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Life Chez Dee Episode #58: Virus times

It’s been a while since I sat to write some of my thoughts, I’ve had so many of them lately, good, bad, happy, sad; I’ve felt anxious, afraid, stressed, proud, unnerved and yet content; so many thoughts and emotions whizzing round in my head … everywhere I turn, a constant reminder of the sheer enormity of the crisis faced by so many locally, nationally, globally. Coronavirus is so contagious, spreading rapidly to thousands of people, and into the minds of thousands more.

Life is different without a shadow of a doubt. Being confined to our homes has taken some adjustment, but we’re rising to the challenge … we have to … we have no choice.

One of the biggest changes for us this week is that Oliver is not in school; he is at home, being educated by me. It was all rather strange that last day in school … in March … and not likely to return again until September. In a way I’m rather enjoying having Oliver at home … planning all sorts of topics, lessons, activities, science, craft, art, English, Maths, History, Geography, Gardening, Cooking …… my list is endless. It’s like having my little one back at home with me again … only not so little … and more than capable of doing so many more activities. He’s working hard, and I’m trying to keep a structured school day with Maths, English, PE, Music, Reading, Art on the schedule every day if I can. Oliver seems okay about learning at home, and I have to say we’re getting through an enormous amount of stuff, some he knows is work, some is work masked under the guise of learning a new hobby, or earning a cub badge. He’s happy to be at our home school so long as break time, lunch time, and home time is still observed!

My lessons haven’t always felt like work for Oliver … he may argue this point though. We’ve done lots of music practice, read books, written letters, listened to music, done lots of construction, drawing and art projects as well as daily Maths, English and PE … today not only did he make a cake (under supervision and guidance), but he also wrote down a list of ingredients, equipment needed, and the method he used.

Today’s task(let) was that we needed to clean the garden chairs and table … an excuse to get out in the garden too, and make it a productive afternoon at the same time. The chairs had got a sort of greeny mossy growth on them and myself and Oliver spent a long time this afternoon making them pristine again … it took a lot of elbow grease, and we were in need of a slice of the huge Victoria Sponge Oliver had made … so that was a spot of luck that we’d done that earlier.

Technology quite honestly has been a saviour of late. A saviour for educating our children, keeping in touch with others, ordering goods, and staying informed of what is happening, in the rest of the country, and the world. Isolation doesn’t feel quite so isolating when in contact with people via social media, telephone, email, facetime, skype and much more. Visits to museums, access to lectures, and virtual visits to zoos have been part of our learning this week, and quite honestly it has been a privilege to be able to do this.

I’m grateful that we live in a beautiful place; near the sea; that we have a lovely garden; and that the weather has been beautiful of late. It’s so nice if we have to stay at home, to be able to go and sit outdoors and get some fresh air. We’re lucky that we have the technology to stay in contact with others; that Justin is able to work from home, that William can access education and lectures, and that I’m able to home school Oliver. We’re lucky that we have food in our cupboards, and even when we run low, we are still able to get to the shops for more supplies. We’ve joined community groups; we’ve painted rainbows; we’ve clapped our NHS. Even in the midst of such a terrible time for so many, I’m still thankful for just how lucky we are.

It’s a shame for the children to be away from their friends. Skype has been a godsend for Oliver, and as soon as “school’s out”, he’s connecting with several of his friends. There’s a lot of chit chat, as well as utter codswallop, mixed in with playing games … and plenty of screaming thrown in for good measure. William plays games and chats with his friends over some media … not sure what exactly … his earphones are often in; computer is often on; games are often being played … in his bedroom. Obviously he’s adhering very strictly to the social distancing rule … he obviously doesn’t find it too difficult as he’s been self isolating, or should I say social distancing, for weeks. He’s a teenager. With the exception of feeding times, we don’t see that much of him … he’s shut away in his bedroom, playing games, chatting to friends, studying. This isolation shouldn’t have an impact on his education, lifestyle or mental wellbeing whatsoever to be honest. His lectures will still be held remotely, and lessons are all online. He did have a bit of a lecture last night after he’d done a marathon stint in his bedroom on various games and technology …. 12 hours he was there, apart from popping down for food. If William can go 12 hours in isolation then social distancing is not an issue for him at all. I did say to him that it would have been much worse for everyone, if this crisis, and lockdown, had happened years ago. No tech, no phone, no laptop, no email, no social media. We’re isolated but not in the sense it once was, and not in the sense it is for some. Think how it must have been for Anne Frank I said to him … and it wasn't just the police preventing her from going out ... I got a very pulled face with a curled lip for that comment.

Food is missing from supermarket shelves. People have been panicking. Food isn’t in shortage so it’s strange that we’ve felt the need to panic about provisions. Not like during the war when people had ration booklets … although maybe if we started issuing ration coupons it would stop people buying in multiple shops, or re-queuing for items. When the coupon is gone, it’s gone … that way people can shop for others too without fear of backlash or scrutiny from other shoppers. People can swap coupons to buy more of what they’d need. Just a thought.

I’ve been popping out for food for us, as well as getting provisions for my mum and dad. The shops are eerily quiet, rather subdued, not a lot of chit chat or smiles for that matter. People looking at each other, what they’re buying … scrutinising purchases, checking people hadn’t helped themselves to too much; watching to see if anyone had any symptoms, not wanting to be near, observing the social distance, giving others a wide berth when passing, some wear masks, some don’t. There is a politeness now, waiting for someone to leave an aisle before going down it. Shops have put markers on the floor so that you can keep your distance at the checkouts, assistants wearing gloves, sitting behind thick Perspex screens.

