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Life Chez Dee Episode #59: Virus Times (unabridged)

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 at the same time, content; a rollercoaster of 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 around the world, and here at home. Coronavirus, COVID 19, viral pneumonia is sweeping through country after country, continent after continent, nowhere is safe. It is so contagious, spreading rapidly to thousands and thousands of people, and into the minds of thousands more.

Presently, 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; all of us; 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 being in March … and he’s not likely to return again until September. Schools will stay open for the children of key workers or indeed for vulnerable children. There will be parents who are thrown in to the roles of being teachers, and there are parents who are unable to see their children as they are in key jobs and need to self‑isolate. Nurses, doctors, hospital staff, chemists, teachers, care workers, those in retail, delivery drivers, postal workers … and let’s not forget all the funeral directors too.

In a way I’m rather enjoying having Oliver at home, and am lucky enough to be able to spend all this time giving him one to one education. I’ve been 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. He’s done lots of piano, saxophone and drum practice, we’ve listened to lots of music of different genres, as well as keeping up with music theory, and his piano lessons have continued by way of Skype, which although not the same as one to one in person, has worked really well. He’s read lots of books, and listened to books read to him by several authors, he’s done book reviews, poetry, and author challenges … and he’s ticking off the numbers on his 100 book challenge which I set him ages ago, with the promise of something really special at the end … and I think he has designs on a racing bike!! We’ve covered nature, still life, printing and collage so far in art, and he’s completed many a Lego challenge which I’ve set him. Every day has started with a Joe Wicks PE lesson, followed by some maths and some SPAG so we’ve covered the basics, and then the afternoons have been full of science, art, reading and baking. Not only has he made a cake (under supervision and guidance), but he has also written down a list of ingredients, equipment needed, and the method he used. I’ve been doing a lot of baking lately … I always bake when I’ve lots on my mind … I find it very relaxing, comforting … the smell, the taste, the action of doing, and the memories of my Grandma which come flooding back. The cake isn’t lasting that long either, there’s a lot of snaffling of that going on … but Justin is working at home more, so he’s around pinching snacks, and so too are William and Oliver. Perhaps as well, as if they weren’t here helping to eat it all, I’d be the size of a whale. Anyway, it’s nice to have a homemade cake … and it saves me keep popping to the shop to stock up on biscuits.

In science we’ve learned about our body; and we’ve also learned about what makes you ill; and we’ve kept it topical and talked about bacteria, viruses and the spread of disease and germs. We’ve drawn some flowers in art, and therefore we’ve linked this with a little science experiment of watching how flowers take up water … but it didn’t really go as planned, and we do need to revisit this lesson. I bought some white flowers – chrysanthemums. I don’t really like chrysanths in general… I don’t like the smell, but I figured if we were only watching them turn colour, then I’d get some cheapies for this purpose. We popped them in some water dyed yellow with some food colouring I had in stock (goodness knows when I bought yellow food colouring, and what for, but for whatever reason I had it, it came in handy for this). I seem, however, to have bought the only bunch of flowers that don’t feel the need to drink water, which have gone into a state of petrification, the leaves have gone crispy, and the water level hasn’t gone down at all. Nevermind, we will record our findings, and repeat this experiment next week with different flowers, so that’s science sorted for next week.

We’ve done book reviews, debates, postcards, and a letter to a somebody who may find it in the future, telling them about what’s happening in the world at the moment, and the impact this has had on our family and lifestyle; we’ve even depicted our lockdown story in Beano style comic format. Oliver has written all about our pesky kittens in a piece which he showed to Akela, and she has credited him with his animal carers badge for this work; she’s also credited him with a sign language badge after watching a video he made signing the alphabet, and his name.

