Are Lava Caves our salvation?

Ok people no need for any more anxiety about this virus killing off the planet. There just might be an escape route. Apparently as reported in the Sun – my go to newspaper – “Experts suspect that aliens are living in underground tunnels on Mars formed by Lava Billions of years ago.”  And despite Mars being about 33 million miles away and cosmic radiation making its surface inhospitable, it is hoped humans will one day be able to colonise the lava caves on Mars and the Moon.  Pascal Leem, a planetary researcher at NASA Ames Research Centre in California, said “On Mars and other places, lava tubes have the potential to have made the difference between life and death.”  So maybe not in my life time but my  great grandchildren!!!

lava1

This sodding virus  has crept  into all our conversations, our consciousness and even our dreams.  I can’t remember the last time I called someone when the virus wasn’t mentioned and  I almost cannot remember what my life was like pre last March.  Makes me wonder what we talked about before this – ahh yes Brexit.

Last night at 2 am when I finally gave up trying to get to sleep, I picked up the journalist Karoline Kan’s book Under Red Skies. She was born in 1989 the year of The Tiananmen Square massacre. Fascinating nonfiction account of what her life was like growing up in a society beset by poverty and political unrest. But what was most striking was her account of the Sars epidemic

“…  it was spreading throughout China and killing people but without the governments formal confirmation that it was a deadly epidemic most people dismissed it as a rumour. We worried about it a lot because it was said that you could catch the disease by talking to somebody who was infected and then get a fever and cough your muscles ached and your immune system would break down in days. Many felt it was natures revenge on the Kwando people because they were believed to be savages who ate wild animals like snakes and monkeys. …… …. every family scrambled to the shops for vinegar which was thought would help protect you from the disease.  The streets were empty as people wanted to avoid crowds and infection……. What scares me most was not the disease itself, but the horrid atmosphere created by the disease which felt like an invisible monster lurking in the shade that could jump out to eat me at any time.”

under red skies

Reminiscent of the scene in the UK back at the beginning of COVID19.

At the weekend I left my compound and visited a couple of close friends for dinner in their garden.  It was just 3 of us but I needed to prepare; disposable gloves in case I needed the toilet, anti-bacterial hand wash, antibacterial wipes, a mask and some Dutch courage as it was my first outing since the beginning of March.  Maybe a bit OTT.   Took me back to the days of leaving the house with a baby and all that entailed.  Remember thinking gone are the days when I can instantaneously get up and go.    What’s more as I had nothing to take because my online grocery order  wasn’t due for a few days   I made some lemonade which proceeded to spill all over the passenger seat in the car which is now a sticky mess.  But it was worth it to have a short injection of semi normality in my life and  spend time with very close friends.

I feel much more anxious  now we are opening up because I have to make choices. Before when we were locked down it was easy. We were all in the same boat. Now I have to weigh stuff up risk versus necessity versus sanity.  Moreover, I am the most careful out of all of my friends because I am the only one with an immune issue. And I do feel a certain amount of pressure  to be a bit more relaxed  and maybe they have a point.  The  virus has made some of us more defensive and judgmental. Either because we are taking social distancing less seriously or because we are taking it too seriously.

I am not alone  in my anxiety about society  ‘opening up’  others I have spoken to  are also  finding the decisions difficult.  Do we accept a dinner invitation? How many people will be there? How big is their table? What if it rains and we can’t eat outside? Where have the people who are inviting us been?  How safe are they? Can I eat in a restaurant where they are not wearing masks  etc etc. It’s not easy.

But what gives me a lot of hope is that while our world has shrunk the virus has unleashed a resurgence of community spirit.   People seem genuinely much nicer, they talk, they smile at you and there is a real sense that they care. I have chatted with strangers in my local park who have now become regular social distance  buddies. I know about their lives, their friends, their work, their dogs  and their worries.  We have shared stuff that I would not have done before COVID19.  Conversations end with “you take care” or “stay safe”.

The Isolation Economy research revealed back in June that two-thirds (64 per cent) of UK adults feel their communities have ‘come together to help each other’ during the crisis. This includes extending financial support to local businesses, with 60 per cent plan to buy more goods from local stores in a bid to help local economies following the lockdown.  Nigel Wilson, Legal & General chief executive, said: “Being more isolated has made us also more inclusive.”

According to the Isolation Economy study, one in every five UK adults (19 per cent) has volunteered their time for community-level activities or organisations since the start of the lockdown on March 23. This includes nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of furloughed workers.

