Self Isolation: day 5 of 7

Toilet roll situation:  I’m gonna level with you, here. On the previous days I was estimating how much loo roll I had left based on how full the toilet roll looked from what I could remember about the last time I went to the loo. This isn’t a very scientific method, especially as I am one of those people who can’t visualise things in my head, so I was mostly just plucking a number out of the air. As a data analyst by profession (I have a badge and everything) this is Not Good Practice.

So, today I have measured. Toilet roll width comes in today at 2.2cm. A control sample of unused loo roll came in at 3.3cm. So I have used 1/3rd of the diameter but, given there is more loo roll when the diameter is bigger, I’m going to estimate that I am about half way through the loo roll. I am sure there is a more accurate way of guessing this, but I am not going to do that.

(Unless self isolation turns into a month long thing. If that happens then I absolutely will).

Pasta stocks: Well.

My Morrisons order arrived today.  I put this order in a week or so ago and I am ashamed to say that I ordered some pasta without realising how much pasta I own. I then meant to go on and cancel the pasta that I ordered because I don’t want to be the panic-buying type, but I forgot.

So, pasta stocks:

  • an open half packet of shells 
  • A unopened packet of impracticality large pasta
  • Out of date lasagne sheets from the Foodbank + one packet of lasange sheets the gluten free housemate told me she has that are full of gluten-y goodness that I can eat if I am ‘running low’ (seems unlikely)
  • THREE packets of spaghetti 
  • TWO AND A HALF packets of macaroni

I am ashamed. Am swapping 4 packets of pasta with friend for kidney beans because they were cancelled on my food delivery and we now live in a post-currency world where we are bartering for food items. #TheEndIsNigh (I would have just given her these, but she offered me the kidney beans. I like kidney beans.)

Cough: Much better.

Temperature: Nooopeeee!

Today’s verdict on whether I have coronavirus: Shrug face emoji. 

Human contact: 

Phone calls:

  • Morrisons for an hour to tell them I was self isolating. Not sure if this counts because I spent 67 minutes on hold and didn’t actually speak to anyone. I did, however, listen to their advert about their match and more card approximately six thousand times. 
  • The actual Morrisons delivery driver who told me he was in my area and he could drop off my food early. Thank you nice Morrisons man. 
  • Dad / Not-Scotland-Sister for remote ticket to ride.

Video calls:

  • LOTS of work meetings. Highlight was when whole team put on the matching Christmas PJs we wore for our annual Christmas photo for a team meeting with our director (I wish I could explain the christmas photo matching PJs thing but there isn’t really an actual explanation. We just decided to do it. Other teams at work do not have christmas pictures. Needless to say, woman in shop was very confused when I bought 12 pairs of matching PJs and told her it was because my colleagues and I were doing a ‘Christmas Card picture’). 
  • Friend who is on the ‘needs a flu jab list’ who has been asked to socially distance for 12 weeks for a remote lunch date. Productive lunch time as this led to the satisfactory pasta-for-kidney-beans swap. Plus, I miss her and she’s great. Discussed how might be better for her to get COVID earlier on while NHS not yet overwhelmed, so offered to come over and infect her. Ultimately concluded that my inconclusive diagonsis meant this was unlikely to be worth it.

Visitors: 

  • Person from Just Eat who bought round my curry. Put in notes that I wanted a ‘contactless delivery’ but this appears to have gotten lost in translation, as he still waited for me to answer to the door. NO actual physical human contact there, but I am still sorry if you end up with Coronavirus Mr Food Deliverer! Especially as he is likely to be part of gig economy. I’m sorry!! I tried!! Even said through the door ‘just leave it there!’ but communication didn’t work out too well
  • Morrisons Man! Not only did he bring me a surprising amount of food, but we also shared a moment of great humour when I had to stand on my sofa and crouch to try and show him my ID through the window and he had to squint at it with a torch to verify that he could leave my wine on my doorstep. 

It is a v. strange world.

Mum’s top tip of the day: Didn’t actually speak to my mother today, but I’ve got this tidbit from yesterday. 

Write down all the places that you’ve been to for the past couple of years, because you won’t be going anywhere any time soon.

Lovely.

General:

Today is probably not going to go down as the most remarkable day in my existence. It was all just kinda fine. Managed to sleep in and be ‘late for work’ despite new flexible routine and indulged in my nice ground coffee and breakfast during my first meeting(s) which is more or less what I do when I actually go to work, so I suppose things are becoming normal at least.

I own instant coffee again (thanks Morrisons) so we’ll see how long I keep up the ‘enjoy the luxuries’ routine.

I did my laundry. 

Turns out it doesn’t actually take that long. 

(I say ‘did my laundry’. There’s still a load in the machine that I need to take out and hangup. This may or may not happen. What I mean is that the massive pile of clean clothes on the bed in the spare room is either hung up or in a neat pile. This means the last of my Christmas things are now ‘away’ — except of course for my Jeremy Corbyn Christmas jumper, which I wore yesterday). 

Morrisons delivery was v. exciting. Own more food than I strictly feel comfortable with. I’m pretty anti food-waste (the kind of anti-food waste that would occasionally bring food from my fridge on a weekend away if I knew that otherwise it would go off even if this means carrying half a courgette on a three hour train journey in a backpack, but not the kind of anti food waste where I eat the token salad that they give you when you order indian take out) so I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do with all the things. Kept adding to it while I was cooped up inside and uninspired by my fridge.

 Problem is, I’m so used to batch cooking as a time saving activity that I already have plenty of food to eat. Currently, I have a 

Lot

Of

 

T

 

 

M

E

I’ve been more aware these past couple of days about the amount of time I spend multi-tasking, in the name of saving time, or whatever else. Watching a TV show while cooking; laundry-and-audiobook; tidying and talking on the phone; clearing work emails while spreadsheet loads. CHECKING MY PHONE, during literally anything. I hate that I’m so addicted to my phone. I want to BE PRESENT in the one single thing that I’m doing and give all my time and brain space to that. 

That book about not hurrying hypothesizes that part of our addiction to busyness is because we’re rubbish at accepting our limitations. I will never read every book and watch every TV show and be completely up to date on work and learn six different languages and train to run marathons and be up to date on politics and the news and speak to and see every friend as much as I want to. I have so many hours in a day and I need to eat and sleep and wash, so then it comes down to working out what I actually want to prioritize and enjoying it.