Oliver has had task(lets) to do, such as stripping his bed and learning how to make it again; sorting the washing and loading the machine; hanging out the washing, and bringing it in …good life lessons, which will also go some way to him earning another cub badge too. Together we’ve cleaned the garden chairs and table … quite honestly it was an excuse to get out in the garden in the sunshine, and make it a productive afternoon at the same time. The chairs had got a sort of greeny mossy growth on them and we both spent a long time making them pristine again … a lot of elbow grease and one bottle of Cif later … and an excuse for Oliver to get the hosepipe out … and we were in need of a slice of the huge Victoria Sponge Oliver had made … so it was a spot of luck that we’d made that earlier.

We took the outdoor chalks to paint a huge rainbow on our front garden wall, and having had several of the neighbours admire his artwork, Oliver even received his first commission to paint another rainbow on my neighbour’s garden wall … and now we have a double rainbow J I have to say that they look really impressive, and more impressive is that we were working with soggy chalk which Oliver had drowned with the hose whilst rinsing our garden furniture.

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. The history lessons provided by Western Approaches in Liverpool have been second to none … engaging, informative and perfectly pitched at both children and adults alike, and the follow up resources they have provided by way of worksheets and challenges have also been wonderful. So impressed am I, that we have this on our to-do list of day trips to go on when we come though this and are allowed out once more.

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. I’m lucky that I’m able to educate my child, although I am having to put a lot of the work for the charity on hold; I take no wage from the charity, I put my all into making the charity successful; and I worry that along with many small businesses, without an enormous amount of community support, this little local charity will fall by the wayside and be another lockdown victim; there will be no government support for The Edward Dee Fund … and I know if this happens it will destroy me.

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. I truly think those on the frontline are doing a wonderful job, everywhere you turn, you see and hear the whole country standing behind them, grateful to each and every one of them calling them heroes. I saw a recent tweet from a doctor on the frontline though, whose haunting words stopped me in my tracks. He said something along the lines of “We’re all being called heroes, but there’s actually no need to be heroes if there is good organisation and planning; if we’re prepared then we can get on with our job.” The community want to help those who work in our NHS; want to support in any way they can … from clapping in the streets, to providing them with free pizzas and coffees. A friend of mine who works in the NHS recently wrote on social media that as much as he appreciates the gesture of the free drinks and food, he doesn’t need it; he’s doing his job with full pay; give the food to the needy; to those who are struggling to feed their families, or who have lost their jobs. Those working in the NHS need equipment; they need us to stay at home; they need us to stop stripping the shelves of the supermarkets so they too can go and get provisions; they need us to do as we’ve been told. The public sentiments are heartfelt; there are wonderful, generous, admirable gestures, and there is overwhelming support, gathering momentum by the day, but if we really want to help those in the NHS, then let us do what is really needed; do what we’ve been told, and let us give as much as we can to the needy.

It’s a shame for our 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 … I’m not sure what exactly, but his earphones are often in; computer is often on; games are often being played. Locked away in his bedroom, he’s clearly observing and strictly adhering to the social distancing rule, which he doesn’t find too difficult since he’s been self isolating, or should I say social distancing, for weeks on end. He’s a teenager! With the exception of coming down to join us for family meals, or when he raids the cupboards for snacks, we don’t see that much of him … of course, he can also be lured downstairs when the smell of the cakes the oven wafts up the stairs … down he comes, nose in the air, just like the Bisto kid. Otherwise, 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, although his school hours have changed somewhat, and now seem to begin at midday when he gets up, and go on well into the evening. His college lectures have still happened, work is set online, with the occasional video link to some subjects, but his ancient history teacher has been amazing, and has provided tutorials exactly as they would be on the timetable were he still in college … no wonder he won teacher of the year … a title he deserves to keep, in my opinion.

Of course William receives plenty of lectures from us too … for instance when gaming goes on well into the early hours of the morning, and it becomes a bit obsessive, addictive and quite honestly anti‑social. It has been known for these marathon gaming sessions to go on for hours. If William can go 12 hours in bedroom isolation, then social distancing is not an issue whatsoever. Imagine, I said to him, if we didn’t have all this technology; if this had happened years ago, before any of this technology were around. Imagine how much worse it would be for everyone, if this crisis, and lockdown, had happened years ago. No tech, no phone, no laptop, no email, no social media. We have been asked to isolate, but it’s not isolation 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 she had to isolate herself from. I know that’s not quite the same; it’s a rather extreme comparison … and I did get a very pulled face with a curled lip for that comment.