So ending on this positive not meet  Michael 91 and his wife Gillian 88 who both  walked out of a Leicester hospital last week after recovering from COVID19 following a three-week stay in the  hospital.  Each morning  Mr England would get himself dressed before the therapist arrived so that when he needed to exercise, he could walk to his wife’s bedside. And there, awake and awaiting his arrival would be his wife ready for their daily cup of tea together.  Mr England said, “while I’ve been in hospital, I’ve not really missed anything because Gillian is here, and I have been able to see her every day.”

old couple

 

“Let’s be careful out there”

Adapting to the new norm

“Mummy my tooth is wriggly,” said one of my young cousins during a family zoom call.

“Keep wriggling said his mother and then we can put it under your pillow for the tooth fairy.

“Will she be wearing a mask,” he replied.

How quickly we adapt especially children. There is a school of thought that thinks mask wearing will frighten children, but I have found quite the opposite. They have already accepted it as their new norm. And in some cases, have reminded their parents to put on their mask.

In China it has long been the norm to wear masks to prevent transmitting or catching respiratory illness. Everyone there knows that masks protect children from virus and also high pollution. So, the argument that it will frighten kids and give them PTSS is not ringing true with me – in most cases. I have even seen some really fab children’s masks with pictures of their favourite animal or book character decorating the mask.

childrens-masks

The issue is not the children but the adults. I am a great believer that if we incorporate this into our daily lives it will become our norm too. Yes, it is a sad fact that we are now in this position but there are far worse things in the world. As human beings we adapt it is how we have survived – so far.

I remember years ago interviewing at the BBC this wonderful Jewish musician and it was her job to play to the camp victims that were being marched into the gas chambers. Before she came in, I was anxious about what to say to this woman. I wondered how anyone could survive such traumas.

We spent the first 10 minutes just laughing about trivia stuff and I thought “How can this woman laugh again after what she has been through.”

And I am paraphrasing the next bit as it is over 30 years ago and obviously with my memory, I cannot remember her exact words. She explained that most us (camp survivors) realise that we have been scarred for life and that if we dig too deep, we just might open up a can of worms. So, we seal off that part of our emotions and memories and get on with the rest of our life. It might not be the healthiest solution, but it is my way of coping and I want to now live my life. If I don’t then the Nazis will have won, and all those years of suffering will be for nothing. I might have just as well been gassed myself.

I know it’s a bit of leap and there is no real comparison, but I think we can all adapt  and wear masks – so mask refuseniks stop behaving like selfish morons.

cartoon mask

 

So, I have just had the third roofer arrive to quote on my misfortune. Don’t you hate it when they tut and give a sharp intake of breath with the words “who put this on”. Does it matter who put it on. It’s there and you are here to fix it. If they are British, then they blame the polish builders and if they are Polish, they blame the British builders.

Yes, I know I have buddleia growing out my chimney, no I didn’t put it there – that was the job of a pigeon! What do they think, I climbed onto my roof and planted it? And yes, I have leaks why else would I be calling you in. I think I am getting the teeniest bit agitated. Today’s  builder said it would cost around £10,000 as the roofer who put it on 20 years didn’t use the correct material and all the tiles have to be taken off and re-laid with the proper material underneath.  Frightfully uninteresting for anyone who doesn’t have a roof issue. 

I will get one more quote and instruct them  there is to be no ‘tutting’ or I might just end whacking them. Bad enough that I have to shell out thousands of pounds so just keep your mouth shut and get on with the job.

And because I suppose we have nothing better to do during lockdown  and some people miss going into the office a new website  The Sound of Colleagues has half a million people tuning in to listen to recordings of water-cooler chatter, keyboards clicking and printers whirring. The site was created as a joke in April but has since taken off in earnest.   https://soundofcolleagues.com

“Let’s be careful out there”

The Attraction of Power

What makes a middle-aged man leave his beautiful wife of 30 odd years to marry his intern 38 years his junior?  And then, in his mid-eighties go on to marry a beautiful woman 25 years his junior? I suppose because he can. And what makes these women marry a rich old man? Power of course and money.  Even a wrinkled old man still wields power, and this attracts some of the most beautiful women in the world.  Who am I talking about? Well if you watched BBC 2 last night you would know. The media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch addresses a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch addresses a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 24, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse (SWITZERLAND)

Riveting tv. He is an enigma and clearly brilliant and driven.  And I can see why some women would find this attractive. I was  once tempted by money and power.    Aged just 17  I met an older rich French man – he was probably in his late 40’s but that seemed very old to me back then. I was hitching in Europe and stopped off in the south of France.  He had a yacht in Cannes – a big one.  I was staying in a youth hostel and had just had a very embarrassing night.  I have this rather horrible habit of making deep gurgling throat noises in my sleep of which I am unaware.  In the morning one of the girls in the 10-bed dormitory said in a loud voice.

“Did you hear those noises last night. Boy were they horrible.”