I like cooking. I want to spend time cooking. 

I don’t think I actually know how to cook just enough food for one meal (unless it’s those fresh stuffed ‘serves two’ pasta). 

Tomorrow, will do better at enjoying things being slower and simpler, as self-isolation sentence nearly over.

Side note: if anyone wants a potentially coronavirus infected side salad from my take out, yours for collection. I’ll be in all day.

Today’s top 5 benefits of self-Isolation

  1. If I’d slept in till 9:20 and had to go into the office I’d have been super late
  2. Feel slightly morally off the hook for mild ‘panic buying’ when am stuck self-isolating, even though I ordered the pasta before I got my cough and even though I can leave the house in like… 2 days now, anyway.
  3. Good excuse for not returning library book (library book is more than 12 months overdue)
  4. Rediscovered lots of clothes when dealing with my laundry. Mostly PJS. I own a LOT of PJS. 
  5. Can use ‘might have coronavirus’ as a good reason not to hang up clothes that are currently in the machine

Today’s top 5 pitfalls of self-isolation

  1. Lack of excuse for not doing laundry has meant that I’ve actually done laundry. Laundry is dull. 
  2. As more people are doing it now have lost sense of ‘self-isolation-hipsterdom’
  3. Have discovered that I don’t really know the best way of getting rid of coffee grinds after you have made coffee. They just get everywhere! Try and scrape into bin, but still wash them out so that everything in dishwasher doesn’t end up covered in coffee grinds, but now sink is covered in coffee. What if it blocks up the sink?
  4. Use the dishwasher more than when not in the house. 
  5. Well, it’s just a bit inconvenient, really. 

I’ve actually nearly run out of ground coffee, now, so it’s probably a good thing that I’ve got some instant back in stock. 

Self Isolation: Day 4 of 7

Toilet roll situation:  Yup. Still on the same loo roll. Still have about 32/35ths of toilet roll left.

Pasta stocks: Exactly the same as yesterday. 

Cough: better! Bad in the mornings or if I talk too much. Lungs don’t so much hurt anymore, as I am aware that my lungs exist in my chest when I breathe. Muchas improvement.

Temperature: Nooopeeee!

Today’s verdict on whether I have coronavirus: I guess the only reason this matters is if this means that I am then immune to future self-isolating and am allowed to hug people without the risk oF DISEASE AND DIRE CONSEQUENCES. But, I won’t know this so, eh.

Human contact: 

Phone calls:

  • Housemate to check in. I miss her and not just because she cleans (I actually hoovered yesterday, Grace. See — sometimes it does happen!), but her beating me at mariokart and the ‘how was your day dear’ routine.
  • Mother to ask what I should cook for dinner because I knew that I did not want to cook any of the things that I have in the house for dinner
  • The friend who I mocked for having to self-isolate the day before me. We have planned an epic outing for when we are both free (by this I mean, we are going to the gardening center to buy plants; given everything is cancelled this year, this is the best chance I’ll ever have for keeping something in my garden alive. If I can’t do it this year, there’s no hope for me)
  • Father / sisters / brothers-in-law/ mother. We’ve been playing remote board games of ‘Ticket To Ride’ on the computer while having a general group call running. I probably failed to mention we’ve done this almost every day with varying different numbers of participants. This is nice because my-sister-in-Scotland and I probably manage to call each other about once a year. I have spoken to her twice this week! And I have learnt that they don’t have any milk at the shops in Scotland, either. 

Video calls:

  • No work meetings today, but as everyone is now working from home indefinitely they have a video call setup to drop in on at various points, so chatted with a few colleagues there. 
  • Remote video call lunch with colleague. Now know lots about the status of her house plants.

Visitors: Loadss!!

  • Friend / neighbour / colleague who dropped round a cafetiere approximately 10 minutes after mine broke and left me coffee-less. Best customer service ever!!  Buy houses next to your friends, folks, it’s awesome.
  • Lovely neighbour who set up the street whatsapp group who bought me round some flowers and some chocolate 🙂 
  • Two of my church friends who came and sat on the step in my garden and talked to me through the glass of my conservatory. So SO lovely to feel like life is a new bizarre kind of normal! We played PSYCH and Head’s up and drank wine from separate bottles with naught but a glass door separating us. Really fun. Made my heart warm (and definitely much warmer than their’s, given they were sat outside).

Also, one of them kicked over a random bucket that has been collecting rainwater and all of it went in her shoe and I laughed hard enough that it hurt the (unconfirmed) coronavirus in my lungs. 

Mum’s top tip of the day:

Now is not the time to start a new fitness resume or do any aggressive spring cleaning.

(In regards to my lungs not feeling the best).

I plan to live by these words every day of my life. Going to get it tattooed onto my left buttock. 

General:

More challenging day.

Essentially my day began by:

Me: Another day of working from home freedom! Time to drink my nice ground coffee and eat my nice pancakes as a metaphor for enjoying the small wonders of life.

My cafetiere: Lol.

This is what prompted the visit from lovely friend / neighbour / colleague, who saw the message I put on my work whatsapp group about my coffee and dropped off their spare cafetiere before I’d had a chance to clean the whole thing up (yes, from a 2 meter distance). Also, while I was cleaning this up my pancakes burnt. It was quite overcast today, too, so I ate my burnt pancakes with my second attempt at coffee in my slightly cold conservatory and, to be honest with you, it didn’t really feel like a magical experience.  I did find the coffee thing kind of funny, especially because the thing I’d written about it being a metaphor yesterday was pretty fresh in my mind and I’m the first to laugh at myself (sometimes the only one), but it was just…. You know, a bit more indicative of the kind of day I had.

Got a lot of work done and then started programming my spreadsheet to give me nicer error messages because the #ERROR! Is actually a little impolite (my recommendation is =IFERROR( (formula), “Sorrrryy to bother you but, uh, I think that, maybe, you might have made a little mistake there. Sorrry”). Decided I was losing my mind, so stopped work.

Also, Eurovision is cancelled. And my Easter Holiday with my two amazing besties to Malta. And Schools. And Wednesday is the day that my small group from church usually come round and we eat food and do bible study or play mario kart or whatever and I had to cancel because I am of zee plague. Church generally is cancelled; I missed the last service because I was self-isolating. Not-Scotland Sister now also self-isolating with two and a half year old niece and husband.  Also, I’ve run out of garlic. I guess the latter’s not really a big deal, I just like garlic.