Many items are missing from the supermarket shelves, aisle upon aisle of sold out items. People have been panic buying, and stockpiling food. It hasn’t been necessary either; food isn’t in short supply, and so it’s strange that so many have felt the need to panic about keeping their cupboards, fridges and freezers full of provisions. Quite honestly, if people can’t self regulate, then maybe the government should issue ration booklets. If we started issuing people with coupons it would stop the multiple purchases of goods; it would stop people going to buy the same item in more than one shop; it would prevent families shopping together and having multiple shopping baskets; and it would stop people re-queuing for items. If you’re issued with a coupon, then when you have redeemed this, it’s gone. People would be able to shop for others without fear of backlash or scrutiny from other shoppers about buying too many items; coupons could be swapped or traded with other family members or friends so that they could buy more of what they needed. Just a thought.

Although we’re staying in as much as possible, I’ve had to pop out to the shops. I’m doing the shopping for my parents, my mother in law, as well as for us. 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. Some shops are better at this than others … Morrisons has been marvellous, operating a one in, one out policy of shoppers in the store, lines on the floor so you can keep your distance, cleaning spray and tissues as you enter the store so that you can wipe down your trolley. Booths have been fabulous too, with all baskets and trolleys being wiped down by staff every time a customer returns them. They may want to monitor their safety measures though, the protective Perspex screens which they put up at the tills are a great idea to prevent water droplets passing between customers and staff, but the staff are only protected if all the tills they’re told to sit on have these screens … already this week the two tills behind those screens weren’t working. Of all the local supermarkets, Booths has been the nicest to walk round; it’s calmer than other shops and not as busy … but that might be because it’s a pricier store and therefore not the same appeal for many. Aldi wasn’t a pleasant experience for me this week. It was busier, and I found people not really keeping their distance. I did have to bite my tongue at one point when the gentleman looking at the baked beans did nothing but sigh …. why, at this point in time, when people are trying to keep a respectable distance from others, do some still feel the need to ignore this … and whether or not there was a health crisis on at the moment, it’s not pleasant to be subjected to someone’s hot air as they’re huffing and puffing and blowing out huge sighs.

Thankfully, I’m only popping out for top up shops, for us, and for the vulnerable in our family. 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. I think a lot more about using up what we have, rather than popping to the shop for more. I’ve never wasted ingredients to be honest, and have always used up what we have in the fridge … veg that’s seen better days which have gone a bit dry, baggy or wrinkly … carrots, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, potatoes, chillis, to name a few … even salad … all get thrown into stir fries, pasta sauces, soups or stews; and the same goes for fruit … so easy to use up in pies or crumbles … and my never ending supply of the odd bananas which get too yellow and spotty are so often turned into loaf cake or muffins. Any leftovers from meals are saved and used up … usually that was on the days when my husband worked away and it was only myself and the boys, but now we’re on lockdown we’ll no doubt be having a use up evening from time to time, each of us eating a different meal.

I’ve always cooked from scratch, nothing fancy … I’m not a chef … just good tasty, hearty home cooking … shepherd’s pie, fish pie, pasta bakes, chilli, lasagne, casseroles, curries and flans (that’s Lancashire speak for quiche). 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, eating seasonal fruit and veg; growing our own; walking for exercise; sitting together at mealtimes… family time … planning meals, cooking meals, eating meals, appreciating what we have … teaching our children those life skills they’ll need.