I looked around at the girls and before anyone could reply I said, “Yes I  couldn’t sleep all night.” And with that I packed my bags and hot footed it to this  French man’s yacht.  But it didn’t last, he was very unattractive, and I couldn’t do the deed. I wanted to as I was down to my last few pounds but packed my backpack in the middle of the night and scarpered.

And there were many more before I met my life partner but none quite as rich as that man.  I made a good choice although I hadn’t imagined that I would be a widow   in my sixties. Sometimes it hits me with such force when I least expect it. A bit like when you are swimming in the sea and suddenly a huge wave  surprisingly hits you from behind. This morning doing my teeth right out of the blue this all-consuming wave of grief hit me. Pang – right there in the solar plexus.  It almost knocks you over. The finality of death is hard to come to terms with.  Throughout my life I have cajoled, campaigned and persuaded people and been quite good at it.  I was  also quite good at deal making but this is one deal over which I had no power. No amount of promises or pledges cut it.  Whoever is in charge doesn’t listen. Death is the end and it is bloody well hard to accept.

As you can see I am not having a very positive day. It started with the  tooth brushing, then the surveyor from Saga Home Insurance who after 2 hours checking my house and me risking catching Coronavirus,  rejected my claim. Why am I surprised? Don’t they always wriggle out of claims.  Next came the renewal from AXA/ppp health insurance 20% increase  on last year because I had 1 claim and I am one year older.  Then there was Bridge – we came bottom again.  Malcolm Gladwell argues that one needs to spend at least 10,000 hours of practice before one can become an expert in anything.  I reckon I have had about 2000 hours of practice!  Not sure if it is worth devoting another 8000 hours to this.  And  in case you  haven’t  already nodded off  squirrels in Colorado have tested positive for bubonic plague.  I know a bit random but maybe it’s time to stop petting the cute little ones in my garden. Or at least wear gloves and a mask!

But hey – its blackberry season – again.  Yesterday I spotted a few in the park. I have been deprived of my favourite breakfast spread as I ran out a few months ago but if my secret blackberry patch is still going strong then I will be in full production by the weekend.

Message to self:

This is a very shallow blog Roma. You need to up your game.

Too right – I need to get a life – if only I could!!!!

“Let’s be careful out there”

Two epidemics a century apart

Michael was a boy a few years older than me at primary School.  I remember him even now. He had blonde hair and lots of freckles. He was small for his age and wore those round NHS spectacles with sticky tape on one side holding them together. Maybe I remember him because he wore callipers. There were  a few children in the school with callipers. Our teacher explained that the boys had polio.  She showed us pictures of iron lungs and I was very frightened. I had nightmares about these great big machines and was terrified that I might have to get into one of them.

And I had completely forgotten about this until I read an article in The Guardian – The Man in the Iron Lung. It tells the story of Paul Alexander who in 1952 in Texas USA contracted polio which left him paralysed for life.  He has spent most of his life in  an  Iron Lung.   Reading the article bought back those memories and  indeed the fears that I have right now about  Coronavirus.

It’s an interesting read.  Takes some guts to live the life he has

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/may/26/last-iron-lung-paul-alexander-polio-coronavirus

Thanks to Jonas Salk the scientist who discovered a polio vaccine in 1955 it has now been almost eradicated worldwide.  The last case of polio in the US was in 1979 and in the UK 1984. The World Health Organisation had declared The Americas and the Western pacific region polio free.  It is only endemic now in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan. I am not sure why but I am sure you can google it and find out.

Many of you thankfully will know nothing about the polio epidemic. It was incredibly destructive and every summer during the polio season — it was a virus that liked warm weather – parents would live in fear.   In a way they are the same fears that we are now going through. Parents stopped sending their children to school, they kept them indoors, swimming pools, cinemas etc were closed, public places were shunned and like us today they social distanced.    I imagine for those who lived through the polio epidemic of the last century this must feel strangely familiar.

Ina Pinkney, now 77 was a year old when she contracted the disease in Brooklyn, N.Y. “When my parents would take me out … you could hear everybody get silent and move away, which is very much what it feels like now.”

The sheer numbers of people affected by Polio in America during its worst outbreak in  1952 were staggering:  57,626 cases, 3,145 died and 21,269 left paralysis.

 

Interesting too are the parallels between the two viruses that for every person who got polio hundreds of others would get the virus without serious effects and yet they too could carry it to others.

Maybe we have been lulled into a false sense of security and forgotten the terror of other diseases which we are now routinely vaccinated against: Diphtheria, Typhus, Measles, Mumps and TB.

So, this is our generations pandemic. Knowing what has gone before us doesn’t make the current epidemic any less scary but it is just putting it into context.  It is hard to imagine whilst we are in the midst of COVID19 that we might also one day – hopefully forget about it too.