(Also, real stuff, like the fact that there are lots of people who aren’t as financially secure and supported by my friends and family like me. The friends I have currently looking for work and the friends that I have that are getting married in the next month or so. What’s going to happen to small and medium sized businesses and the economy and all the clients that the Debt Counselling charity I work for helps.)

Did a few laps of my garden to try and ease restlessness. Didn’t feel less restless.  Instead, realised that it was cold and I haven’t mowed the lawn in approximately a decade and I’ve lost the key to my shed, so now can’t mow without removing the hinges from the door with a screwdriver or buying a bolt cutter. Pretty sure my screwdriver is in the shed. So. I’ll work it out, at some point.

Then a friend texted and said they would come and sit in my garden and we would play games and talk through the window! Brilliant pick me up. Had such a lovely time and then a lot of the church small group & I played PSYCH remotely (PSYCH! Outwit your friends app — ‘And the Truth Comes Out’, brilliant fun) and I began to feel much better about the whole thing. 

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Only have to do a few more days until I can go to the shop and find that you can’t buy food anymore anyway or go for walks (I’ve never done this before, but maybe I will. It could happen). Will have a really good time at the garden centre.

Today’s top 5 benefits of self-Isolation

  1. Socially acceptable to wear my Jeremy Corbyn Christmas Jumper even though it is March because there is NO such thing as social acceptability, because there is no socialising (except for, you know, all the socialising I mentioned above). 
  2. Have not spent any money at all this week.
  3. I actually find it really easy to focus when working from home, so I made lots of progress.
  4. When my friends came to see me, I was the one sat inside while they were sat outside in my garden with perilous rain-water buckets and the bad weather
  5. People bring you things when you need them. When you’re allowed to leave the house people expect you to leave the house. 

Today’s top 5 pitfalls of self-isolation

  1. There’s literally no excuse for the fact that I haven’t done any laundry. I like to pretend that this is because I am ‘very busy’ and ‘never at home at a convenient time to dry it’. I thought this was actually true, but it is not. I am behind on laundry because I hate laundry.
  2. It’s cooooollldddddd at home. Probably need to commit to the astronomical heating bill and turn it up.
  3. Felt guilt tripped into eating housemate’s leftover slightly sad looking parsnip, given the situation in supermarkets and finite food in the fridge.
  4. I didn’t look in the mirror until after video calling work colleague / friend and I looked rough. Oh well.
  5. Have eaten 3 home cooked meals today and yesterday so I am probably never going to fit in my jeans ever again.

Although, given going outside is more or less cancelled for everyone, not sure I really care about this. 

(Did I actually ever look for the shed key?? Maybe this is another thing I could do while stuck in the house. Probably won’t, but I could.)

Self Isolation: Day 3 of 7 (probably??? No, definitely. Unless I still have symptoms)

Toilet roll situation: Still on the same toilet roll. Probably have about 23/24th of my toilet roll left. 

Pasta stocks: good.

The same as yesterday, except for:

  • Minus one packet of stuffed Asda’s ‘extra special’ stuffed sage and butternut squash ravioli.  “Serves two”, my ass. Which two people are they feeding here?? Did they have starters??? Did they eat a loaf of garlic bread with it?? They must have at least had pudding (I ate the whole thing and I am definitely having cake)
  • Plus  one open packet of macaroni, which I guess was actually there yesterday I just didn’t see this. Am slightly distressed by this, because it means that, as standard, I have five bags of pasta. Housemate is gluten free, so this is all my pasta. Do I exist in a permanent state of stockpiling pasta? Is this normal? Haven’t actually bought any for months. Does it breed in cupboards?

(We won’t get into quantities of rice).

Cough: Worse than yesterday. Also feel like can’t fill lungs properly and struggle to catch breath after strenuous activity such as walking upstairs. Not horrendous. Wouldn’t recommend it to a friend. Also would tell a friend that it’s totally manageable, especially if I had infected said friend. 

Temperature: No temperature today. Definitely did have one yesterday & day before.

Today’s verdict on whether I have coronavirus: Probably? Doubts based on providence of illness and the fact that housemates and the people I cooked for last week all seem perfectly healthy. Maybe they are better at not touching their face than me??

Human contact: 

Phone calls: 

  • Friend for a chat during our mutual break. Also set up a remote video call lunch, which was nice. 
  • Work asking if I needed anything to get all set up working from home, as almost everyone is going to be doing this from next week.
  • A different person at work who I thought had called me, but who had not. This was a short conversation. 
  • Friend who came down with flu before flu-like-symptoms meant staying inside, but who has residual cough and is now scared of coughing in public. It’s a challenging time for coughers. Think of the habitual smokers at this time, folks. Coughing is a way of life, not just for COVID.

Visitors:

  • Friend who dropped me off cake from work (from a safe distance)
  • Friend/work colleague of IT help desk fame, who came round to fit a wifi extender so I can actually use the home office I set up.

Also, work meetings. Also whatsapp. 

Mum’s top tip of the day: No top tip yet, but she did send me this horrifying picture. 

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This is her mother’s old doll. She split a cup of tea and had to undress it and once she took the clothes off it fell apart. She is trying to repair it, so I assume this has sentimental value.

Am going to compare my life to this doll’s whenever overwhelmed by isolation and or any other issue to remind myself that things could be much much worse.

General:

Have done much better today in embracing the positives about being at home.

Am drinking my nice ground coffee as there’s no longer any instant. It tastes a lot more like coffee and is much nicer, generally, but usually I make myself coffee in a rush while stumbling out the door because the-person-who-is-giving-me-a-lift-to-work is already outside. This is really a gift of time and I can use that time for important things, like nice coffee. Am taking this as a metaphor for this whole situation. 

I actually really like my home and I don’t get to spend enough time in it. Housemate is off long term sick and I get occasional wave of irrational jealousy that she gets to do things like sit in the conservatory during the day during that sweet spot of the year where it isn’t a sauna-torture-chamber or sucker-of-warmth but is instead bright, warm and lovely. By the time I get home from work, it’s cold and depressing. Often find that I’m away or out during the day at weekends — so when do I get to enjoy this room of my own house?

Well, the answer is: quarantine. 

