The importance of a hug.

Spontaneity and freedom are not the only things we have lost during this pandemic. I was just sitting and thinking about the situation in general when I remembered a conversation with a friend and neighbour some weeks ago. It was about the importance of a hug. Hugging comes naturally to me, being a gesture of true liking, a silent communication which signifies warmth, affection, comfort, friendship and love.

This all started another train of thought. Where did this come from for me? My father always hugged me, my brother did too, as did numerous aunts, uncles and cousins but I have no memory of my mother hugging me but I was hugged by my maternal grandparents. I did spend a great deal of time with them during my young formative years and until she died when I was fifteen, my grandmother lived opposite us. Because the AP worked and my father worked shifts, I usually went to my grandparents after school and during the holidays.

I do remember hugging the AP when I was younger and definitely in later life but I suddenly realised that she never instigated a hug for just the sake of it. She was the receiver of hugs but never a giver of hugs. Except, of course, when she had been particularly nasty she would play ‘the give me a hug’ card which in the end was studiously ignored. That is not what a hug is about .

Is it significant? It certainly explains a great deal about the AP’s character and attitude; she has always expected people to come to her. Her desire to be the centre of attention still continues even in the care home where the AP still tries to play her silly little games.

Fortunately it no longer affects the LSO and myself; we are too removed from the situation now and because of the coronavirus cannot even visit her. A weekly phone call is endured by me rather than enjoyed but whatever the situation it has never affected the way I feel about hugging; there is no doubt the world is a better place after one.

Life in a vacuum.

I actually feel that I can’t breathe properly at the moment. I am in a state of confusion. Why? Well the ‘why’ is because I just have too many grey areas of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ surrounding me.

First there is the coronavirus which has created a vacuum for most people, social distancing, mask wearing and the problems of going out. On it’s own, not so much of a problem that can’t be overcome but then I come to the AP and everything changes.

The home she is in is expensive and because of her total assets she has to be self-funding and her immediate savings are dwindling at a rate of knots despite her pensions going in every month. Although she is 102 years old, frail and definitely dotty she doesn’t fit into any nice little niche for claiming extra money so I am having to contact the County Council for assistance.

The government, in March, instructed all landlords and letting agents to leave tenants in their properties until September even if the tenancy has run out which the AP’s has. The rest of the AP’s care home funding is to come from the sale of her property but even if the rule is lifted in September the tenant has to be given three months notice. Who wants to move over Christmas, heaven only knows when the house can be sold?

In the meanwhile I wait, wait for the Council to come back to me for further details, then I wait, hopefully to hear they will help whilst also waiting to see if the embargo on landlords is lifted, it’s just the uncertainty of it all and it is all so very, very frustrating. When I spoke to the AP on the phone yesterday she came out with the startling revelation that she thought her care in the home was free, that the NHS were paying.

I wish! For over five years we looked after the AP with absolutely no help, in this country there is no place to go, no help given unless you are on the poverty line. It doesn’t matter that you have worked all your life, paid all your taxes, didn’t block beds in the NHS; but is there any recognition of this? No, not a thing, you just go on paying and people like the LSO and myself have to disappear down rabbit holes trying to sort everything out. Now just to put a lid on everything I am being made, by the government, to feel even more uncomfortable because I am overweight and all this just creates an even bigger vacuum. It will take me many, many months in an ideal situation to lose weight but this is not an ideal situation I find myself in.

Did I hear the LSO getting out the wine glasses…..that’ll be a large one for me please!

Confusion.

Had a few bad days lately. I just couldn’t motivate myself to do anything, even cooking so I just lounged around playing word games and endless scrabble in an attempt to turn my thoughts off. The LSO stoically ignored me and busied himself around the garden and his studio which was really the best thing to do, leaving me to mope.