Ina said that in surviving the polio epidemic it has given her perspective with this current epidemic.  “I live with hope and I live with anticipation that we will get on the other side of this. I don’t know what it looks like. It doesn’t even matter, as long as people are not getting sick and people are not dying.”

I too am cautiously optimistic that we have many ‘Jonas Salk’s’ around the world working on finding a vaccine for COVID19.

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

 

 

 

 

 

No-one does guilt as well as the Jews

It’s a bit odd this mask thing and the ensuing reluctance that people have to don one.  I don’t get it. If it helps in any way to reduce the spread why not? Michael Grove this morning said that he does not think face coverings should be compulsory in shops and that he trusts people’s common sense.  Really you mean the Brits have common sense. Did he not see the beaches? or the Pubs in Soho? I guess they will prevaricate for the next few weeks, the numbers of dead will increase and then masks will become mandatory like most of the other European countries.  As always two steps behind the virus. Too little too late.

But not going there. Moving swiftly on.  New research has shown that couples who share a bed sleep better and have better mental health.  Oh, bugger it – that’s another thing to feel guilty about.  Is it a female Jewish thing – guilt?  Do we come out apologising to our mothers for causing so much pain? Is that where it all starts? Molly Jong-Fast, Erica Jong’s daughter said that “we suffer two great inheritances of the Jewish people: irritable bowel syndrome and guilt,” and deemed our quintessential Jewish way of life as “praying on a shrink’s sofa”. The joke ‘What’s Jewish Alzheimer’s disease? It’s when you forget everything but the guilt.’  is really true.  My mother used to say many times that she felt guilty, but she forgot what she felt guilty about.

Intellectually I understand that guilt does no one any good and is a complete waste of energy but emotionally it is hard to shift.

I digress back to the sleep stuff.  Apparently, humans sleep in cycles, shifting between rapid-eye-movement REM – sleep which is when the vivid dreams occur and non-REM periods. My REM sleep takes me on wild and crazy adventures – and thank goodness for that because it is the only place I am going at the moment.

Researchers in Germany found that in their study of 12 heterosexual couples when they shared a bed, they experienced 10% more REM sleep.  They think that physical proximity to a loved one promotes certain sleep-boosting hormones.

So, here’s the guilt Tod and I didn’t sleep together for the last 5 years of our lives. I so wish we could have been the image on the left but sadly we were the image on the right. He was a snorer and not just any old snorer – a snorer par excellence. Tod could have won prizes for the most deafening snores. I kid you not. I still have a recording on my phone of his snores.  When he visited middle son Jake in Mexico where he was teaching, they had to share a room.  Jake messaged me. “Mum how can you stand it. The snoring. It’s impossible. What should I do? Do you think Dad will be upset if I suggest he gets a hotel room.”?  At least he now understood that it wasn’t that I didn’t love his father.

Remember the post about my mother’s Heath Robinson’s contraption to escape from my father’s snoring – which didn’t work.  She used to take a Mogadon (sleeping tablet) on a Friday night so she could have at least one good night’s sleep a week.

 

snoring

I decided that sleeping tablets were not the answer so in an attempt of having a modicum of snoring reprieve after years of sneaking off in the middle of the night to the couch, I suggested we have separate rooms.  Now I wonder did I deprive Tod of the much-needed sleep boosting hormone?  What if this exacerbated Tod’s mental health. What if it bought on the Glioblastoma?  In all honesty I would give anything to hear those bellowing snores again.

Not to belittle this research but there has been many many more research projects into the detrimental effects of snoring on relationships.  Just 5 minutes on google and there is page after page on the topic vis a vis relationship.  So, boosting hormone or not at least we stayed together for 35 years.

I do wonder sometimes about all these research projects.  I mean why do we need to know, for instance, that the horses that were bought to the UK in the 18th century were not Arabian as previously thought but Turkomans. Why spend huge amounts of money on a study at Cornell University to examine the DNA of 378 Arabian horses to find this out.  Arabian or Turkoman so what? What difference does that make to the equine industry?

horse

I have never been a great one for research which is ironical seeing as though it was Tod’s business and what paid our bills. I remember when I was working at BSB and the BBC   and focus groups were in vogue. BBH the Ad agency did very well out of our focus groups.  Thousands and thousands of pounds spent on them which only confirmed what I  already knew.  If only they had listened to me!!!!

I left the house last night – it felt wonderful.  Had a drink in the garden of a girlfriend. A bit of normality.  And we planned an adventure  – Island hopping in Greece next September.   A girl has to have something to look forward to.

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

Is This Dementia?