I’m also not a morning person. My morning philosophy is that if it means I have to get out of bed more than 5 minutes before I have to leave the house, then I have wasted valuable sleep time. This includes: actually looking in the mirror, eating breakfast, being on time for work (am not horrible employee; we have flexi time so I just stay late). Great thing about COVID Quarantine is I can finally fulfill my dream of:

Starting work later, getting home at the same time and not being paid less. 

It’s perfect! My commute is actually pretty short (10/ 20 mins) but —- usually after the appropriate flapping about tidying up my desk and the traffic I get home for 5:30 or 5:45. Meaning to finish work at that same time, I can start work later, meaning I can either:

  1. Get out of bed later
  2. Have breakfast and nice coffee in my conservatory 

Yesss!

Obviously, things are not ideal. Yesterday when I was crying over the 14 day announcement one of the things I was thinking was about hugs. I don’t know how often I’m hugged, but I’m pretty sure that it’s more than once a week, and having that physical barrier pushed upon me did not feel great. Had a bit of an internal debate about whether I’m allowed to go outside to put my bin out  (I did) and lost half a day of work because, as it turns out, my cheap-as-chips wifi doesn’t actually stretch to my study when you’re trying to load really complicated spreadsheets, so I kept having to relocate. Ran out of onions (but food delivery on Thursday)

Most of the office is moving to work from home for tomorrow, so guess I won’t be going back next week anyway. It’s a strange time to be alive.

(Morrisons email about deliveries said I had to put on my ‘delivery instructions’ that I am self-isolating. I cannot find this part of the website anywhere??? Loathe to contact their customers services, because already submitted a complaint that they had an offer of 3 for £3 on alpro nut milk, but have limited purchases to 2 types of nut milk.  This is fine, but the nut milk is £1.70 or £1.80 each, so now I am paying MORE for 2 than I would be for 3?? Have not yet got confirmation for Morrisons as to whether they are happy for me to pay £3 for 2. Or if they will just remove the offer to avoid the mild annoyance that I experienced. Still v. greatful that they will be bringing me food. 

Maybe I will write ‘PLAGUE’ in big letters and stick it on the front window. This feels like it would work). 

Self Isolation: Day 2 of 7 or 14 (hopefully)

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Toilet roll situation: Genuinely had to get a new loo roll out today, but don’t think this is indicative of the next however many days. I generally buy bamboo toilet rolls from who gives a crap in v. large quantities approximately once a year, so am confident in supplies.

Pasta stocks: good.

Have about the normal amount of pasta I have in the house, which is:

  • an open half packet of shells (I don’t think I bought these? Don’t know where they came from)
  • A unopened packet of impracticality large pasta
  • Out of date lasagne sheets from the Foodbank (I volunteer there and they can’t give out out of date food, so if it’s going in the bin and we want it it we can take it home)
  • One packet of spaghetti 
  • One packet of stuffed Asdas ‘extra special’ stuffed sage and butternut squash ravioli; an impulse buy a few weeks ago that am now pleased about 

Cough: variable. Bad when eat or talk and when I woke up. Better than yesterday, but chest hurts a bit. Not unmanageable.

Temperature: debated yesterday about its existence. Took nap and woke up drenched in sweat. Today confused about temperature, as my house during the day is v. Variable. Sat in the conservatory, which does not help. Right now I feel like I’m burning up, but is this physiological? Is this the two glasses of wine? Is this an actual fever? Looked up ‘how to tell if you have a temperate’ on wiki how to, it suggested a thermometer or someone holding a hand to my forehead. Have neither a thermometer or someone willing to touch my forehead.  Unsure. Face feels very hot right now. Are my hands just cold? 

Today’s verdict on whether I have coronavirus: began day sure I did not, but have flipped back and forth several times. Probably will never know. Lungs sort of hurt and face does feel very hot right now, so. Maybe. Possibly.  Most likely this is just a bad cough.

Human contact: am millennial who hates talking on the phone, but have embraced phone calls and have called / answered calls to:

  • my manager to advise am sick and required to self isolate (partially so that croaky voice confirmed sickness, not hysteria) 
  • Friend in her work break
  • My parents 
  • Other friend who wanted to know if I wanted any thing bought to my house
  • Other friend who is also self isolating, who I may have mocked slightly when she came down with this cough etc the day before I did (sorry)
  • My parents again 

Also video called into work meeting and had two guests to my house (don’t worry: two meters of distance remained and I antibacteria-ed my door handle after washing my hands for a very long time), one bringing computer screen for working at home and one bringing wine and nacho kit (friends are the best). Am introvert, so this is probably more human contact than I usually aim for, but it was nice. Am trying to set up good habits as suspect by next week will be mildly insane.

Street has set up a WhatsApp group to make sure people are well looked after. Lots of encouraging messages about looking out for elderly neighbors and toilet roll sourcing tips. Really encouraging to see everyone banding together. Have not told them I may have plague and am self isolating. 

Mum’s top tip of the day: (my mother is checking in daily, which is nice but unusual. Day zero’s top tip was ‘take the bottle of wine into your bedroom. It’s more efficient’.)

You could use the opportunity to pair up your socks.

Mothers. 

General:

Am trying to use this as a profound learning experience rather than a total inconvenience, so am focusing on nice things I am learning through being stuck in my home. This is partially because the morning before I registered my new cough (do not pass go; do not collect £200), I was reading a book about trying to eliminate hurry from your life. The book encourages seeking silence and solitude, which I have now thrust upon me in abundance. Think this might be a period for us all to do that, as options for what to do in our spare time become more limited. One of the things the book suggested, is that you have an addiction to hurry if you become irritated at minor things you don’t really care about, which rings too true. Since the dawn of 2020, I have been enraged / irritated by:

  • There not being any basil or oregano when I came to cook my gnocchi bake the other weekend, and my housemate saying ‘oh yeah, I finished it and forgot to get some more’ (my housemate is currently visiting her parents, and not currently staying at my house; this is not in anyway connected to #herbgate) 
  • Costa changing their toastie meal deal to be a meat option and a vegan option. Justice for veggies!!! I JUST WANT SOME REAL CHEESE. WHY DON’T YOU HAVE THREE OPTIONS? 
  • My spreadsheet project at work
  • Train delays
  • Being given a 63p refund for a train delay 
  • The fact that my workplace has pool tables in the staff room, which is actually a nice thing, and that when people play them during break it’s really loud, and I’m a grump who doesn’t want to hear the loud balls etc 

Am trying to use time to find new rhythm of being: reading my book and my Bible, sitting in conservatory, painting, cooking nice things. Trying not to watch too much TV, so just watched one episode of Ru Paul and then sat by my fire under a blanket and read more of the book about not being in a hurry.  Lovely evening.

