, hanging out with the cat).
9.) Remember your experiences and problems are not unique. It’s super easy to get into a rut or get into a habit of trying to justify your pain ahead of other people, because you have to live with yours all the time. However, chances are, you are not alone. For example, the other week when I was cat sitting for a friend and I somehow managed to stain her cat with lipstick (no, I did not snog the cat; I am not saying this again). I found it very encouraging that the internet confirmed I am not the only person whose had this problem.
10. Accept the things you cannot change and change literally anything within your power that’s left. Such as your hair. As I have been taught by many films about breakups, there is nothing more empowering than changing your hair. Guaranteed to make you feel like you are in charge of your own destiny for at least five minutes (three and a half, in lockdown situations).
11. Celebrate past successes to remind yourself that you’re not (just) an unproductive hermit who hasn’t seen another real life human for five days. Such as looking at reminding yourself of the book you published, many moons ago. Unfortunately, this tactic doesn’t necessarily work well if Amazon have randomly replaced the front cover of your book with a book entitled ‘Why your life sucks (and what you can do about it)’.
(I have looked up the book, because I would really like to know what I can do about it).
12. Do nice things for other people. Like volunteer at your local foodbank! And if, say, your lift-to-foodbank’s car breaks down on your driveway and is still waiting for the RAC man by the time you’ve finished up, it’s nice to offer to keep hold of the keys and give them to the RAC in the morning. This is especially good if you are also holding the keys for foodbank, because you can feel very responsible and internally call yourself the ‘keeper of the keys’ and perform a Hagrid impression for the cat.
SUB POINT TO POINT 12: However, if you do offer to hold keys for the foodbank / friend’s car, it is considered polite to actually be conscious when the RAC man / Foodbank manager turns up to collect the keys. If, say, the RAC man arrives earlier than expected, it is probably a good idea to put your phone on loud so you don’t miss three phone calls from friend who owns car. Or two from Foodbank Manager. Alternatively, it is a good idea to actually wake up when your alarm goes off, rather than staying completely dead-to-the-world until Foodbank Manager throws a rock at your window.
If all else fails, make sure that you are wearing appropriate PJs for when you blearily run down stairs to open the door and find both Foodbank Manager and RAC man waiting for their keys.
13. Support local businesses. Such as your local chinese take out. And your local indian takeout. And your local pizza place. The burger place. The off licence, etc. Cheerfully declare ‘just doing my bit for the economy’ as you eat your fourth takeout of the week and drink everything.
14. Capitalism is the answer. If all else fails, there’s nothing some targeted-shopping can’t fix (another thing I have learned from those break-up films). Last week, I spent away my pain by preparing for a depressing winter of only ever seeing most of the people I care about in the cold / rain /dark (or in fact, not at all), by buying thermal socks, micro fleeces, fleece-lined leggings and a torch. Oh, and outdoor lighting for my garden, given there were two whole weeks when it wasn’t illegal for me to have someone come to my garden. Sadly, we are being moved into tier 3 before I could get the lights out the box. So now they’re a depressing reminder that I have no power over my life and of the cruel cycle of hope and disappointment that is trying to make plans to make yourself feel better while isolated, fed up and lonely. Apart from that though, the spending thing works a treat.
Also bought a nice plant.
15. You’re not doing it alone if your pet is with you. In my case, this is particularly true if the thing you are trying to do is consume food. Or throwing up. Or working from home.
Here’s a picture of my intended breakfast. I did not eat any of it.
Happy National lockdown again everyone! (Probably)
Chronicles of lockdown: Always lockdown, never Christmas
It’s the morning of Friday the 29th August and a humble, frustrated, intelligent and attractive young woman is wearing joggers, a PJ top and a hoodie combo, leaving a video message for a friend while making coffee. She optimistically declares that she thinks local lockdown will be lifted in the part of Bradford she’s in today, despite little to no scientific backing (while my area of Bradford has been corona-light, there were actually some cases in the preceding week. 3, or something. Not major, but enough that it’s light blue on that map thing). Despite the pretty miserable outlook of the past few weeks — partially hormone inspired and a bit because of regular old jealousy — she is cautiously optimistic, and lists some of the things that will be possible of local lockdown lifts. She signs off the message with a ‘we’ll see’ and then spends the day working in her PJs, because it’s Friday, and she made a lockdown decision ™ to drop her hours to a half day on Friday months ago, and if it’s a half day working from home getting dressed is really superfluous.
Bizarrely, she is not wrong.
(Funnily enough, it took me long enough to get round to posting this that I’m back in local lockdown again, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha 😶)
There are a number of really, really excellent things about local lockdown restrictions being lifted.
Number one: In a plan that was half-optimistically made a month or so ago that none of us really believed was going to happen, I am GOING TO SHEFFIELD TO SEE NORTHERN BELOVED BESTIES. It has been SIX MONTHS and I usually low-key depend on these weekends as little pockets of rest that restore my resilience levels and make my soul all happy. Plus, it’s Northern bestie’s birthday. It’s been over five years since Northern bestie and OG Northern bestie have been dating and I have a pretty solid track record of inadvertently missing her birthday, as the first week of September often = holiday. Last year I was in Disney Florida, which feels like a good reason to miss it (thank you, facebook, for the incessant reminders about that).
SIDE NOTE: Received a message from Northern bestie after last blog post declaring that she was really happy to be referred to as one of the beloved besties rather than beloved bestie’s girlfriend (I’m sorry, fiancé!!!!). So to be entirely clear, Northern bestie was ABSOLUTELY always included in written mentions of ‘beloved besties’, I was just trying to find a suitable way of differentiating when I was talking about specific ones. Northern bestie: I think you’re completely top, I’m very proud of you, you have absolutely counted as a bestie in your own right for years and I am VERY EXCITED ABOUT YOU GUYS GETTING MARRIED NEXT SUMMER. Ahem. Back to regularly scheduled programming.
When I find out local lockdown is being lifted in my part of Bradford, send approximately six hundred messages to our group chat containing approximately six thousand exclamation marks. Nearly cry.
Number two: long distance housemate is going to visit for a few days. We’ve seen each other once since that time she hastily packed stuff for “a week” while I said goodbye through the window into the conservatory due to my intermittent cough. I’ve posted her three lots of clothes and took a big box of things down in the car, but mostly she’s been living at her parents with a fraction of her belongings. She sends me this meme, so we decide that we’re going to have fake Christmas. I think whichever of us mentioned it first was probably joking, but twenty minutes after the phone call — and before local lockdown restrictions have actually been lifted — I’ve ordered a new Christmas tree (long distance housemate sort of broke mine when we put it up last year, so we spent the festive season with the tree propped up against the wall and pissing ourselves laughing every time we looked at it. The tree arrives five days later and the smarmy ass delivery guy says “you know it’s August, right?” because it turns out it says “XMAS TREE” on the side of the box) and the day after our phone call I find three advent calendars and a panettone in the out of date Foodbank donations.
Number Three: I am getting a cat!! This actually has nothing to do with local lockdown restrictions, but I do find out about it on that same Friday thanks to a nice lady from Cats Protection ringing me to say that my application has been approved.
Just be clear, while this is a lockdown decision, this isn’t a Lockdown Decision ™ entirely inspired by the nice cat that hung out on my doorstep while I was hormonal and a bit sad. I’ve been talking about adopting a cat for three years. My sister has been sending me links to various cats for three years. When I purchased my sofas — three years ago — I paid for extra insurance to cover pet damage because I fully intended to get a cat. Last October, I visited a cat. I’ve just always had commitment anxiety, or been able to find a reason not to (the most recent being that long distant housemate doesn’t really like cats), or been low key convinced that I’m not quite responsible enough to look after another living creature. I fall down stairs on days I’m supposed to be catching flights to France and get wine stains on my ceiling and keep forgetting to do something about the fact that my conservatory leaks.