Life seems to have slowed down. There is less traffic on the roads, less people out and about, no hustle and bustle. We have calmer evenings with no rushing round ferrying the boys from club to club, worrying about the logistics of multiple pickup times. And as things have slowed, and quietened, I start to hear other noises … people chatting, children’s chatter and laughter as they play in the garden … and the tantrums as they assert their independence within their family; bird song is more noticeable … loud even. Spending time together in the house, in the garden, out on walks, teaching, learning … talking … is good family time together; good for communication, bonding, mental health, wellbeing; it’s 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 … just in a new way. We are blessed that we live in times where it is so easy to stay in touch with each other. And we can use this time to learn a new skill or hobby, and of course get our houses in order with much cleaning, tidying, gardening and DIY being done.

Mother’s day was strange this year. We went to see my mum and dad. We took our own brew with us in our Yeti mugs, and distanced ourselves in the garden outside their conservatory. I’d taken Mum some lovely flowers and a card, and I told her that she should give the envelope an antibacterial wipe down before she opened it … and that she should wash her hands straight after reading it. 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 coming to the house weekly. 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 with friends, and seeing what everyone is up to this way. Hearing what people have been up to in their home schools, looking at lovely makes, bakes and artwork, and marvelling at how this lockdown is bringing out the creative side in so many. The news is worrying though … reading about the situation in Italy, knowing that we’re following suit; reading at how in London the numbers falling victim to this virus are increasing daily, death rates rising, the struggles of those on the frontline and the strain on our National Health Service; not enough protective equipment being given to them, not enough ventilators, or beds even, for those who are very poorly and need ventilation … and those who haven’t been able to receive this treatment, doctors having to make awful decisions about who is to live and who is to die.

It’s difficult to know whether we are faring better or worse than other countries. People are wondering why Germany has a lower death rate from the virus. It is said that the countries who test have a lower death rate because they’re able to control the spread, but this isn’t entirely true. The death rate is given as a percentage of known cases, and the majority of people in this country have not been tested. Given that there are many who will get this virus who won’t even know that they’ve had it, and therefore will not go to a GP or hospital, and will not therefore be counted in the figures or indeed be tested. The figures only show those who have died, who have been admitted to hospital, or who are ill enough to seek medical assistance and therefore we’re not seeing the whole picture; and so too must we take other factors to take into account, such as whether the country has a high number of elderly in the population for example. As of writing this piece, there were 38,000 confirmed cases in Britain, and 3,600 deaths … a 10.5% death rate; but in reality there might be 360,000 cases in this country, in which case the death rate would go down to 1%. The more people you test, the more likely it is that the death rate will go down. The figures which are published could indeed be a statistical mirage.

But forget these statistics … we are not dealing with numbers on a spreadsheet, we are talking about real people, their health, their safety, their mortality. The fact is people are dying, unable to have their loved ones with them, spending their last hours in a packed ward being looked after by nurses without faces, hidden behind masks … how frightening this must be; funerals without many relatives there, not being able to stand near to other relatives, not even able to invite some relatives, going home immediately afterwards to grieve in a very, very different way. Treatments for patients with other conditions being delayed or cancelled, resulting in even more deaths, and adding to the death toll, but without these deaths being included in the figures of those dying directly from the disease. The number of deaths will no doubt be far, far, greater than any figures published. Yes we try and stay positive, yes we will get through this and yes 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; the chance of us knowing someone who is denied medical treatment of some form is likely. This is when those huge numbers published in government statistics become a reality … this is when they become personal.

I know first-hand that numbers and 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 more vulnerable, and therefore offered vaccinations. My child wasn’t considered at risk of contracting meningitis, and yet at 10 years old Edward did indeed contract meningitis and consequently died. Quoting numbers and statistics is of no comfort or help to us whatsoever, as we live day after day with the grief and loss of losing our beautiful boy.

Edward’s birthday is fast approaching, and we have always marked this day in some special way, and even though we visit his grave often, we would always visit on special occasions. In a couple of weeks’ time, 15th April 2020 it would be Edward’s 14th Birthday. There are so many emotions I will go through on this day, and this year will be even more difficult as I won’t be able to visit his grave. I haven’t been able to visit him for a couple of weeks now, and so his grave will be a mess, untidy, dirty and will need a lot of sorting out. The cemetery is now shut for visitors, and this is heart breaking … this isn’t a place for crowds to gather, and so easy to keep a social distance from others, but the gates are closed … we are unable to visit. Parks are still open for people to wander through for their exercise, and yet we are unable to wander through the cemetery to visit our child in his place of rest.