I’ve got lots in my freezer, I know I’ve mentioned this before, I always have had … never knowing what I’m going to cook. There’s a lot more thinking about using up what we have, rather than popping to the shop for more. I’ve never wasted ingredients to be honest, and always used up what we have in the fridge … even if it’s a bit over and not at its best. Veg thrown into stews, pasta sauces, soups … fruit into pies, crumbles … overripe bananas turned into loaf cake or muffins. Extra portions of leftovers I save and we often have a use up eve where we’re all eating a different meal.

I’ve always cooked from scratch, nothing fancy … I’m not a chef … just good tasty, hearty home cooking. I often cook as my grandma did. I think to how it would have been for her in wartime … eking things out, making meals stretch. We’re probably all better for it … buying what we need, eating healthier, cooking proper meals, having time to sit together … family time … planning meals, cooking meals, eating meals, appreciating what we have … teaching our children those life skills they’ll need.

Things seem slower, less traffic, less people, no hustle and bustle. We have calmer evenings as there is no rushing round ferrying the boys from club to club, worrying about the logistics of multiple pickup times. The roads are quiet … people are at home … I can hear the stillness, no traffic noise, hearing people chatting, children playing in the garden, bird song is loud and noticeable now. Spending time together in the house, in the garden, out on walks, teaching, learning … talking … is good time together, is good for communication, good for mental health, good for the soul.

The days go by, and we’re all adjusting to a new way. Spending time with friends and loved ones isn’t the same … we can’t pop round for a brew … we can’t meet up in a café … but we can still stay in touch, we are blessed that we live in times where it is so easy to stay in touch with each other. Mother’s day was strange. We went to see mum and dad. We took a brew with us and stood outside with it to distance ourselves from each other. Told her to spray the envelope too before she opened my card. We have to be so careful with my mum … yes she’s vulnerable as she falls into the elderly category, but she also has MS and cancer underlying conditions. I told her to cancel her cleaners. Although it’s good for her to have a lovely clean house, and I know she’s not capable of doing the cleaning herself, I said that the cleaners were going from house to house, and the less people who came into her house the better. I’m sure that they can manage with my dad keeping everything wiped down. The rooms are being bottomed and cleaned anyway, as my dad has to work his way from room to room now decorating each one. As he’s not going out bowling every afternoon, this is mum’s way of keeping him busy, occupied and out of mischief! I told them to make sure they let me get their shopping from now on, and that I didn’t want dad shopping in the dedicated hours for the vulnerable or elderly … and on that note went to Booths for the bits they needed …… chips, Whisky and ambrosia custards ….. and it’s probably better not to analyse that shopping basket.

We all try and stay positive … I like seeing lots of things on social media, I like keeping in touch, and seeing what everyone is up to this way … but I also worry about stuff too … reading about the situation in Italy for example, hearing of more deaths, of the struggles of those on the frontline, reading the statistics, reading about the strain on our National Health Service, worrying about all those who are very poorly and need ventilation … and those who haven’t been able to receive this treatment, people dying without being near their loved ones, funerals without many relatives there, treatments for other patients being delayed or cancelled, resulting in more deaths. Yes we try and stay positive, yes we will get through this and there will be better times, but there will be lots of people who are lost during this crisis, and the figures aren’t looking good … and the chance of us all knowing someone who contracts Coronavirus is likely. This is when those statistics become personal … when they become a reality.

I know first hand that statistics mean diddly squat when you are personally affected. We all know how meningitis can affect anyone of any age, but statistics dictate which age groups are offered vaccinations. Edward wasn’t in the at risk group when he contracted meningitis and consequently died … quoting statistics is of no comfort or help whatsoever to us, as we deal day after day with the grief and loss of losing our beautiful boy.

When all this is over, I hope people will all carry on with this practical, and emotional support for others; being there for one another; taking time to know those who live nearby, those who are vulnerable and need support; that they will support their local businesses, get them back up and running, building a strong community in and around our towns. Cafes, restaurants and bars will no doubt be packed to the rafters when we’re all allowed to go out again; motorways will likely be at a standstill as we all get in our cars to go on the day trips that we’ve all had to put on hold.

We’ll all be rushing to make our appointments again with the dentist, chiropractor, nail technician, hairdresser. I wonder if we’ll all start to see everyone’s true hair colour showing through, people growing their hair, people starting to wear headscarves like they did in the war, tied at the front with a big knot. Won’t look quite the same when we’re not all standing over our garden walls having a chat with a ciggy hanging out of our mouths.

I am pleased that the roads are emptier, and climate is better. The air is cleaner, the rivers, and canals are cleaner, no aeroplanes, less cars … society is slowing down. The pace of life is better, more manageable, less stressful. Yes there is stress of the virus. But day to day stresses of juggling and logistics are much better.

Is this mother nature trying her best to sort things out. Global warming, over population, stretched healthcare, decline of family units, decline of community spirit …. it happens … every 100 years or so it seems; nature finds a way of sorting us out. Again, just a thought.

I honestly think this will be good time for our family. Oliver will gain all sorts of knowledge and education. I will learn how to teach, and be more patient with this (but that’s still work in progress). He will of course be compromised from socialising, although his friends have email and/or skype.

Justin is working from home. He does anyway, but the fact that he doesn’t have to travel, either down South, or abroad, is good for our family to have him here not away. Evenings are family time again with clubs and groups shutting. Time for talking, board games, watching programmes together, cooking together. All those lost things.

This will be a memorable time for all of us without a shadow of a doubt. I hope that we all come through this safely, and I know that this is something which will go down in the history books; something which our children, and our children’s children will talk about.

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