When I declare to friend that I’m ACTUALLY going to get a cat this time, she replies with ‘I’m not holding my breath’ (fair: she came with me on the meeting-the-cat-visit), but…. Have this moment of clarity when I realise I have now worked at my place of employment for five years, have had a mortgage for three years and I recently asked for a composter and a study chair as a birthday present. The labour party recently wrote to me and said I no longer qualified to pay student rates because I am turning twenty seven. Turns out, I am actually a responsible adult and quite a dull one at that. It happened. Might as well knuckle down and get myself a kitty cat.
As is often the way with these things, nothing happens for six months, then all of these things are supposed to happen in the same week.
Feel intermittently stressed about the number of things I need to “fix” before plans. Discover I own 37 pillow cases. Break Hoover. Order Christmas dinner food and keep having to remind myself that I used to have someone live with me or stay with me all the time and used to go away for the weekend all the time and it’s not actually the end of the world if I leave the house before my to do list is finished.
Long distance housemate is dropped off by her parents, twenty minutes after I’ve finished my morning working from PJs. In the end I decide not to get dressed because I also really need a shower and getting dressed first feels counterproductive and I don’t have time to do both, so I do the meet the parents thing in my PJs. The parents have a drink (of caffeine, not alcohol) for the road and later say to long distance housemate that I am ‘clearly very comfortable with who I am’ which is a nice way of saying that I am a total weirdo, but happy about it, which is definitely a backhanded insult I’ll be using in the future. To be fair, much of our conversation is based around Housemate & my big fake christmas plans, which is mildly ridiculous.
Have lunch with housemate, shower, pack and then jump on the train to Sheffield. While, yes, it’s illogical for these things to overlap, that’s sort of how it panned out and…. To be fair, it was a lot like this when we actually lived together. Housemate never did catch probable-coronavirus from me, mostly because when we backtracked we realised that we basically lived in different time zones and hadn’t actually seen each other for a week at the point where I got ill. Still, it does feel a little odd merrily leaving long distance housemate at my house, but at least I have a tomato-sitter.
And then, and then, I am in Sheffield.
Finally. Finally. Finally!!!!!!
Obviously, because I’ve been looking forward to and hoping this for months and months, I come down with a migraine, go to bed early and wake up at 4am to throw up a lot in their bathroom, which isn’t very corona friendly. Soz, folks.
Begin the day with a breakfast of paracetamol, aspirin and half a litre of water. We had big intentions to get food from this vegan junk food restaurant / take out place this evening, which is the source of a few jokes because the last time we’d planned to go there, I had the mother of all migraines and spent literally the entire weekend in bed or throwing up. I’d already thrown up twice when we walked to the restaurant for lunch and I’d optimistically thought that I was done with the vomiting and that the fresh air would make me feel better. What actually happened is that the second I smelt the food, I had to immediately leave to throw up again. The place is small enough not to have a loo, so I wound up throwing up on the street like the class act I am. That November-weekend was what inspired me to go back to the doctors ask them if they could do something about the damn things, because I was so sad that I didn’t get to spend any actual time with the besties that on the Saturday night I just laid in bed and cried to due a mixture of the pain and knowing that I’d lost my once chance to hangout with my besties that month. (Obviously, I left the drugs they gave me at home).
In comparison to that migraine, this whole thing is much less dramatic and by lunch time I manage to eat food and play a couple of games of mario kart before it’s evident that it’s not really a good idea. We watch Supernanny and play games and chat and drink coffee and it feels like everything is normal and good and lovely. There is cake and birthday presents and assigned ends of the sofa because ~social distancing~ and actually feel alive enough for vegan junk food.
Northern Bestie has been shielding and, at this point, has gone further than the end of the garden twice. Her report from the first instance was she managed to social distance quite well, apart from this drunk guy at the park who came at her rambling very loudly about football. We all decide to walk the five / ten minutes through the park to pick up our food, and we run into the same drunk man spouting monologues to football at no one, which brings a nice sense of symmetry to things.
Vegan junk food is good. Sheffield is good. I lose at Mario Kart.
Have traditional our-weekend brunch with Northern besties then play a few more games before I have to leave to go get the train. Feel much better than I have in weeks and we have another weekend scheduled together in a few weeks. Plus, am not going home to empty house, but to housemate who has purchased things for dinner because I am playing that game where I put off going to the shop until my Morrisons delivery, which is due that night.
As it turns out, I completely lose that game because a bottle of something smashes in my order and they end up not bringing £45 out of a £100 food shop. This is actually a disaster, because this is the Christmas foodshop and it’s effectively fake christmas eve. This is the mulled wine, sprouts and stuffing foodshop. I email Morrisons and (politely) explain that they’ve ruined fake christmas and that it’s all well and good refunding me for the items they didn’t bring, but I kinda wanted those items. Have no idea how else I’m going to source mulled wine before tomorrow and feel an impending sense of doom. It’s strange that even fake Christmas has the ability to be kind of stressful.
Fake Christmas day!! (Yes, this means I booked the day off work to have fake christmas. I have absolutely no regrets about this).
Breakfast of out of date panettone (Foodbank find) and mimosas in our matching Christmas PJs (we didn’t buy these especially; this is from the work christmas card where our whole team wore the same PJs. I do not know if this is better or worse). We also dress up Boris because, well, it’s that kind of day. If you’re going to commit to full on festivities in the first week of September, you might as well dress up the teddy.
The out of date vegan sugar-free advent calendar turns out to be as disappointing as you’d expect that collection of words to be. I don’t even make it through December 1st. To be fair, this is relatively accurate to my track record with advert calendar. Have one of those cloth ones that you fill yourself and my lovely mother sends me a big bag of chocolate and goodies to fill it with every November. I still have some of the chocolate left from Advent 2018. Housemate, however, sat and ate the entirety of her advert calendar in one sitting in the second week of December last year. This is not repeated with the out of date vegan sugar free chocolate.
Next, we put up my brand new Christmas tree while blasting out Christmas tunes, to the real delight of all my neighbours. No festive casualties this year and am very happy with new tree. At this point, we’ve changed into coordinating Santa and Elf costumes (both mine) and housemates accepts the first delivery of the day dressed as Santa. Delivery guy does not mention it.
Instead of purchasing gifts for Christmas, we decided to practice the spirit of gratitude by stealing some of each other’s belongings, wrapping them up and giving them back to the original owner. Housemate does an EXCELLENT job, here and (re)gifts me:
- A large phallic shaped mug that my uni-housemates once purchased for me from Amsterdam. Not entirely sure why I still own this. Not only is the handle of the mug a giant penis, it is also hollow, which means if you drink a hot beverage out of the mug the penis-handle gets so hot you have to hold it with a tea-towel. At uni, it used to be a fun game of ‘which member of the church group should we give the giant dick mug to’ but… I am about to turn twenty seven. Maybe it’s time.
- A copy of my own book, The Name on Your Wrist. No one’s ever got me this book before. Quite thoughtful, really. Would have been a double gift if she’d actually paid for it, as in a year’s time I’d get 70p in royalties.
- A sachet of cat food
- Most of our herbs, in homage to that time I got really pissy about her using the last of the basil.
- An empty bottle of tomato feed.
I give her a copy of a book she leant me that I spilt coffee on, some Rhibenna mulled punch that went out of date in March 2017 and a copy of two books that everyone got free from our employer. Both very satisfied with our gifts.
Another amazon delivery arrives. I answer in my elf outfit. He, once again, does not mention it.