In times of crisis, for time immemorial, communities have rallied together. Help and support is offered for so much, by so many, which is incredibly heartwarming. When all this is over, I hope the many will carry on with this practical, and emotional support for others; being there for one another; watching out for each other, running errands, taking time to know those who live nearby, those who are vulnerable and need support. I hope 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. The minute lockdown is lifted I expect people with leave their homes in their droves, desperate to spread their wings once more. Motorways will likely be at a standstill, as we all get in our cars to go on the day trips that we’ve been planning for so long during lockdown, waiting for the first opportunity we’re given to go out.

We’ll all be rushing to make our appointments again with the dentist, chiropractor, nail technician, hairdresser. People will either have longer hair when we come out of all this, or they’ll have been forced into home DIY cuts for the family. Will the basin cut return? Will there be many a shaved head that we see? Grey hair will become fashionable as true hair colour will show through … either that, or there will be panic buying of hair dye in the shops as the weeks go by. Headbands will be worn … or maybe we’ll start wearing headscarves like they did in the war, tied at the front with a big knot … we may not look quite the same though if 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; I’m pleased that the climate is better … even the ozone layer has started to heal. 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 and the health of our loved ones, yes there are worries about money, income, earnings and business, but from my perspective, the day to day stresses of juggling and logistics are for us much calmer, and much better.

I do wonder if Mother Nature is trying her best to sort things out for us. Global warming, pollution; over population, stretched healthcare, the decline of family units, decline of community spirit … is this her way of making us stop, think, regroup? It happens; every hundred years or so it seems; nature finds a way of sending something to sort us out. It’s just a thought.

I honestly think this will be good time for our family. Oliver will gain all sorts of knowledge and education. I am learning how to teach, and be more patient with this (but that’s still work in progress). He is of course compromised from socialising, although his friends are in daily contact via email and/or Skype. It’s perhaps as well to be honest, as he’s today gone down with Chickenpox. I can’t quite believe that in the midst of all what is happening, we’re now dealing with Chickenpox. He’s running a temperature, covered in itchy spots, and I’m praying he’s not too poorly and we can get him well with plenty of paracetamol, antihistamine, fluids and TLC. I’m astounded to be honest that he’s gone down with this; the only place he could have caught it, is school, and given he’s been off school for two weeks, but this is yet another example of how an incredibly contagious virus, (far more contagious than Coronavirus in fact) can incubate for days before presenting.

Justin is working from home, nothing new there, but without the need for him to be away. He doesn’t have to travel for work at the moment, either down South, or abroad, which is so good for our family to have him here with us, being around so much more. Evenings are family time again with clubs and groups no longer running. We can spend our evenings now talking, playing board games, watching programmes together, cooking, and going for walks. All those simple, yet wonderful things, once lost, now discovered again.

It will be a while before we all meet up again at our groups, clubs, gyms and cafes, and until that time we are learning a new way of life, new routines, new habits … a new normal. I’m actually enjoying our time together and haven’t once been bored … I feel that now we have more time on our hands to do important, exciting, creative stuff, together, as a family, and we’re busier than ever. 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.

I can’t wait to spend time with friends and family again, and their value in our lives is evident and more obvious. I hope we have learned many, many lessons from this crisis, globally, nationally, locally, and even closer to home in each and every family throughout the world. Life is precious; life is fragile; life can change overnight, in an instant, and every minute of the life you have is valuable … take care.

So in the great tradition of my love of song, I’ll leave you with the words of Vera Lynn. They seem very appropriate under the circumstances … and in any event, they’re the song words which today popped into my head:

We'll meet again Don't know where Don't know when But I know we'll meet again some sunny day Keep smiling through Just like you always do 'Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.

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