Last night I was writing my blog and  I couldn’t find a word that I wanted to use. It was right there somewhere in the back of my brain; I could feel the word if that makes sense, but I couldn’t grasp it.  I googled other words in the hope it would miraculously appear but no luck. So, I deleted the sentence and posted the blog.  10 mins later it appeared – out of nowhere. The word was ‘impressed’ a simple word how could I not find it? I re posted the blog, but it worried me, especially as it seems to be happening a lot – words eluding me.    Just as worrying was when I was frantically looking for my iPhone while talking to my cousin in Israel.

“I can’t find my phone anywhere.” I said.

“Because you are talking on it,” she said.

OMG I really am losing it. Are these symptoms of dementia?  My mother and 3 of her sisters had dementia

“Maybe it is because  it was late at night,” said my cousin reassuringly. “Or that it had been working too hard.”

My brain has definitely not been working too hard.

“So that’s it,” she said, “it’s not been exercised enough.”

Ok  so brain exercises are now top of my agenda.

Naturally I took to google. “Why can I not find my words?”  Big mistake I could now have a whole host of disorders: primary progressive aphasia (PPA) – a brain disorder that robs people of their language skills. It’s degenerative and I have all the symptoms, or  Delirium, Stroke, Depression, Encephalitis, Psychosis,  a head injury, Brain Tumour, Metabolic/genetic disorders, Neurodegenerative conditions or just  severe anxiety.  You are not kidding about the severe anxiety – now that’s exactly what I have.  Maybe it’s better that I don’t know. Sticking your head in the sand re medical disorders is not recommended but, on this occasion, it might just be the only way I can survive.

A long walk was required to reduce my anxiety.  The dog looked hopeful. In our house you have to spell the word W A L K otherwise Izzi gets over excited. Bit like chocolate which also had to be spelled when the children were little, but they cottoned on very quickly “please can we have some C H O C” they would ask.  I felt like a traitor –  Izzi’s arthritis limits her to 3 x 20 minutes’ walk daily –  and I needed a very long walk. I crept out of the house and looked back to see her sitting on the window seat looking forlorn.  “When I get back,” I shouted hoping she understood that it meant she would get a short walk later.  She looked away in dismay.  And I started my walk. 

All was going very well. I had Spotify, I was listening to some West Coast music and on track to find the much talked about  lake. Through 3 parks and a rather convoluted woodland pathway I arrive at a  beautiful lake, peaceful and  full of birds including a pair of Herons. The phone rings.  Could I make up a fourth in a bridge game in an hour. Remembering my agenda re brain exercise I agreed but then realised I was well over an hour from home.  Turning back, I swiftly followed the muddy paths and promptly fell flat on my face in a pool of muddy water.  This isn’t going very well, not only am I going to miss the game but I will probably get some horrible mud infested disorder like Bilharzia which I know you can only get in Southern Africa but we have a lot of South Africans here and who knows they could have fallen into the same mud pool as me.   I arrive home, hot dishevelled, dirty and out of breath and definitely not relaxed.  Izzi sat waiting patiently by the front door. “I’m ready for my short walk,” she said.  I  change my muddy clothes.

“Hey What you are doing,” she said, “My walk.”

“In 2 hours, I promise.”

“That’s not fair.”  Of course, this is all guess work as Dr Doolittle I am not. But I do know my dog very well. She wined, she barked and then she gave up and started tormenting the cat.

But at least Mo had not been subjected to the horrors of accidently being put in the washing machine. Oscar a Burmese cat in Australia survived a 12-minute cycle in a washing machine. Apparently, its owner only realised shortly after her husband put on a wash.  The poor cat had his hands on the glass as he was doing the rotations. Ahh I can actually visualise this.  It took an agonising 2 minutes for all the water to drain out. And then of course you have to wait another minute for the machine to allow you to open the door. Goodness knows what that cat must have been thinking.  Happy to report Oscar is fine and very soft. And Izzi did get her short walk.

Now I have to convince her that she would love to have a little sister.  I have found the second dog that I want to get – a Tibetan Terrier.  I met two on my walk and got the low down from their owner.  Long haired, don’t need grooming and don’t shed hair. They are adorable. Just have to get Izzi on board.

tibetan

It’s not unlike introducing another child into the family. I remember when I was having a particularly difficult time with my eldest child and we went for a walk. He asked me

“Was it nice when it was just me,”

I replied, “yes darling.”

“Then why did you have to ruin it by having another child.”

Imagine if your partner said, “darling I am bringing in another woman to share the house with us it doesn’t mean I don’t love you just that it would be nice to have another woman around.”