Change into the third Christmas outfit of the day — Christmas jumpers & matching socks — for Christmas crafts and beginning our Christmas jigsaw while watching Christmas Friends Episodes. I head to Asda to pick up the things that Morrisons failed to bring us. Can’t for the life of me find mulled wine, so commit hard and buy cloves, star anise, etc etc — and then we head out on our Christmas walk.
No one we walk past mention the Christmas jumpers.
Next stop: Christmas dinner & crackers. At this point, the whole thing feels positively normal and we are having the best day. Stuff faces with stuffing and roast potatoes and sprouts.
Finish the day with mulled wine, watching Christmas Mingle (a heartwarming and inspirational film about a woman who makes the step to expand her dating horizons by pretending to be a Chrstian and joining Christian Mingle — because we all know that the best way to expend the dating pool is to search for Christian men- — eventually finding the Lord. Please note that I am being mildly sarcastic. It is a TERRIBLE film. You should absolutely watch it), receiving a video of our friends carol singing and making almost no progress on our christmas jigsaw.
So. Much. Fun.
Have to work. Being forced to attend meetings on fake boxing day is clearly a violation of my human rights. May join a union.
In a truly poetic turn of events, housemate mother gets ill with not-coronavirus, so housemate is stuck. Amusingly, she’d been paranoid about packing for a week and getting stuck for six month, so she’d packed almost everything she owns. Unfortunately, she left all her bottom-half-clothes in the car.
Cats protection call and say can’t have cat tomorrow as he’s got a stomach upset. Probably a good thing, as I still have long distance housemate staying.
Housemate still here (love ya girl).
Alone again! Am taking the week off to recover.
Morrisons finally apologise for ruining fake Christmas and refund me £3.50 for delivery.
Go crash family holiday.
Think “will be nice to have a bit of alone time” on the way home from holiday and Boris Johnson promptly puts me back in local lockdown, starting from my birthday.
Top 5 things about being around people:
- “I’ve popped the kettle on. Do you fancy a brew?”
- Eating meals with another human being. This is SO nice. I don’t think I ever appreciated this before. Even though I was working the rest of the week and housemate was out and about seeing people etc, so nice to have points at the day where you come together and chat over food. We don’t tend to eat the same things because I’m veggie and housemate is gluten free onion free garlic free and the intersect of foods we can both eat that taste nice tends to be a little small. But, still! Am convinced that when housemate comes back for good, will intentionally try to eat together. Also, also, also, also, when another human cooks you dinner. Man, that is the best. OOOh. Or when another human PLANS AND COOKS you dinner and you just show up with your appetite and an empty plate. Nom.
- The god stuff. SOO nice to watch Online-Church with another person. Pray with another real life person, who is in your room. Worship with a real life person. Soooo good.
- Stuff is MORE FUN and there are more options. Mariokart. Board games. Watching TV together. Cooking. Making tea & coffee. Putting together your new composter and using it as a giant tombola to decide what to do with the rest of the evening. Complaining about your migraine. Seeing someone open their birthday presents, not over video call.
- Makes you remember how much you love alone time again. (Until you’re sat in your very quiet house, again, thinking ‘so… guess this is it for a while.’)
At least I have a cat now.
The Chronicles of Lockdown: the Cat, the Beach and the Hormones
Toilet roll situation: Yes, I own some.
Pasta stocks: Yes, I own some.
Mum’s top tip of the week: not sure if I’ve actually spoken to my mother this week. Should probably get on that.
Let’s get one thing straight before we begin the story: I am, broadly, a stable individual who is functional human being even when I am being savaged by the cruel beast that is hormonal fluctuations (actually, I suffer from hormonal migraines so am usually not a functional human being about one day a month, when I am instead throwing up, with a splitting headache and unconscious for fifteen plus hours a day while I try and sleep it off, but this is beside the point). I have my moments, sure. I’ve cried over Tesco’s adverts and spilling coffee over work laptops, but generally I, you know, bury the desire to smother myself in blankets and drown in chocolate by eating carbs, drinking extra coffees and just getting on with it.
And then there are hormones while on lockdown.
Various days last week:
Am incredibly irritable and irrational and decide I hate everyone, particularly those on holiday (see last blog post). Do sense check this against the hormonal calendar, which says that I shouldn’t be a mess for another week. This makes me feel much worse about my emotional instability. It’s very hot and become entirely convinced that I have missed my slot to ever leave Bradford again and that a full lockdown is imminent due to schools. Complain a lot.
Meanwhile, new neighbours move in and a very nice cat starts showing up. One evening, I leave front door open to coax in cold air while I bulk cook more Persian salads that one person can reasonably eat and turn around to find cat in my front room. Another evening, am on video call with beloved besties and find that cat is on my window still (which actually nearly gives me a heart attack, but after the shock it’s cute). By Saturday, I am spending an hour a day sat on the front step with the cat and am seriously considering stealing the cat, but feel this may negatively impact future relationship with neighbours.
Am gallantly gardening in the pouring rain because I bought some more seeds to extend my harvest into the autumn (yes, the gardening breakdown continues), when New Neighbour’s Nan asks me if I know who owns the cat. We have a bit of an odd conversation in which she compliments my gardening prowess and starts talking about how that’s what they did in ‘her generation’ and tells me about her fourteen grandkids in the rain. I tell her it’s a lockdown hobby and she says ‘yes this bloody lockdown, looks like we might be heading back that way because of the pubs’. Am a bit confused, because… well, we are back in lockdown, but don’t mention this because New Neighbour’s Nan doesn’t live with neighbours and feels rude to point out they are currently in violation of the rules. Maybe they didn’t realise they were moving into the plague zone. Maybe they do not care.
Take away point from the conversation is that I realise the cat doesn’t belong to the new neighbour. At this point, I am besotted with the cat and have already been inspired to contact cat protection to try to reserve my own little kitty cat, but now I want this cat.
Mission find cat owner begins. Contact street WhatsApp and no one comes forward as cat owners. Put a note in kitty’s collar to see if he’s going home to some place and make a four point plan that includes me eventually adopting the cat and living happily ever after.
Hormones hit me like a freight train. Established yesterday that calendar was wrong, which is encouraging because it means that there is an explanation for the past week of my life, but does not actually help me today. Knowing I am being irrational does not, in fact, make me feel more rational.
Sleep in an hour past the start of work and end up attending team check twenty minutes late in in my pjs before I’ve even brushed my teeth. On Mondays, we have a ‘how are you feeling’ check-in where we self identify with a bunch of images to visually display our mood. Tell team that I am the particularly disgruntled mop, that I want to go on holiday and leave Bradford and that I want to adopt the random cat from the street (this is the first they have heard about the cat; this is not the last they have heard about the cat) and that I don’t want to be at work. Afterwards, get dressed and get waylaid by checking that the cat is still outside (he is; little cutie) and then manage to work for about an hour before I start randomly crying about the fact that I do not, in fact, own the cat.
Consider texting manager that I need to cash in our provision of mental days because I am sobbing over a cat, but feel too pathetic. Force myself to calm down, have another coffee and get some work done.
Cry through lunch break, sat on front step, trying to get the cat to come give me cuddles. Have a short lunch break in an attempt to work back some of lost time from this morning (we have flexi, which means at least me being a terrible employee is recorded) and manage about another hour of productivity before the tears start again.
Female colleague fresh back from holiday asks me if I will be in optional afternoon check in to say hi. I explain about random bouts of hormonal crying and that I may join depending on how likely tears are. She says she can handle the hormonal tears. I point out that she might be able to, but am concerned about the men. She sends me private video call link, which is so nice that I start to cry, then I sob over video call to her for twenty minutes or so (while talking about work).