After a full day of moping I decided that I need to address all the problems crowding in on me and maybe that way I can sort myself out. I spoke to the AP the other day and she is fine although very dotty and says she keeps falling over although the carers say she is fine. Apparently there is a man in the care home who she is making coats with and she knew him from Newcastle University days. She recognised him immediately but bearing in mind that she is a hundred and two years of age and virtually blind this is just another dream that seems real to her. Then she changed tack and announced that she was holding a black thing tightly in her hand and when I asked what it was the AP said I knew what it was, they were all in her bed. After this she rambled on asking how my spots were, what spots! This was followed by her asking after the LSO and didn’t he want to come into the home. I asked what she thought he would do and she said ‘well he’s so good looking he’d have to go to the lover’s room’. There really isn’t much to say to that. According to my mother we wouldn’t believe what went on at night and this all then led to her asking for mouthwash which she is convinced someone is stealing along with some rugs she had in there. I explained that the rugs were in the bottom of her wardrobe or certainly were last time we were able to visit. The final part of the conversation was that the care home were having more musical events but people keep spoiling them by climbing onto the veranda and she is having to keep her window locked. Well for a start there are no verandas or balconies and the musical events are usually held downstairs. These conversations leave me extremely bemused and exhausted because it would appear no-one else who rings her gets them. No wonder the gin bottle looks so attractive!

Still, I have to be thankful that she no longer lives with us.

On top of all that we have decided to change our holiday from the middle of September this year to the middle of September next year which is sensible because by then we will be living in the new normal. But it does seem such a long way away but also being serious, I have no desire to be seen in a full Harwell Hasmat suit pulling a portaloo behind us. We cannot even visit our children and their families but then I guess the portaloo might cause a few raised eyebrows in the South East nevermind the full nuclear protection gear.

On a more positive and practical note the LSO has suggested that we hire a skip. We really need to do some sorting out in his shed, the AP’s bedroom and my studio because both have so much junk in them. It’s a good plan.

I am sure these tasks will sort my head out that is until the next phone call with the AP!

Turning the sound down.

During a video conversation with our family at the weekend we inevitably got around to how we were all coping with the current situation. For us it is an unwanted extension of the lifestyle we had to adopt looking after the AP and just as we had finally discovered some freedom. Our daughter was interesting about the effect the lockdown was having on her and the family. The grandchildren and the dog are fine, in fact Fizz has never been a more contented Jack Russell, loving having everyone there. Son-in-law would prefer to be at work and daughter says although she wants to get on with life again she is enjoying some aspects of it all, life is simpler despite having to home school the children but more importantly she says the white noise has gone.

Our son too has found much that is beneficial about working from home despite having a one year old child. He and his wife have found it extremely difficult at times but both say they would prefer to work more this way rather than return full time to the city.

Food for thought and interesting observations that I am sure will be affecting many others in this world. But she is right, the constant buzz that is the lot of a working mother is absolutely mind boggling from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning to falling, exhausted into bed at the end of a long and busy day. White noise is an excellent description for it all.

When the children were younger and I too was a working mum, there was little time left to ponder and the pace was relentless. My only saving grace was being a teacher so I had the same holidays but for the LSO there was never that privilege. In fact holidays were a time when he would try to wind down during the first week then start to wind up again in the second, preparing to hurl himself back into the fray. I just felt I was constantly juggling a multitude of balls at any one time trying to catch the important ones and ignoring those that fell to the ground.

We have never had to live with anything like this before so maybe after all this is over or more settled there can be changes for the better to the way we all live our lives. It certainly would be good to have a choice.

For us, we have just got slower, in fact any slower and we would be in reverse and horizontal. It’s not unpleasant in truth but at our age we need a bit of white noise in our lives to keep us alive. I find myself definitely suffering from that good old manana syndrome, oh tomorrow will be fine, I’ll do whatever it is then!

A brief return to the darkness.

It’s one of those days when I would just love to go to sleep and wake up to find everything is back to the way it was before this virus appeared. Sad really, I have no doubt many people feel the same way but it is a feeling that must be dealt with or it will take over. The LSO is experiencing much the same emotions so we need to help each other over this feeling of depression. We have managed really well with the lockdown until now but I know exactly what triggered all this off; I rang the AP yesterday and whereas the last few calls have been relatively pleasant, if not a little bizarre, yesterday it was a return to the old unpleasant, blackmailing, demanding and controlling person who almost destroyed us.