And Finally – apparently and I am quoting some random person on Facebook if you smear manure on your body it works as a deterrent to COVID19. Think I might just give this one amiss.

shit

 

 

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

 

 

 

Where Are Our Leaders

Watching Tony Blair today on an Intelligence Squared discussion about the Labour politician Ernest Bevin  bought back all those feeling of disappointment and disillusionment about Blair’s time as PM.  We were all so hopeful when he first took office. A new Labour – a new way forward. He was young, enthusiastic and it was infectious. I did have a few qualms – a little too slick perhaps, too cocky  but hey after Mr Boring  Major, we were ready for something different. But he did us a huge disservice and I felt awfully let down.  Ironical that he should be talking about  a man with gravitas and social conscience.  How different he was from Ernest Bevin.

 

bevin

Indeed right now had Bevin been in charge I am sure he would have been better prepared and we would have a  COVID19 plan in place.   So what happened to politics when did it become  dirty, self efacing, and egotistical  or has it always been so.  The last good PM contender that I remember was John Smith the Scottish leader of the Labour  Party who  sadly died from a heart attack. I  think he would have been a good PM but  we will never know.  Since then we have had a catalogue of unimpressive leaders.  Maybe I am looking back with rose coloured spectacles but back in the day I am sure there were more  politicians who  really did care about making society a better place – now it is feels like  ego, power mongering and  self promotion. Of course, there are exceptions. But it is embarrassing that we have world leaders who appear to be looking down straws that have mirrors at the end of them.  And just to top it all we now have Kanye West saying he is going to run for the White House.

To add to my  somewhat pessimistic mood when making breakfast this morning my toast fell on the floor – and yes it was butter side down! It reminded me of the Dr Seuss’s children book The Butter Battle Book about the Cold War. Not your normal  kind of Seuss book. Much darker – it was an overt political satire and protest against the nuclear arms race. The main characters being  members of the Yooks, who appear to represent the US and NATO countries, while the antagonists, the Zooks, appear to represent the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. The book finishes with an impasse, as a Yook general and a Zook general stare each other down over a bitter land-dividing wall, both holding their atomic beans over the ground. Remind you of anyone?  It ends with an ambiguous blank white page that could be interpreted as the end of all life.

butter Battle

I wonder what Seuss would have written right now about COVID19.

I seem to have gotten a bit lost here – I apologise. I blame Tony Blair. But he just got me thinking about politics and leaders and my emotions got the better of me and took me off on a tangent going nowhere.

I forgive myself – this is my 80th blog and on occasions I am bound to get lost.  If, however, I was David Sedaris, with his wonderful sardonic wit and observational talent, I would be able to make mountains out of my molehill. I do however have one thing in common with Sedaris  – sadly it’s not writing   but rather our choice of  clothes.  It’s no fun getting dressed up when nobody can see you. I pass by wardrobes every morning  and hear desperate pleas of ‘pick me pick me’ as my clothes hang bored and unworn in my three wardrobes. What’s the point? So it just becomes another sweat pant day.

This is Sedaris on clothes from a piece in the Irish Times.

““I had bought all these outfits, and I was so looking forward to wearing them,” he says, mentioning with particular wistfulness a lavishly ruffled black Comme des Garçons jacket – “a cross between when Mammy was in mourning after the baby died in Gone with the Wind, and something that PT Barnum would wear” – now hanging in his closet, an artefact from an alternative reality.

“Let’s be careful out there”

 

 

 

 

Returning to Work

We are now a two-kitchen family. Very posh. Not really just a necessity as Linda is going back to work tomorrow and Toby might be unfurloughed on Thursday. As I am vulnerable, I am attempting to stay safe. Sods law of course despite the last 4 months of semi solitude I will probably  get it.  Which will amuse my friends who think I am over cautious.

The plan is that when they return from work they will strip off, put their clothes in the washing machine and shower. They will eat their food in the cosy new kitchen which is equipped with fridge microwave kettle toaster etc. It also has a comfy sofa and a tv. Really what more could you want? And we can eat the evening meal together – 1 metre apart – with the windows open.   You probably also think I am a little OTT.

While Linda who is freelance and thus hasn’t been furloughed and needs money   is keen to have work – others like my son have quite enjoyed a long-paid holiday.  And it is not surprising that some have developed what has been called ‘furlough fever’ and the prospect of rush hour and long working days are less than enticing.  Which is a problem for some businesses.

Apparently one company boss said on social media while his employees were on furlough  “I need to restart my business to avoid insolvency. I have a plan which ensures it’s done safely. The problem is my furloughed staff are finding every excuse not to return to work. How do I compete with a chancellor who is paying them not to work?”   I am sure he is not alone. Its tough for business owners.

But even before COVID19 companies were seeing the benefit of remote working practices. A 2019 IWG Global Workplace Survey of 15,000 professionals in 80 nations found 80% percent of businesses in Germany, 76 percent in Brazil and 58 percent in India had flexible working policies. And these policies also seem to be translating into practice. Over 50 percent of survey participants reported they were working more than half the time remotely.