Work for another hour, then take afternoon break sat on the front step stroking cat in the rain. Kitty now comes when I call. At this point, I genuinely believe that this cat is the only good thing I have in my life, and am traumatised by fact that the cat probably has an owner and I will never get to own the cat. Text several separate people and tell them that the cat is the best thing that I have in my life right now, which mostly goes unacknowledged because it is ridiculous.
Do some more work with degree of composure, but am missing cat enough that I decide to have final meeting of the day (with team mates I work closely with) with cat on my front doorstep. Tune into meeting sat cross legged on the floor outside of my house, with cat (yes, it’s still raining).
Meeting gets interrupted because another cat shows up and also tries to enter my house. Am somewhat aware that to my neighbours I am now the single twenty something who:
- had a picnic with an oversized teddy named Boris
- Sits in her bikini in a paddling pool made for a toddler
- Conducts work meetings sat on the floor outside her house with a random cat.
Internet gets a little wobbly so go in for the rest of the meeting.
As soon as it hits five, start crying about how ridiculous and irrational I’m being. Message bubble buddy and ask if I can come over for a hug and a cup of tea because I am a hormonal blubbery mess. She sends male housemate upstairs and I end up crying on her bed about how much I love the cat. Tell her that the cat is the best thing in my life and she laughs at me, but kindly, and it’s all a bit funny with company. She invites me over for dinner but I really want pizza, so instead I just hang around while she cooks with coffee and have occasional semi-hysterical outbursts as I go through the list of things that I have cried over in the last seven days. We agree I need to go on holiday. We agree I need to adopt a cat, if not the cat.
Order pizza at her house and only nearly cry when dominos takes my money but don’t accept my order, which shows real strength of character I feel. Bubble buddy phones them because I ask her too (which shows real lack of strength of character, I guess) and I look very pathetic and in the end she pays for it on her card and it’s so lovely that I, yes, nearly cry again.
Go home and sit on doorstep with cat in rain. Cat sits on my keys, so have little choice but to sit there. Feel very calm while stroking cat. Also feel slightly damp, because it is raining.
Sit on front doorstep with cat until pizza arrives.
Dominos man thinks I am very, very, keen for my pizza.
He isn’t entirely wrong.
Have first back day in office since March! Given yesterday, had expected this to be a bit of a disaster, but this actually turns out to be okay and actually quite fun (and no tears—- goodbyeeeee choking on hormones for another month).
Am going into the office because I’m writing a report on another team’s workload, so was intending to shadow some of their work to understand it. This is a bit of a social distancing nightmare, to be honest, but in the end we find a way through with her zooming into her web browser until the font is comically large while I squint at her screen from ‘1 meter plus’ away. Get what I need and have a quasi-productive day, involving chatting to some people I haven’t seen in a while and getting to buy a Taco Bell for lunch then eating it outside in the sort-of-rain with colleague.
I have missed wasting large amounts of money buying lunch from town.
May reply to the email about yesterday’s meeting’s action points asking colleagues to give action points to the cat so that he doesn’t feel left out. Colleague actually does which is brilliant, or perhaps a sign that we’ve all been on lockdown too long.
Get home to find kitty on my front step waiting for me. Sit in the rain with the cat for another hour and then cancel plans to nearly fall asleep on the sofa and eat leftover pizza.
Day initially uneventful.
Conduct another meeting with a cat & discover the note I put in kitty’s collar in my back garden.
After work, continue mission locate cats owner: speak to vets about how to get his chip read (intend to go down on Friday with my afternoon off) and then put several pictures of the cat on Facebook pet lost and found groups. Had been searching these previously to see if anyone had lost my kitty, but nothing had come up. Am just about to go on first of two rain-sodden walks in the park of the evening ( the first including a side trip to friend’s to pick up cat carry to transport kitty on Friday), when start receiving a large number of messages from woman who thinks I might have her cat.
At this point, had taken a minor detour from going on walk to sit on the step and cuddle kitty goodbye. We exchange a few messages in which she sends me a few pictures of a cat that looks broadly similar to the one that’s currently on my lap but are quite poor quality. Then she asks if she can facetime me with the cat in an attempt to make a positive ID…. . Which is how I end up video calling a random woman from Halifax from my front step (and yes, it is still raining).
Her cat is called Marley. She starts going ‘Marley, Marley, Marley!! Is he answering my voice?’ while kitty indifferently does, well, nothing. She calls the eldest child over and says ‘Is that Marley? Kevin*, is that Marley? Is that our Marley?’ while I awkwardly point the camera in the direction of the cat. ‘It’s hard to tell when he’s so wet!’ As a person who is also very wet — due to sitting on the step in the rain — I do understand why this is an issue.
‘Is he a boy??? Is he a boy??’
‘Well… I don’t really know how to tell, to be honest. I’ve been calling him a he.’
‘Lift up his legs. Lift him up. See if he has any balls. Marley’s neutered, so he won’t anyway but….’
(At this point, I stop trying to both video call with a cat and lift the front of the cat up to look at his genitals; while this cat has been very good and well behaved, I don’t want to try my luck.)
‘Charlene. Charlene*, come here now, please. Tell me if this is Marley. My daughter. She loves him, she’ll know. Is that our Marley? (random teenager on the other end of the video call comes over and shrugs a ‘maybe’ as the very, very wet cat on my lap continues to stare indifferently at the screen). What does his meow sound like?’
“Uh, well. He only really meows when he’s hungry so I haven’t heard it much.”
‘That’s it!! That must be our Marley!! He only meows when he’s hungry. Sounds like a baby crying. My youngest can do his meow. Danny*, Danny come here — do Marley’s meaow. Do the meow.’
Danny joins the conversation. At this point I am video calling a pre-teen boy doing a very generic cat impression, sat on my front step in the rain which…. I did not see coming.
‘So, does he sound like that? Maybe he’ll answer to the meow. Danny. Do it again Danny. Do the meaow again.’
The cat impression is repeated. The cat gives me a blank look.
*Please note I have forgotten the name of her children. These names are made up.
At this point, I am bemused, confused, slightly wet and a little dubious. The woman lives a good 35 minute drive from my house and her cat was lost without a collar while mine has one, so I’m a little iffy about whether this is or isn’t her cat and unsure whether I’m just in denial. I do know that cat belongs to someone that is not me. I tell the woman that I’m just going out, but I’ll continue with my plan of getting the cat’s chip read and will let her know on Friday. She sends an additional nine pictures of the cat, fifteen messages and a length explanation of what the chip information should say.
Cat follows me up the road when I go on my walk. When I come back (now with cat carry for vet trip on Friday), Cat is on my front step again. I have another ten messages from the woman about the cat and whether she can send her mum / friend / cousin to my house to ID the cat before Friday. While I do absolutely understand her eagerness — the cat has been missing for three weeks — this is slightly stressful, and the reason I’m going on Friday is because I’ve only just got the cat carry off my friend and I’m going to the beach (!!!!) tomorrow.
Turns out, the lost and found facebook group puts me in contact with a woman who has a scanner thing and can come to my house and scan the kitty cat. Arrange for her to come tomorrow morning, cave and let the cat inside for a bit, and then go to bed.
First mission of the day is to ‘contain’ the cat so a woman can come and scan his chip. This cat has never heard the expression about herding cats and is remarkably chill about doing exactly what I want it to. I point it inside my conservatory and he goes. Cat also doesn’t mind just hanging out in the conservatory as long as I don’t leave him alone, where he tries to follow me (and it turns out he can open doors, so that’s an experience). Right before she gets here, I feed the cat and he eats it so quickly that he throws up on my carpet.