That being said, new announcement that I have to stay in for 14 days made me ugly cry. However, housemates is elsewhere, so effectively live alone so my sentence is still seven days.

Have run out of instant coffee. Why is no one stockpiling coffee? 

(Maybe they are. Did I miss this memo?)

The final stretch

It’s over! My 20 days of living on my benefit entitlement finished yesterday. The end was a bit of an anti-climax because I thought I still had another day, so wound up skipping breakfast due to lack of bread and only noticing I was good to break out the real coffee when someone at church asked if I was enjoying my freedom. The truth is, I actually wound up in fake debt at the end of this, but more on that later.

This week was the best so far in terms of food. I ate pretty well and have wound up with a lot of food left over, which I wasn’t expecting when I started this thing. I have curry, soup, chilli and stew in the freezer that I might never eat because I’m not sure I can face it. Two tins of chopped tomatoes left over. I even have a real life parsnip in the freezer and over half of a pumpkin. A lot of rice. It is amazing how far rice can stretch.

Best bargain of the week

Yesterday, I revelled in my freedom by drinking coke and beer and middle class coffee which are so… frivolous. It’s impossible to justify a can of coke when your financial situation means you can’t even get a bus somewhere if an emergency comes up. Tonight, I’m celebrating with a pizza and a bottle of beer. The pizza cost £2.00 and the beer cost £1.20 which, on my general budget, is not a lot. More than my average meal but not… extravagant. It would be totally unthinkable on last week’s budget, though, and both tasted so, so good.

For the 20 days, my budget was £39.34. I spent –

Food: £19.67

Drinks: £3.92

Travel: £2.65

Household: £2.00

Leisure: £11.00

Added up, that left me with a massive 10p to spare, which I don’t think is too bad really. This whole thing has definitely taught me to stretch things out. I used the chickpea juice in my tin of chickpeas because, hey, if you can make freaky vegan merinuges from chickpea juice they must have some nutritional content (don’t question the logic). I bought 4 pints of milk with the intention of freezing some of it (it’s 75p for 2 pints and £1 for 4; that’s a big difference when you’ve got no money), before realising I didn’t have anything to freeze it in. I wound up washing out my previous bottle of milk to use as a freezing vessel. Honestly, that whole thing has been a total disaster, because milk bottles don’t freeze well and they definitely don’t defrost well (read: I have milk all over the fridge and now my defrosted milk is in a glass and is probably going to go off because it’s not sealed but maybe cling film will save it). I’ve learnt you have to plan and to buy vegetables by weight to avoid bulk payments and not to spend your buffer until Friday/Saturday. By this week, I was confident I could get by.

Then I failed.

The reason I failed my twenty for twenty is because my phone broke. It broke on Tuesday, right before I was off to London to have a glorious evening off as a tribute for the 2016 TRI Awards where one of the managers in my team at CAP won the Insolvency Manager of the Year Award. We got to spend a lovely evening at the Hilton on Park Lane with this incredible lamb two ways, salmon, caviar and wine. It was such an amazing break from celebrating every measly cup of tea and putting lime wedges in hot water to make it taste better. It was also technically free (but, yes, I feel this was also cheating a little bit – this was pretty much the only time I accepted any free food though) and, by the end of our lovely evening, my phone was essentially dead.

It broke on Tuesday. I broke on Friday.

The irritating thing is I usually have a spare. I just didn’t this time. I have an insurance policy that I didn’t even think to include on this budget… but it’s in my mum’s name and would have taken a while to resolve even if she wasn’t on a cruise. There’s an excess that is twice my weekly budget, too, so including it and the insurance wouldn’t have helped. So, I bought a spare phone. It was £10 with a free £10 worth of credit that I didn’t really want but will probably be useful at some point. Its astonishingly crap but it does the job.

I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my budget (I had £1 left at that point) and I guess that’s the big problem with this whole thing. It’s not like I was buying an iphone off the cuff. I just wanted some kind of device that meant I could call my sister or my friends or the police or something. I don’t have a landline so I do kind of need a phone. You can’t call 999 on a laptop.

(This is extra intensified by the fact that, as I left no money for this weekend, I spent my £1 buffer on glue in order to scrapbook alone in my flat in front of yet more Gilmore Girls. Doing that without the ability to text anyone was not welcome).

That’s the problem, though. It’s okay to live on £13.77 a week for 20 days. It’s okay to live on £13.77 a week if you know it’s going to end. It’s okay if you can have a plan for every single thing you need to buy. It’s not feasible to live on it long term, or even an unlucky short term period, because there are so many other expenses that I would genuinely need to spend at some point. Clothing. Travel. Stationary. A phone. A birthday present. The £275 utility bill my previous provider is trying to charge me for one month’s electricity. There’s no security or stability. If something comes up that costs more than £13.77 then you can’t buy food that week. If some extra bill of more than £13.77 came up I’d have to ask someone to borrow the money. If you have savings whilst on benefits it’s deducted from your entitlement (on savings over £6000, which admittedly is enough to be a decent buffer for a while) so that you live on those savings until they’re dry. It’s no wonder that people on low incomes can end up in debt so easily.

I’m back to my real life with new added appreciation for a lot of things. The ability to go into a supermarket with just a rough idea of how much I’m going to spend, rather than a list, a plan, predicted prices and a calculator, is such a freedom. The fact that if I’m out and suddenly thirsty… I can just buy a coke or a coffee and not worry about it is amazing. Buying lunch out when I don’t want to eat my packed lunch. Wine.  Chocolate. Going out for drinks with colleagues. Having a separate budget for meals out. Being able to get on a bus and visit my friends because I want to. Not having to plan for the fact that I’m going to run out of shampoo this week. The incredible freedom of knowing that, if every single thing I own falls apart, I have a safety net waiting for me to dip into.

I don’t really know what it’s like to live without that but even twenty days of constantly thinking about food and money and whether I can afford to go and see my sister takes up so, so much head space. I have been hungry and a little miserable but mostly I’ve been borderline-anxious and, for me, this wasn’t even real.

Now, excuse me whilst I go and never eat 36p Aldi bread ever again.