Certainly 3 years ago when Tod was at The Royal Mail they had bought in hot desking and were asking employees to work half the week from home. Tod was far more efficient and a lot happier.  But this long absence from work has given many  furloughnees  the  time to rethink their lives. Michael a friend of mine in his mid thirties with two young children went back to work last week. He said that his time on furlough was productive both as a parent and in giving him space to think about where he wanted to be in 5 years’ time.

“My life had been a routine, get up, get the children off to school, tube, rush hour madness, at my desk by 9.30, 8 hours later rush hour, home, kids, dinner, fall into bed exhausted.  But after this  3 months break, I have really begun to think about is this really how I want to live my life.”

trudging

It is true sometimes I wonder how I got sucked into such a conventional way of life. It was never what I intended.  I don’t regret the children one bit if anything I would have wanted more. But I had other plans.  More unconventional ones.  I was going to travel the world with the kids,  run a bar on the beach or live off the land with lots of animals. Instead I took the conventional road because it felt safer. And once you get on a particular path it is hard to get off it. You get sucked into the world of work, buying a house, kids, schools, universities and suddenly  you have run out of time.

I remember once, when my eldest was at primary  school and it was my time to host a dinner party – back in the day when dinner parties were still  in vogue.  Most of the other mothers were quite conventional and organised – at least they seemed to be.  I was having a few anxious moments because  I didn’t have crockery that matched.  Tod gave me a bewildered look “Ffs when did you start worrying about matching crockery – when did this become important.”  And he was right I was in danger of becoming a conventional middle class mum.  By the way I still don’t have matching crockery and it doesn’t bother me one bit. And I can’t remember the last time I had a dinner party.

Meanwhile I am going nowhere – well not until a vaccine is found. I have all the time in the world to fantasize  and plan this next stage of my life which I can assure you is not going to be conventional.   Just hope I get the opportunity to play it out. Think my kitchen flowers are in tune with my mood.

 

flowers

 

And for those confused about the etiquette of how to behave in this pandemic Debrett’s is issuing a new handbook which will include a good manners for the pandemic section.  Nods, bows and namastes in the place of kisses and handshakes, paper plates not china and should you be hosting a garden party – a firm “I wish I could give you a hug” and “Feel free to use the bathroom”  is the way to go.  There’s something I doubt Debretts would have thought about this time last year.

“Let’s be careful out there” 

 

 

Carrying other people’s stuff

So, today’s blog is a lot about me.  Maybe I am sharing a bit too much but it’s a blog and I am ok about you knowing a bit more about me.  Probably as most of  you already know me this will come as no surprise.

I have a big notice on my fridge which says, “IT’S NOT MINE”.  It is there to remind me not to take on other people’s stuff. No mean feat. Well not for me anyway. I am a past master on taking on emotions that are not mine.   When the children were little, they would come home crying about a fight they had with so and so and fret at night about not wanting to go back to school.  I would have a sleepless night. In the morning I would wave them off with trepidation in my heart worrying what so and so would say or do to them in the playground. I am embarrassed to admit that one time I went to the school at playtime and hid behind a tree just to make sure that one of my boys was ok. I know- really OTT.

So, as I awaited his return from school on tender hooks about what might have happened, he breezed in smiling with a “Hi Mum.”

“How was it” I asked nervously.

“All good mummy.”

“What about…  ”

” Oh, that’s all forgotten we are best friends now,” he said switching on the tv.

So, while he moved on, I was left carrying all his stuff.  Despite understanding this ‘carrying stuff’ thing I still find it very hard to leave the lady at the river.

For those new to my blog who don’t know the Buddhist parable ‘Lady’ and ‘River’ see below:

monks

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.

Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After re-joining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?” 

In my head I say to myself ‘put the lady down’ but it doesn’t always work.

Highly sensitive people – of which I am one – have an immense capacity for empathy. We are often the caregivers for our friends and family. Our empathy often surpasses that of the regular definition of the word. Rather than simply noticing what someone else is feeling, many of us actually feel it ourselves, in our own bodies.

I have come to realise that I am prone to feeling depleted and drained by the emotional pain of others and this can often manifest itself physically. It was a trait that I shared with Tod. We were both highly sensitive people. I cared and nursed Tod for 9 months when he was so sick and while I outwardly I remained calm and in control inwardly it was clearly having a devastating  effect on my body  from which I am still recovering. I couldn’t understand why I  kept getting sick with ailment after ailment when normally I don’t get ill.  It was a wakeup call to  the effects of emotional stress on the body.  Obviously, this was an extreme situation but as an Empath – which is the term used to describe describe people who absorb the world’s joys and stresses like emotional sponges  – I know I have work to do.