Cat woman comes. Turns out I have been appropriately gender-ing the cat. He also does not belong to random woman in Halifax, but is supposed to live about a ten minute walk from my house. He’s been with his family for ten years and has been missing for four weeks. Cat woman calls the family and they turn up within ten minutes, just after I’ve evicted the kitty (pointed at the door and he went; this cat is so well trained it’s unbelievable) and am having a final hang out session on my front step. They are appropriately relieved that their cat has shown up and cat looks sufficiently indifferent about it (because cats). I’m both happy for them and a bit sad, because I really loved that damn cat. Within fifteen minutes, I am left alone with nothing but cat vomit in my conservatory.
I’m very glad this didn’t happen on Monday, because I probably would have been an inconsolable, sobbing, snotty mess, but now I’m just a bit gutted and a lot disgusted by the cat vomit.
The good news is, cat woman delivers the bad news to Halifax lady, who has already sent me another five messages this morning, which means I do not have to contact her again.
The other good news is that last week, when friend and I went for a walk around the park in the middle of our lack-of-holiday, lockdown-frustration (and hormone) inspired rage, we decided to book this Thursday off and go to the beach (incidentally, this is not in violation of local lockdown rules, because the rules are really odd). Both of us were fully anticipating the weather to be completely terrible and that we’d drive for two and half hours, sit on a cold, wet beach for an hour out of spite, then turn round and come home feeling more irritable than when we started. However, by some minor miracle it is gloriously sunny so, although my day starts off with abandonment and vomit, twenty minutes after I’ve seriously considered throwing out the rug rather than cleaning up regurgitated tuna we’re on our way to the freaking beach!!!!!!
We decided we’d pick which direction we went on the day based on the weather and the forecast says Whitby. Whitby is one of those places that stepped in childhood nostalgia and affection for me, so am very happy about this.
Other good news: other friend linked me to government website that says that, contrary to my belief (and I’m sure contrary to what they initially announced), I am allowed to go to a restaurant with another household as long as we sit outside. Slightly gualling that this means I could have been cashing in on the government cheap food deal and what not but, to be fair, it’s been tipping it down with rain all week. However, this means we get a nice table on the decking at the first restaurant we find, buy some drinks, sit in the sun and both occasional sigh and say ‘I’m so happy’ or ‘I feel like I’m on holiday’ or ‘we couldn’t have asked for better weather’ on repeat. We do this intermittently for the entire six hours we stay in Whitby.
Order fish and chips at the restaurant because we’re right by the beach.
Waitress-wearing-mask-over-mouth-but-not-nose asks if we want any sauces, but then comes back sheepishly and tells me that the restaurant is out of ketchup.
After she’s gone, take a sage sip of my white wine and say ‘this is why you always carry ketchup in your handbag’.
Woman on the next table turns to us and says “…. I actually do have ketchup in my handbag, if you wanted some.’ Historically, I have been taught not to take sweets from strangers, but no one has ever given me any advice from taking ketchup from strangers, so I take the ketchup and feel very good about that fact because it’s a good addition to my fish and chips (if this is the reason I catch coronavirus, I’m going to be pissed).
Very idyllic day.
Drink wine (on outside table) in restaurant while low-key judging the family with the nine year old playing with a toy gun and a fake cigarette, then wander down to the beach. Take great pleasure social distancing from group of boys who are having a farting competition. We paddle, read books, partake in a very odd pandemic experience of the 2p slot machines (literally how are they allowed to be open?), discuss at length the different quality levels of an establishment’s hand sanitiser, wander into shops, walk up to the abbey, eat ice cream, run into a couple from work and chat about the fact that they’re supposed to be in Malaga, take a brief trip to the supermarket after friend (who is allergic to wasps) accidentally kneels on one and we have to get antihistamines and take a boat ride round the bay.
Approximately a year ago, the two of us were on holiday in Malaga and we took a catamaran trip where they bought you a cocktail and they had the equivalent of sun lounges and we made decisions about where to eat based on where they had sufficient aircon because it was so hot we were mostly just sweaty puddles rather than people. She made a running tally of how much wine I drank (which she reported was ‘disappointedly little’) and we had the best part of a week of sun, beaches and hanging out . We decide that six hours in Whitby is Exactly The Same Thing ™ as that holiday and return to parroting ‘this is so nice’ and ‘we were so lucky with the weather’ and ‘I’m so glad we’re not at work’ at each other on repeat.
Stop at Taco Bell for food on the way home (friend’s choice; I sent her a video of me waiting at Taco Bell on Tuesday because we used to have taco Tuesdays at work and she was very jealous, then in an attempt to find somewhere to buy food and use loos we stumbled across it). Eat outside, because rules, which means we’re sat at the table right next to the Drive Thru order place and get to judge all the people who are insane enough to ask for things without guacamole.
Friend doesn’t use all her ketchup, so I pocket it in honour of the ketchup-giver from this morning. Turn to her sagely and say ‘You should always have ketchup in your handbag’.
She says “knowing your luck, it’ll spill everywhere.” There’s a solid basis for this comment, given the usual coffee situation and that thing with the guacamole and the cinema trip and that time I tipped an entire bowl of grated cucumber into my handbag, or that morning I broke the bathroom sink, dropped a toilet roll down the loo and dropped my breakfast all before 10AM. Or the fact that there’s a wine stain on my ceiling, or the homemade salsa that fell on my head, or that work laptop / coffee situation that could have ended a little better.
Get home at around half nine to discover that, in my rush to move laundry from bathroom to washing machine and clean up cat vomit before going to the beach, I managed to drop a t-shirt and a sock down the toilet.
Still. Very idyllic day.
Top 5 things about being a woman:
The prerogative to have a little fun. Although there’s little else that I agreed with Shania on, I’m not sure that I actually do agree with her here. I certainly don’t think that the prerogative to have a little fun outweighs the total nightmare that is the hormone thing, as referenced above. Or the systematic violence against women. Or the patriarchy. There’s a lot of crap about being a woman.
- The prevalence of handbags means I can carry all the crap I need without trying to fit it in my pocket. Like my reusable coffee cup, six types of drugs, a book, ketchup etc.
- People expect me to care about football less. While I am generally anti these types of stereotypes, I really, really do not like people trying to talk to me about football.
- If I get married, on my hen do no one would ever expect me to keep a steak in my underwear all day, go wild swimming and then BBQ and eat the steak, like that story my male bubble buddy told us about. Women don’t do that to each other because it’s disgusting and odd.
- If a bird dies in my garden it’s socially acceptable for me to accidentally enlist a man to remove the dead corpse from my front path. If I was a man, I would be expected to do this myself because toxic masculinity. In general, toxic. Occasionally, quite useful.
- Can text a friend while sobbing inconsolably about a cat and friend will greet me with hug, coffee and a glass of wine, chat to me about my feelings as I cry on her bed, laugh companionably about how crap hormones are, then order me a pizza. Female friendships are these meaningful, life long things based on mutual support, emotions, and chocolate.
Local Lockdown Ennui
Toilet roll situation: Ran out of loo roll!!! Finally happened!! I mean, I actually got down to 3 rolls then made a mental note to buy some more which I later forgot until 4am, at which point I blearily grabbed my phone and emailed my work email (side note: emailing my work email to remind me to do something feels a lot weirder now that I pick it up from my sofa. It’s kinda like I’m just emailing downstairs, which would actually be totally cool).
Pasta stocks: I’m going to level with you here. I’m too lazy to get up and find out how much pasta I own. Presumably, I own some pasta.
Mum’s Top Tip of the week:
Last week, my brilliant, determined and very hard working sister finished her nursing degree after a long slog. We celebrated with a family zoom call, mini bottles of prosecco (for me) and comparing conversatories because we are middle class AF. In classic zoom fashion, we timed out of the meeting (introvert pro tip: Zoom’s handy meeting limit is also good at providing an external limit to social situations. Much easier to text ‘was lovely to see you — need to go on’ after you’ve been kicked out than saying ‘I need to leave to literally do nothing’ during the call. More golden wisdom like this continued below).