Reintroduction to Protein

Last week, I spent £3.75 on food. I spent 32p on parsnips, 45p on bread, 75p on potatoes, 69p on double cream (my luxury item of the week), 45p on swede, 50p on chopped tomatoes, 35p on lime (to put slices in hot water to make it taste better). 24p reduced price grapes.  That made me some pretty great root vegetable soup which tasted a lot less good on day five. I also cooked a massive pasta bake using the aubergine I’d saved from last week, chopped tomatoes, 24p pasta, breadcrumbs and cheese. It was good food and nice enough that I got to have people over for dinner and feed them the pasta, too.

(Less good on day six. A lot, lot less good on day six)

This week, I had a massive £8.40 for food. I’ve never gone through the supermarket with a calculator before this challenge and this week I spent half the time doing the maths in my head. That’s a special kind of luxury. Just, knowing you have a buffer is pretty wonderful. Even in my fake pseudo-experiment where I actually have what might be a months’ worth of food in the next cupboard, I felt so insecure last week. I just knew that if anything came up I wouldn’t have money in the budget to pay for it. Things are looking up.

Also, I got to buy some amazing food this week. I bought a culinary pumpkin for a semi-extortionate £1.50. I bought quorn mince. I bought feta cheese (okay, well, “greek style” cheese). I bought eggs! I can afford protein! Protein! I’ve got root vegetable, bean and quorn mince chilli cooking in the slow cooker and I managed to get the train to see my sister this weekend and I have never appreciated these things so much before.

It’s actually okay.

I JUST REMEMBERED I BOUGHT TEA BAGS THIS WEEK. I HAD A CUP OF TEA IT WAS SO WONDERFUL.

It’s made me appreciate a lot of things I don’t usually think about. It’s made me realise how much I miss certain things. I’ve really missed tea. I miss sugar and sugary foods. Bread that doesn’t make me want to throw up. Coke. I really, really miss coke. Wine. I really love wine and beer. I have a bottle of beer in the fridge that I really want to drink. Good coffee! In my flat I currently have a coffee grinder and fresh coffee beans and I have been drinking Nescafe instant and I did not know I was such a coffee snob (I did not pay actual money for this myself; it’s on loan from my sister. I’ve so far used it twice before this thing came up). I miss realising I want to read a book and instantly downloading it on my kindle and reading it. I miss being able to go places. Being able to plan for the weekend without worrying whether I’m going to run out of washing up liquid, or milk, or tights, or just anything that costs more than £1.50.

It’s not so bad but that’s only because I can see an end point.

Remember to donate to CAP’s awesome work if you can!

Rice overdose

For the past week, I’ve been living on what I’d be entitled to if I lost my job tomorrow which amounts to £13.77 a week after bills (more on this here) for Christians Against Poverty. I sort of screwed myself over on some £2.49 coffee that I misread the price of and was too British/polite/awkward to take back. Other big spends included £1.49 cheese and £0.85 peanut butter. I spent £11.09 of my budget in total (more on that later), all of it on food.

Food wise, it’s been better than expected. I’ve eaten copious amounts of carbs and not a whole lot of protein. I have been consistently hungry the whole time but I’m half convinced that’s psychological. I’ve essentially eaten the same four meals on repeat. I have had pasta with tomato, garlic and onion sauce (and cheese). Pea risotto with broccoli and cauliflower (and cheese). Chickpeas, broccoli and cauliflower curry. Cheese sandwiches for lunch. Thank God for cheese. I did make an onion soup but it was pretty crap and I wound up adding it as a base for my curry (and tomorrow’s pasta bake). Aldi 45p bread is truly awful. It doesn’t taste like food. I’ve been having a slice of toast with peanut butter for breakfast every morning but haven’t been able to finish the whole slice the last two days. I haven’t had a hot meal that didn’t largely consist of rice since Wednesday. I have four more portions of curry left that I definitely don’t want to eat.

(A friend told me that rice is responsible for a third of the worlds calories – this might also be true for me this week.)

I really really miss cups of tea but I didn’t think I could afford coffee and tea in the same week.

It’s been a very interesting exercise in priorities. As this budget has to include leisure and travel, the prospect of the weekend was not sounding very exciting. I was worried I was going to spend two days sat alone in my cold flat watching copious amounts of television. It actually turned out pretty good. One of my friends took pity on me and picked me up/dropped me off so I could Saturday spend the afternoon hanging out with her and that evening I met up with another friend and we walked down to the Bradford Forest of Light (a light installation in the park, for context). The group went out for coffee/dessert afterwards. It was okay because I was able to justify my tap water by explaining my 20 for 20 but I imagine it’d be a lot more awkward and crappy if I genuinely couldn’t afford a £3.95 milkshake (and, wow, they looked incredible. I am so going when I’m back on my usual budget). Sunday I had church, which definitely broke up the Gilmore Girls marathon I accidentally started, and then I spent an hour in the supermarket with a £4.45 budget (I overspent by 3p). Shopping takes a lot longer when you’re frantically adding things up on a calculator and keep having to put things back.

Next week, there’s a magic comedy evening at work that I committed to going to a while ago. It costs a usually reasonable £10 but on my budget that’s pretty astronomical. I was trying to save £3 last week so I only had to fork out £7 of this week, thinking that given I’d already bought the pasta/rice/onions/coffee I wouldn’t need as much money for food next week, but I only managed to save £2.68. I got a little carb-happy in my preparation shop and had to go on a midweek vegetable hunt. That leaves me with £6.45 for the rest of next week.

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My midweek vegetable shop – all this for £1.03!

Then I ran out of toilet roll. I legitimately nearly cried when I discovered that the cheapest toilet roll Aldi was £1.45 for four rolls. I spent twenty minutes deciding whether it was worth it or not before walking to another supermarket to see if there was anything cheaper. I had a plan B in which I just bought tissues rather than toilet roll then moved the single toilet roll I still have to the bathroom the guests use so that I am the only one subject to this very mild form of suffering, or at least I don’t look like I can’t afford toilet roll.  Tesco’s saved me with their ultra-value £1.00 for six rolls. I’ve never been so stressed about 45 pence before…  but that’s two tins of chopped tomatoes or a whole swede (I’m going to make some kick ass vegetable soup for lunches this week because last week I used up my bread way too quickly) and my milk’s nearly out of date and I’m nearly out of shampoo and I really, really want to go to this comedy evening.