So,  for anybody who  might  recognise  these emotions in themselves or in friends  below are some of the symptoms to look out for.

  •  Natural giving, spiritually open, and a good listener.
  • Absorbing other people’s emotions
  • Overwhelmed in crowds
  • Highly intuitive
  • Need alone time
  • Overwhelmed in intimate relationships and afraid of losing my identity.
  • I need the natural world to nourish and restore me
  • I have highly tuned senses and can get frayed by noise smells or excessive talking.

 

Right now  I am walking around the garden repeating “IT’S NOT MINE” as a situation evolves in our house. I am on my 5th lap hopefully by lap 10 I will be on top of it.

“Let’s be careful out there”

Drugs

Yesterday I was in la la land – and very nice it was too. Thanks to a concoction of codeine/paracetamol/ibuprofen and diazepam. Prescribed by my doctor for an acute attack of sciatica. I  now understand why there is such an epidemic of people hooked on pain killers. Because anything and I really mean anything  that stops pain is what you want.

Pain is all consuming. You can think of nothing else but how to get it to stop. And Sciatica and tooth ache  are the two worst ones that I have experienced. Luckily, I still had Tod’s morphine hidden away for emergencies. At 3 am on Friday morning I wondered was this one of those emergencies?

And of course labour pains.  I still remember the euphoria when an epidural stopped the pain. Made me wonder why on earth anybody would want to go through labour without one. So much so that when attending ante natal for my third child I had stamped all over my notes EPIDURAL. Toby however had other plans. He arrived after one humongous contraction which broke my waters and he shot out, caught by my girlfriend just  20 minutes after arriving in the hospital. I felt cheated. “I want my epidural,” I demanded to my nurse. “But you have had the baby,” she replied. “I don’t care where is my epidural.” Never was one to to listen to reason.

 
So, Leicester is in Lockdown. Probably the safest place to be today once the rest of the country opens up.  Yesterday was my wedding anniversary and Leicester is my  hometown  and where I got married. Like the Queen with her two birthdays one official and one private we too had 2 weddings. One, the Jewish wedding that my parents had long dreamt about, but thought would never happen — I was 34 when I got married — and the second a rather debauched affair in the garden of my girlfriend in Cambridge.

I decided that my present to my parents would be our wedding. “Whatever you would like mum” I said. “Just let us know what time you would like us to be there.” Rabbi Sunshine at the Beth Din – which is a Jewish rabbinical court had other ideas. Rabbi Thunder,  would have been a more suitable name., He needed convincing that Tod was Jewish. Taking his trousers down was not sufficient evidence.  Nor where his parents’ marriage certificate and birth certificates. Or  the fact that Tod’s great grandfather was a New York Rabbi.   They needed the physical evidence. They wanted grandparents birth certificates which we couldn’t locate.

Only when I stormed out of his office proclaiming that we would have a Reform Wedding  — an anathema to orthodox Jews —  that Sunshine relented and gave his permission to marry.

wedding

Amidst bright sunshine in Leicester we stood under a Chuppah and did the deed. So, it is not surprising that I keep abreast of what is happening in the town that I spent 15 years living in. And I am shocked by the reports of slave labour, COVID and criminal negligence in garment factories there.  Rumours of these activities have abounded for quite a while but not investigated. So Alok Sharma why have you not acted earlier? Just another convenient political fuck up.

Too little too late again! Factories are finally under investigation for both furlough fraud and using what can only be termed as slave labour. Some of these factories operated at 100% capacity while on furlough, with poorly ventilated cramped buildings, paying migrant workers very low wages. When one worker applied for statutory sick pay, his boss told him that he would not receive it and ordered him to keep working through the illness. Some workers said they were told to continue working despite testing positive for coronavirus and were warned not to tell anyone. And these migrant  workers  mainly aged 20 – 40 (hence the rise in younger COVID infections in Leicester) are living in cramped housing – some times  40 men in one terraced house.

 
So, it is no wonder that Leicester has a coronavirus spike. But it is not just the bosses that we should blame. So too are those outlets that are aware of the conditions yet continue to buy their clothes from these factories. Why? Because they are cheap.

 

factories 1

And what do we consumers do about this. Well it is like the mask controversy. Supermarkets leave it up to individual choice to decide on whether both staff and shoppers want to wear masks. Consumers are told that our power lies in our personal choices about where we spend our money and we can boycott those clothes chains that use low paid migrant workers. It’s a cop out.  Government should mandate and ensure  that all factories treat their employees fairly and that  masks must be worn at all times when indoors in public places. Why is it so difficult to act responsibly?

“Let’s be careful out there”