My grandma was a little confused about what happened with the call ending, so popped a message on our whatsapp asking what was going on.
It should be noted that at this point my Mum was at my sister’s to provide childcare while my sister & brother-in-law navigated both of them working shifts with a toddler, and that they had opted for the full sized bottle of prosecco. It should also be noted that apparently my Mum — who taught me everything I know about wine drinking (ish) — can’t hold her prosecco very well. She was slightly giggly and slightly loud during the first zoom call which was apparently the result of two glasses of prosecco. And, as my dad and other-sister scrambled together to set up a new link, my mother attempted to explain to my grandma the deal.
According to my mother:
I think someone sends you another drink.
Now that’s a service I’m here for.
(Actually, my parents have become the lockdown wine-fairies and sporadically send wine deliveries to my house because alcohol is their love language, so really I do have this service. This week, the wine company rang me ‘concerned’ because I hadn’t put in an order for a while and I had to explain that my parents have just been shipping it to my address. Feel like I should be ‘concerned’ about their ‘concern’, but I am not. Because I have wine).
Lockdown: in, out, in out, shake it all about
As of the 31st July, I am one of them lucky folks back on local lockdown.
I would love to tell you that I have been taking this with dignity and grace, but that would be a lie.
Initially, I was more annoyed about the Eid-Eve thing and the communication thereof than the actual impact on my life and I sort of shrugged it off with a ‘it’s coming for us all’ and ‘we’ve done it before’ and ‘I had a good run with those four weeks I was allowed to go into someone else’s house’ and ‘man this is a really odd collection of rules, but okay’.
This week I traded that in for compiling a long list of people I hate. This includes:
- People who are on a beach because all I want in the whole world is to be on a beach.
- People who are furloughed because they at least get to not work and I would like to not be at work (I know this one is particularly unfair and ungracious, because I am aware that furlough is also uncertain and stressful)
- People who don’t work during the summer because they don’t have to try and work when it’s a thousand degrees
- People who have cars and can do things like drive places like say, I don’t know, a beach.
- People who have just been on holiday, who look all relaxed and happy and like they’ve a nice time. Bastards.
- People who have a holiday booked and are doing that counting down thing, or say things like ‘it’s nice to have something to look forward to’.
- People who ask me if I have any time off booked and I have to say “well no… not really. I don’t fancy going away on my own so….”
- People who live with people and are therefore still allowed to do things with people, like go eat food out or watch tv together or, I don’t know, GO ON HOLIDAY SOMEONE PLEASE TAKE ME ON HOLIDAY
- People who don’t live in a local lockdown area, so are allowed to do things with other people, like go eat or watch TV or, I don’t know, GO ON A DAMN HOLIDAY.
In my defence of my awful and rampant jealousy (I’ve never really thought of myself as someone prone to jealousy until this pandemic but, daym, and it’s horrible. How do you make it go away?), I am a complete disaster when it’s this hot. I can’t sleep, I get headaches, I get nauseous and I get very, very cranky.
But, also. It’s August 13th as I write this. I went into self isolation on the 13th March. Since then, there has been four weeks when I have been allowed to be in the same room as another person. I have spent the same amount of time being allowed to have anyone in my home as not this year.
(Well, I actually have had a support bubble as a single adult household since June 13th, but that’s still three months of me and Boris rattling around and it sort of ruins a good whinge. My bubble buddies are top, though. There have been dinners and wine and cheese and Mariokart and just popping over for a coffee. My first hug was bloody incredible and I nearly cried and I got to go into their house!!! And my bubble knows how to have a kick ass wine and cheese night and, oh yeah, I definitely forgot that one of said bubble filmed us doing fake wine reviews and I should probably track and trace the footage and have it destroyed. Also, did I mention the hugs?)
Alas, as a wise man once said, we must try not to sink beneath our anguish, Harry, but battle on.
(Of course, Dumbledore was actually being a sarcastic little shit when he said that, but it’s still a good quote).
So, let’s go back in time to when I was less of a moody so-and-so.
An introverts guide to (temporarily 🙄) leaving lockdown:
- Use the rules to your advantage
We’ll kick off where we left off: my first gathering of more than one other person in my garden and the first face to face group-social in months, set the morning after my last blog post. Scones in the garden.
Spoiler alert: it rained.
However, we are British. Couldn’t be arsed to find my umbrella, so instead give friends the parasol-thing (quasi-waterproof and about as wind proof as a regular umbrellas – AKA not at all – brilliant moment when the whole thing flew off taking a plant pot and the milk bottle top with it) and then attached Ikea bag to washing line to fashion an ingenious awning. Turns out the bamboo canes from garden are exactly the right size to hold this open. Look like a tit, but am dry. Then fourth friend shows up with a champing chair and an anorak so massive she puts it on over her and the chair. Feel much better about my own waterproofing (love you really, pal).
We sit in the rain and chat. Is properly, properly lovely and feel lots of warm and fuzzy things. And also I feel damp, because it is raining, and ikea waterproofing only works if I keep hold of the straps.
At this point, they are unable to come in and use my bathroom. This is where my first introvert pro-tip comes in: if you give them enough cups of tea, the social interaction can only last as long as their bladder. Introvert win.
- Be flexible
So, it’s tipping it down with rain and you can’t have the garden based lunch you planned? So, you can’t sit on the picnic tables as you expected because they’re locked up? So, you’re wandering around after your Foodbank shift with three supermarket purchased sundaes and three gradually being-diluted-by-the-rain-cups-of-tea?
It’s perfectly acceptable to have tea and dessert in a random bus shelter in the middle of a downpour. Perfectly. Acceptable.
Introvert pro-tip: the rain puts a time limit on things too.
- It’s important to take time to yourself
Remember, just because you’ve been locked in a house alone for three months doesn’t mean you actually like people. As people start expecting you to enter real life again and do things like… socialise in person and… leave the house and… stop talking to giant teddies called Boris, carve out some Quality Introvert time.
As always with quality time, it’s not about just being in the same room with no one. It’s about enjoying the experience of being on your own. Finding things that you enjoy more on your own. Time does not equal quality time.
For example, I took a week off (mostly because I realised I’d only used my annual leave to volunteer at foodbank, forced bank holidays and two other days else where; this does not a very relaxed Helen make) and fully embraced the fake holiday life. By which I mean I went for walks in the park, read books, made myself iced coffee and…
And, yes, I sat in my bikini in the three inches of water in the paddling pool that my three year old niece rejected as being too small.
Would I do it again? Absolutely.
Do my neighbors think I’m odd? Yes, yes they do.
Do I regret the delivery guy showing up while I was sat in the paddling pool in my bikini? Yes.
(As a solution to my want to be on holiday angst I’m not sure repeating this experience is the one. I enjoyed myself and it was restful and relaxing, but I’ve done the annual leave to sit around my house thing now)
- Maintain healthy rhythms
Once upon a time in a world long long ago, there was no coronavirus and my besties and I would spend one weekend every month together drinking wine or cocktails, watching telly, playing games, eating food and R E L A X I N G. Haven’t seen London bestie in real life since February and haven’t seen Northern besties since that time I came down with coronavirus while in their house and had to leave back in March.
(If if wasn’t for this stupid local lockdown I’d be SEEING THEM RIGHT NOW. I hate coronavirus).
However, now we have weekly online cards against humanity, psyche and video chats. Oh, and me and OG northern bestie have instituted Drag Race Sunday’s, where after I’ve watched online church we watch an episode of Drag Race over Netflix watch party because I am a well rounded individual.
- Give up healthy rhythms
Am I going to go for a walk every day of my life for the rest of time? No.
Do I believe that it is broadly good for me and was a really great thing I got out of lockdown? Yes.