I woke up hungry and I’m sick of rice but if this is one of the only social thing I can afford to do before the 23rd then, apparently, I’m willing to not have teabags until next week and to have the same soup every day this week. I am dreaming of squash and something with sugar in.

This evening I think I’m going to have a pasta/rice free dinner and have some roasted reduced price parsnips (32p for a whole bag!) that definitely aren’t going to be good tomorrow by the look of them, with some swede and potato mash. I’m unduly excited. And hungry.

Remember to donate to CAP’s awesome work if you can.

The Devastating Approaching Loss of Student Discount

This week, I finished uni.

My degree finishing face

My university memories are pretty much a mixture of becoming more and more addicted to coffee, walking up a lot of hills (hello, Sheffield), dicking around with my beloved housemates, getting angry about the patriarchy, being equal parts frustrated and enamoured with the whole concept of philosophy (but how do you gain concepts anyway, huh? Because if you’re learning them from primitive concepts then surely you must already have the concept. Or something. I’m sorry Steve, I’m sorry Fodor, I wasn’t really listening that week), a great deal of effort being put into finding cheap and yet drinkable cocktails and dancing to Taylor Swift. Like, these three years have involved a lot of Taylor swift. Much more Taylor Swift than could have been anticipated.

I’ve been very lucky. I’ve lived with three of the random people the university accommodation gods assigned me with in first year for the whole three years, with an extra very welcome addition in second year. They’re my best friends. I am going to miss not living with them more than I care to think about. I met two of my coursemates in the first few weeks of fist year and we have since managed to squeeze two budget holidays and two society-trips from our student loans (and jobs, and book money, and savings etc.), and I hope we continue going to sunny places where I burn my arse and they tan for the rest of our lives. I trust them sufficiently that they still have the photos of former mentioned burnt arse. My church friends and my church are like a family. We have BBQs and go on walks in the peaks and an offshoot from my cluster set up a homeless café and I am so so proud of us. I’ve really really enjoyed my course. From shipping Socrates/Plato, crying over consciousness, writing text messages in formal logic (ish) to almost successfully avoiding Kant for my whole degree, it’s been truly brilliant. Apart from that whole module on Descartes because, really, what was I thinking? 

I have only had to throw out three pairs of shoes due to the mould in student housing. We’ve only been burgled once. We’ve had no infestations of any kind (wait…there was those flies in first year I guess). Our landlord only took three months and four visits to replace that lightbulb. Student life is good.

Also, I have some great stories. As a writer type person this is very important to me. The favourite is either the throwing-pants-at-locksmith, getting-stuck-in-a-lift-in-Mallorca or that-time-my-housemate-stole-my-cake, but those are stories for another day.

The reason I started this long rambley thing is I wanted to talk about writing at university.

I wrote and published my debut novel during my first year of uni, which was great. Really great. I would highly recommend doing that if possible. However, the glorious and wonderful thing about the first year of university (at least, for me), is that it didn’t count. Since then, I’ve felt like I’ve barely been writing at all. I had writer’s block, then I was busy, and then I was very busy, and then I was even busier. If I haven’t written much, I’ve read even less. Unless we’re talking about academic articles and books about Plato (I do love me some Plato), I mean. My to-read pile has done nothing but grow since Alevels finished several lifetimes ago.

Except, whilst procrastinating and hiding from those essays a few weeks ago, I did a little stock stake and I’m still completely shocked.

In my life, I have written 11 novel length stories from beginning to end. Some of those 11 are a little rusty. Some of them are posted in various corners of the internet. One of them is published. Apparently, nine of those were finished during my three years at university. Four of those were started and finished during these three years. There’s also another six multi-chapter (but not quite novel length) fics that I’ve finished, with five of those being started in that time. Well over 600 000 words written and those are just the words I liked enough not to ruthlessly delete/hide in a dark and mysterious corner of my documents folder.

And that’s alongside the 62 000 words of essays that has been my degree (+ exams), all my extra-curricular things, having a social life, going places, meeting people and, occasionally, sleeping.

Heh.

I’m not saying those words have all been especially productive. Recently, I’ve gotten into the habit of writing my current favourite fictional couple into various really crap situations and see if I can them get them to work it out. I think it’s a stress thing. Plus, my world is ending (excuse the melodrama), so this is probably a subconscious thing where I’m trying to convince myself that everything will work out. Still, they probably didn’t need to deal with the cheating and the adoption difficulties or that difficult talk about depression, or the extraneous family drama.

Immediately after I submitted my final 6000 word essay, I spilt a glass of wine down my pyjama top, watched Catfish, documentary edition, then proceeded to accidentally smash said glass of wine all over a pile of my notes about the poverty of stimulus argument (symbolic stuff, that). I have since had waffles for lunch, gone pottery painting, had afternoon tea, a BBQ, two nights out, caught up with Game of Thrones, haven’t caught up with Supernatural (I’ve already had the final three episodes spoiled by the internet and I’m not sure I’m emotionally ready for that), gotten sunburnt, ordered an unreasonable amount of take-away,  had cocktails, read 62% of a book (!!), got 196/200 Harry Potter characters on Sporcle and cross stitched some more of my cushion. Living the wild life and all that.

Now, I think, maybe it’s time to get writing.

grad

(Or maybe I’ll just watch some day time TV and eat lots of food. We’ll see.)

The UKYA Extravaganza and Community

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Last Saturday, I had the immense pleasure of heading down to Birmingham for the first UKYA Extravaganza, alongside thirty plus other authors, a whole host of book bloggers and some wonderful readers. There was a brilliant blog tour in the weeks beforehand (my post is here), the event sold out in hours and the actual day was exhausting but wonderful. A couple of people have written brilliant write ups about the event, so I’m just going to talk a little  about why I think the UKYA community is so important.

Writing can be a lonely business sometimes.

Today, I got home from uni and decided that I was going to go to my room and be a writer and do writer things rather than join my housemate watching daytime TV whilst staring at her dissertation. We were at the point where the heating had been off for four hours, so I wound up preserving body heat in bed whilst watching Supernatural fan videos set to Miley Cyrus songs. I don’t think I even opened a word document. I missed Jerseylicious for nothing.

Yesterday, my let’s-write optimism gave way to reading lots of pretty things I wrote several years ago and moaning to one of my best friends about how I wrote lots of pretty things several years ago and now I only ever write things that are vaguely funny or just plain crap.

This is an ongoing theme.