Am I going to feel bad about immediate dissolving of good discipline now things are more normal? No.
- Take things slow
What we’re really looking for here is someone saying “So what have you done this weekend now X rule has changed and you can do Y?”
And you realize that you forgot to make any plans to see the people and that you should probably do that.
(Just not TOO slow. Who knows when those rules are going to change again?)
- Family is a bit like a contagious disease (but in a nice way). Nothing for months, then one case tends into a social contact pandemic (but a nice one)
I usually see my family quite a lot and I found not seeing them really hard. There was a time when the concept of seeing my parents made me have a little cry and when the concept of missing my niece’s third birthday felt quite likely and really painful. I saw my sister last that time we-shared-a-cocktail-and-I-may-have-given-her-coronavirus-in-March and I hadn’t seen my parents since Christmas, cause the week they were supposed to stay was when I was self-isolating.
And then, the floodgates opened.
McDonalds in my garden with sister & brother in law, with fake-prosecco and, of course, adequate social distancing and what not. So good to see them.
And then — parents! Soooooo nice. Got a bit emotional about not being able to hug my mum before they came, but then they were in my garden and she’d sewn me some masks and bought me an entire cake. Went for a classic lockdown walk and had pizza in the garden and felt a bit emotional again when they left.
That was probably a bit dramatic, because two weeks later they were back with my niece, sister and brother in law for a garden BBQ (in the slight rain) and after that they were allowed in my house (!!) and we ate nachos.
And then, two weeks later, they’re back again, only this time they stayed for three nights so that we can all go to my niece’s 3rd birthday day-out and we do things like go to a restaurant (!!!!) and go to tourist attractions (!!!). When they go home, they take me with them and I stay at my parents house for three nights and work from there.
I left Bradford.
This was actually very anxiety inducing because I have never left my tomato plants alone before and it was supposed to be very hot, but I gave my Bubble Buddy the key to my house and she did an excellent job at keeping them company and no one died (and I think she enjoyed the change of scenery).
In retrospect, I wish I’d just booked the time off and taken a proper break while I was at my parents, because I was only there Wednesday-Friday and I worked all of it. Still, I got to see one of my best friends in the whole world in person (!!!) and we went for walks, went out for dinner and even — this one was wild — went to a bar.
On the way back, we take a detour to sister and Brother-in-law’s house and take niece to a place where there are penguins and a make-shift stage for her to perform Ring-around-the-Rosie which I think was a remarkable satirical commentary on the the current pandemic, given that she is three. At this point, I have gone from spending an average of twenty three hours a day completely alone to spending six days in a house with other people, going outside, going inside to places where there are other people and am possibly more tired than I’ve ever been in my life.
I say to long-distant-housemate ‘putting myself on fake lockdown after a very busy week last week’. Then the government did it for me. Damnit.
- Plants talk less than people
Also, you can eat (some of) them. Nom nom nom.
Top 5 things about being back in local lockdown:
- More time to listen to Taylor Swift’s new album on repeat for hours
- … got nothing.
- If it’s an effective measure against rising infections then it’s good that less people will catch coronavirus and suffer serious health implications and it will ultimately be better for everyone.
U (still) Can’t Touch This
Let’s go back in time.
It’s Friday 13th March and an attractive, intelligent and humble woman is hunched over a desk at the office. She’s slightly tired from taking her sister out for a belated birthday meal the night before (which she will later discover is the meal where she may-or-may-not have given half her family coronavirus) and from this very technical mega-forecasting-project (that will become slightly obsolete and tabled for three months around 100 hours from now).
On Fridays, her floor of the office plays music requests during the afternoon and her team is in charge of the theme this week. She has just stumbled across the ‘COVID-19 Quarantine’ playlist on spotify, which at the time feels very, very funny. This turns into a quasi-raucous joke over the desks and in the end she convinces the-person-in-charge to make the theme for this week ‘Current affairs.’
Over her regular Friday lunchtime Thai-Restraurant with friend, he says ‘we should probably make the most of it, because this may be the last Thaiday that we have for a while’. She vaguely regrets how much money she’s spent on eating out this week and definitely believes that next week they will be back in this restaurant, as per, with the waiters guessing their orders mostly-correctly before they’ve looked at the menu.
She gets back to her desk as they start playing the ‘current affairs’ playlist. She listens to half of it, amused at everyone’s slightly off-colour requests, and then remembers that it’s loud, puts her headphones on and works until five.
On a whim, at the end of the day she decides to take her work laptop home. Just in case.
Sixteen hours later, she starts to cough.
Now, twelve weeks later, that same attractive, intelligent, increasingly funny, humble woman finishes another working week from her sofa and remembers, in a moment of odd, slightly hysterical clarity, the songs that she requested to be played the last time she was allowed in the office.
U can’t touch this.
Work From Home.
(I just checked and the playlist has now expanded to include ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together and ‘Kiss Me Thru The Phone’ and ‘All By Myself’ and I stand by the fact that it’s hilarious).
Toilet roll situation: Yup. Have yet to run out of toilet roll.
Pasta stocks: Yup. Also still have pasta. Today I ate my second Asdas ‘extra special’ stuffed sage and butternut squash ravioli of lockdown. Inspired by the mild insanity of having not really left home for the past 83 days (but who’s counting?), I decided to try and make it ‘serve two’. Or, you know, myself twice, given I’m relatively sure I’m still not allowed to share food with people, and Boris (the teddy) doesn’t eat.
As an experiment, I’d say it was a stonking failure. Although I did only eat half of it, by the time it got to 3:30pm I was so hungry that I bought myself a dine in for two (for one; see notes above about Boris not eating) and a pizza meal deal when I popped into M&S after Foodbank. After spending my entire grocery budget on more-than-I-needed-but-not-enough-to-justify-the-cost, I got home and immediately ate the rest of it. At 4pm. For a snack. Plus, now I own two pizzas. I’ve already had a pizza this week and have got another pizza base to make a second.
Is a global pandemic enough justification to eat four pizzas in a week?
Mum’s Top Tip of the last few weeks: On Sunday, I was just merrily going about my lockdown business when my glasses fell apart in my hands. I’m not one of those people who needs glasses ‘a bit’. I’m one of those people where people do that thing where they take your glasses and try them on and go ‘man, your eye sights terrible!!’ (I’ve never really understood the logic of this process) and then wave a hand in front of your face and ask if you can see it.
I really like being able to see things. It’s nice. Ergo, glasses breaking — not ideal.
So, here I am, a bit stressed, wearing my sunglasses inside, trying to look up what the deal is with opticians in the middle of a pandemic, trying to use those tiny screwdrivers that come out of Christmas crackers to do some kind of repair job (while wearing sunglasses). I put a picture of my poor, sad glasses on the family whatsapp, seeking comfort and sympathy, and then ask for suggestions about where past-Helen might have kept her old glasses.
My mother is the first to reply.
Have you tried looking under that pile of things on the floor.
(I wasn’t sure which pile of things on the floor she was talking about, but I did look, and they weren’t there).
Side note: I wouldn’t recommend breaking your glasses during a pandemic. It really is a complete pain in the ass, especially if you got your glasses from a place that isn’t open in the city you live in during the pandemic (it’s not just my mother that offers a stunning lack of sympathy in my time of need. As I was stressing at a friend about Boots being shut and my fear of being left blind and bereft of sight she just goes, totally deadpan, ‘you should have gone to Specsavers’). In the end, I did go to Specsavers — by appointment to enter the store only — and they took pity on me and gave me an eye test so I didn’t have to spend £200 on a pair of glasses with an out of date prescription. Still, trying on glasses with someone wearing a full face guard who has to disinfect everything you touch, when there’s a guy waiting outside for you to be done so he can come into the shop, is worse than the experience that trying on glasses when you can’t see what they look like because you’re not wearing glasses is normally. Also, everyone makes jokes about Banard Castle. Now, my glasses are on order and I’m rocking the Harry Potter sello-taped look.
Back in March, when the government announced that, if you had symptoms, you had to stay at home for 14 days and I sobbed like a baby (before I read the clearer, written down version of this and concluded that as a solo-isolator I was free after 7). Given that now, months later, I haven’t gone further from my home than the Foodbank (around 3 miles) for 12 weeks…. This feels like a really serious overreaction. I recently filled in work’s ‘back to the office’ survey to say that I am happy to work from home indefinitely and actively want to stay working from home three days a week forever. I am very, very close to have my first home-grown tomatoes and, just this week, finally, after 11 weeks of searching I managed to get fence paint!!!
Obviously, and especially given this was combined with BJ’s recent ‘you can meet in gardens’ announcement, this happened:
Still, I persevered and used the final scrap of sun on Tuesday to paint through my break times, lunch times and as soon as I’d finished work until my fence was finally, finally painted! I started the job approximately last August, before running out of nice weather / paint / motivation. I like to think succumbing to the ‘lockdown home improvements’ makes me officially an adult, even if it’s probably more symptomatic of neglect. Exhausting though. Finished up at 7:30pm and mostly just wanted to go to bed. Persevered through reheating & eating portion six million of my moussaka (official conclusion; moussaka is not worth the effort of cooking even if it’s batch cooked), then ran myself a bath as soon as I had the energy too. Will blame the paint fumes for the fact that I wound up reading Harry Potter in the bath with a glass of wine and a Brownie which was fine, perfectly lovely in fact, until, for unknown reasons, I started reading it out loud. To myself. With voices.
We’ll take this as a good segue.
Things I never thought I would do before lockdown but now seem totally acceptable / fun ways to spend the time:
- Reading Harry Potter, out loud, to myself with voices. Naked. With the window open. (That all sounds a lot weirder without the context that I was in the bath but, you know).
- General gardening related Mania. This includes: watching Youtube videos about gardening, exchanging pictures of plants with beloved bestie who’s also having a gardening themed lockdown-breakdown, getting up in the middle of an awful six-day-migraine purely because I was concerned that my tomatoes hadn’t been watered and I didn’t want them to be sad and apologising, out loud, to my tomatoes one Saturday for not feeding them until past 11am. That one wouldn’t be so bad, really, but for some reason I did it in a broad yorkshire accent. Anyway.
- Being a 26 year old with a paddling pool. Apparently, I talked enough about having a low level jealousy for my sister’s paddling pool enough that she sent one to me in the post (her 3 year old likes all of them to be in the paddling pool, so they upgraded to a larger one that can fit them all in). Last weekend, I set it up in the garden and sat reading with my feet in it, and it was great!! Was so tempted to put on my new swimming costume and sit in it, but in the end I resisted. When it’s warm again, though, I’m totally gonna do that.
- The amount of time I spend with an oversized teddy called Boris. No elaboration needed, I feel.
- Laughing more at the captions on google hangouts than I’ve laughed at anything for weeks. The discovery of the captions on google meet / google hangouts has been a beautiful, beautiful thing, given we use it for work and for church social stuff. Last Sunday evening, we were playing some classic-lockdown games and… I don’t even know what was actually said, but google captioned it as ‘You smell’ and it was so funny and brilliant to be properly laughing from your gut. Would HIGHLY recommended putting it on if you use google.
Especially if it’s a dull meeting.
- Appreciating things like someone making you a drink. Have had a rough few weeks, what with this mega-migraine (don’t have a migraine during lockdown; you can’t look at screens and your whole life is screens and it sucks) so I decided to write down an emotional splurge of all the gritty, crap stuff that I’ve felt at various points during this saga, like jealousy, and self-pity, and restlessness and listlessness. Might share some of it at some point, but one of the things I wrote in my spiels about jealousy was how I had a spark of it every time someone’s spouse / child / housemate bought them a cup of tea while they were on work call. A couple of days after writing ‘God, I just want someone to make me a drink!’ in this overzealous, emotional rant, I had a –socially distanced and outside, of course — lunch with my friend / neighbour and she…. Made me a vanilla iced latte. No one had made me a drink for, like, 11 weeks!! It was delicious.
- Playing Badminton. It’s not actually true that I thought I would never do this, because friend and I have been talking about it for over 3 years. It’s just on the list because it…. It never actually happened until now. However, I totally dug out my old badminton rackets that stain your hands black (good way to tell if you’ve been touching your face) the first day that we were allowed to meet in twos outside. As it turns out, the tennis courts in the local park were still locked up, so instead we played on the grass field. Said grass field is on quite an incline and it was super windy so it was a somewhat unconventional game of badminton, in that you couldn’t really run backwards without risking falling down the hill and the Shuttlecocks randomly changed direction. The next time, we may or may not have gone through the big gaping hole in the fence for the tennis courts and played there, netless. We have big plans for Sunday and rumour has it that the nets are back. Also, we have new Shuttlecocks (mine had a habit of, well, separating into two pieces mid flight, so you didn’t so much have a shuttlecock that you were running after, as a shuttle flying off in one direction and a … well. You get it).
- Accidentally flashing everyone during a video with the church lot due to the world’s largest rip in my pjs. This one doesn’t fall into the ‘seems acceptable after lockdown’ so much. More ‘didn’t see that coming’ although probably I should have.
- Creating a quiz round about obscure animal sex facts for our weekly quiz nights. After this many weeks, I was struggling to come up with anything original and interesting. Reviews said that they felt ‘distrubed and slightly violated’ after completing the quiz, so there we go.
- Turning my weekly shop into an EVENT. Broadly, I guess I mean the mental adjustment where I now consider ‘going to the shop’ to be sufficient activity for the whole day. In my head, I’m now completely convinced that the whole-day is full if you need to go to the shop. Today’s post-foodbank M&S trip is the first time I’ve just casually popped to the shop (and this is just because it’s opposite foodbank), rather than doing serious prep work, writing a list etc. The most notable of these SHOPPING EVENTS probably ties in with my Gardening Mania point above, where I decided that food was overrated and, instead, I was going to use my weekly-shop to go to the Gardening Centre, right after they reopened. I think I forgot that the garden centre is… quite a long way away. Not super-far, but… a good mile and a half. Down a hill. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a totally manageable distance but…. I don’t know if you’ve ever walked a mile and a half up a hill dragging a trolley full of plant pots, plant seeds and plant food, while carrying a tray of actual plants…. It becomes a bit of a journey.
I bought an extra tray in order to rest the plants on and had to hold them steady up the hill. I thought it was going pretty well, but then I got home and looked at one of the flowers and realised that it had been lent against me and…
And that my poor plant had a boob dent.
My poor, March-self had no idea what was coming.
Meanwhile, my June-self is cooking my M&S dine in for two (for one) and listening to ‘Harder to Breathe’. I’m planning to bake scones tomorrow and I’m looking forward to having a couple of friends coming to sit in my garden (biggest social gathering I’ll have been in for 12 weeks, with a staggering 4 people!!), for what I am sure will be a very soggy get together. I am both convinced that we’re easing this lockdown too soon given the current death rates in the UK and completely fed up of it at the same time. I am ready for some semblance of normal, but sort of dreading trying to rectify these things I have learnt about myself with ‘real life’. A lot of the time, I’m enjoying the slower, less chaotic pace of my life, and sometimes I want to throw Boris out the window for being crappy company.
That being said, the new series of Queer Eye came out today, so maybe I’ll cancel those people plans and binge watch Queer Eye in my brand new jogging bottoms (12 weeks in, and finally own proper lounge wear!) instead.