Sometimes, the words just fall out of your brains and onto screens, and your fingers can’t keep up with your thoughts and you’re inspired and writing and it’s brilliant. Sometimes, you’re just losing a staring competition with a blank word document, or the story won’t go in the right direction, or you read it back to find it’s all insipid and boring.

Writing is hard.

My first stories and novels were all fanfiction posted online. They were also spectacularly bad. I wrote a post Deathly Hallows fic in where Harry re-explained the whole of the last book, a story where Dolores Umbridge became a werewolf that time she was in the forest with all the centaurs (this idea probably had some merit; the execution was lacking) and a trilogy about some Marauder’s Era romance where Sirius unknowingly had twins with the world’s biggest Mary-Sue, and then several people died and one of the twins turned out to be Penelope Clearwater and then she dated Charlie and Percy, or something. I did, thankfully, get a lot better. And people noticed and they told me that they noticed.

We had this brilliant writer-reading community. I had regular reviewers who I got to respond to. Stories that I would check for updates for every day. I had long, rambling chats about writing. Constructive criticism. Bouncing ideas around. People who would listen whilst I whined about how much I wanted to be a writer (here’s looking at you, Hannah). We all competed in NaNoWirMo together, egged each other on, provided feedback on chapter updates.

I still talk to a few of these guys and I still count them amongst my friends, but we don’t talk as much as we used to. I miss it a lot. Now, when my chapter’s not working and there’s nothing in my brain and I’m having another want-to-be-a-writer panic, I just mope or complain to one of my none-writer friends (who are, of course, all fabulous… but it’s hard to explain creative constipation and they must get very bored of listening to me). Occasionally, I’ll get a tweet from a reader who’s read my book. That’s nice (do that more often, please, it’s like a warm hug). I don’t, however, get hundred words long reviews for each chapter full of questions and compliments and criticism, which is basically just like having a conversation with people who care about your characters just like you do. I didn’t feel like I was writing into a void back then.

I miss having the connection.

The UKYA Extravaganza taught me a number of things. First, is that I am not the only author in the world who finds it much harder to write with a fictional editor perching on my shoulder and yelling at me. I am not the only writer who found the one after the debut novel very difficult to write. I am also not the only author who feels like they’re shamming authordom and should probably be kicked out of the club.

I always thought that my writing related neurosis, stemming from the fact that I care so much, might disappear at some point. I’m beginning to suspect that’s just a fact of life. I just love it too much. Maybe we all do. I mean, it is the best job in the world. It’s most of our dreams.

I got tips and advice and wisdom from those who’ve been in this industry longer than I have. Reassurance. A lovely sense of author comradery. The desire to have everyone on speed-text to talk about writing with.

That’s not even starting on how great it was to get to talk to readers properly. I think I’d have liked to kidnap them and keep them talking to me until I had a full and complete understanding of everything they did and did not like, their predictions about what was about to happen after the end, whether they thought about the relationships in the book etc.

Seeing people who are as so excited about books reminds me of why I fell in love with writing in the first place and makes me want to blow my whole student loan on buying every single book that people were discussing, just so I can join in the conversation.

Books and reading and writing isn’t a solitary activity anymore. You finish a book and you can be tweeting the author ten minutes later. It’s different when you’ve got everyone in the same room not restricted to 140 characters, though.

I was chatting to Alexander Gordon Smith for a while and I remember him saying that the problem with getting such a large group of authors together is that, the second we’re out the house and all together, you can’t shut us up. We’ve all been cooped up at our laptops for such a long time that conversation is really quite exciting (and exhausting).

It was a wonderful event and I hope there are many more to come. A huge thank you to Emma Pass and Kerry Drewery for organising such a brilliant day.

SASH Writing Competition

sashlogoJust over a month ago, I still had that post-exams glow and was fighting against adverse weather conditions to head to York for the SASH homeless writing competition awards ceremony.

SASH is a York based homeless charity who provide emergency Nightstop services and run Supported Lodging projects to stop young people from falling into homeless, and they’re really really great. The writing competition was especially brilliant, because it used writing to raise money and awareness, and how great is that? Themed ‘homelessness’, the competition was judged by award winning Ross Raisin (and a couple of other writers too, but I’ll get to that), and challenged entrants to write a maximum of 3000 words about homelessness. The top 22 entries were published in a beautiful anthology courtesy of Stairwell Books and the winner received an incredible Arvon five day residential writing course.

I got involved with the competition when the dregs of the last academic year were circling the drain, just because it seemed like too good of a fit to pass by. I’m involved with a bit of work with the homeless and vulnerable in Sheffield (and recently wrote about some of that here) and I am, by most definitions, a writer. So, I joined the motley crew of volunteer judges whose job it was to spread the word and whittle down an incredible 120 entries to a shortlist of just 22 (our original aim was 20 – we didn’t quite make it).

There were so many really wonderful entries and such a variety of styles and subjects. We had poems and plays and prose. Authentic, engaging and really touching stories. Some of these stories were written by people who have experienced homelessness first hand. Some, by those whose family and friends have. Some, just by people placing themselves in their shoes.

At the Awards Ceremony, Community Co-ordinator Tina Firthlock said the idea sprung from the fact that everyone has a story. Several times since I’ve started interacting and engaging with the homeless, I’ve been told that the worse thing is the way people avert their eyes as they walk past. I can’t imagine how awful it must be to be systematically ignored, but I know that writing was one of the first times I felt like I had voice or that I could say something that people might listen to. Everyone has a story. Writing has power. I love love love the idea that this competition might have given some individual’s their voice back.

SASH also runs musical and art events to help fundraise and I am deeply enamoured with the idea of using creativity to fundraise and raise awareness. Cake sales and shaking buckets at people are all well and good, but how much more original is it to encourage people to express themselves whilst fundraising?

The Awards Ceremony was a lovely event. I had the chance to talk to some of my fellow volunteer judges again and to some of the contestants.  I was also truly honoured to receive a copy of the wonderful anthology (which is really brilliant, for the record, and you can buy a copy here) and to be mentioned in the acknowledgements. It was a real honour and a privilege to be part of such a wonderful competition and I hope to be helping out again soon.

A huge congratulations to Olivia Gwyne for her wonderful story ‘Heading North’, and to both runners up Alison Hitchcock and Carmel Page. I enjoyed all of the entries immensely and everyone who entered should be proud of taking part.

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