During this lockdown I had actually managed to feel a tiny element of liking for the AP which had surprised me after the hell she put us through for over five years. But as the LSO said, never let your guard down, she will never change and he’s right because all that happens is you set yourself up for a fall. I have in previous posts explained why I began writing this blog, to somehow cope with the immense emotional stress that she inflicted on me and it did make a difference. It was a bit like counselling, but I had hoped never to feel like this again nor to need to write about the black hole it put me in. Should I be surprised by this, probably not but I guess I live in hope that things might have changed but the LSO is right in what he said, a leopard never changes its spots although this one managed to disguise hers for decades.

Looking on the bright side, at least the AP doesn’t live with us anymore and I need only to telephone, thanks to the lockdown, so there is a plus point to the whole situation!

I did question yesterday why do I bother? Well I guess, simply put, I never, never want to be like the AP.

A chimera.

A few days ago the LSO and I were sitting outside enjoying a glass of wine and the coolness of the evening air, gazing at the clouds and the shapes they formed in the sky. One particular cloud bore a resemblance to a large ethereal dragon and this made me think of a chimera, a mythical dragon-like creature with the tail ending in the head of a dragon or snake. The appearance of a chimera was considered an ill omen and a sign of natural disasters to come. Can this virus be a natural disaster? It’s certainly cutting a swathe through the world and sadly looks as if could be with us for the foreseeable future.

I cannot imagine what it will be like to socially distance all the time especially with our own family because hugs were always the order of the day and a natural part of our relationships with each other that both the LSO and I miss so much at the moment. But the more I read about this Coronavirus the more obvious it becomes that it will become part of our daily lives.

It has made me think much harder about losing weight because for the past eight weeks I have endeavoured to make our diet as interesting and as comforting as possible which has inevitably meant an increase in baking and an overload of carbs. The time spent preparing and cooking passes the time too which is another negative aspect of endless lockdown for people of our age, boredom. I have really struggled this week with the days, never quite sure when I wake up in the morning just what day it is. The only point of reference is the weekly shopping delivery on a Wednesday. I feel a bit like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey who asked ‘What is a weekend’ and as for bank holidays, what on earth are they?

But I really do need to lose weight as I am beginning to feel and look like a Toby jug. So what is the answer apart from finding some will power because at the moment there is little to look forward to, just more of the same. It is always easier to diet if there is a goal, that is other than the loss of pounds at a weigh-in and at the moment life is pretty much lacking in that area.

One of the spin-offs from losing over five years of our lives looking after the AP was that we both lost interest in the activities and hobbies that had become part of our retirement. The LSO has done well to start his lino printing up again. I used to draw and paint, not particularly well but I enjoyed it and I am trying to get back to spending time sketching to begin with because my studio has become a storeroom and needs clearing out. Once some slightly cooler weather comes, next week, I must persuade the LSO to give me a hand. I will have to send him in as the advance guard because spiders have taken up residence in there and I have a real horror of these mostly harmless creatures.

So it is a case of watch this space, by the time I write again my studio should be up and running and perhaps the weight-loss will have begun.

The reality.

I woke up this morning feeling a bit down, no reason for it, just felt under par. Slept well so that’s not the problem so why do I feel like this? I guess it’s a combination of things which I am sure will be affecting everyone at the moment while existing in this surreal and wholly unnatural situation.

It isn’t so much that the LSO and I want to necessarily travel, go on holiday, see friends, go back to swimming, go fishing, enjoy time with the family, enjoy meals out, invite people to our home, sit in the garden on a warm Spring day enjoying a chat and a drink with friends and neighbours, decide to pop out to do a bit of shopping or drive up to the coast and walk the dogs along the beach. No, it’s not any of that, it would just be good to know we could do all those things if we wanted to.

I don’t think the woolly instructions from the powers that be help either. It was extremely clear at the beginning of this lockdown what we could and couldn’t do and although difficult, most people understood why and complied with the rules, now it is just a mess. People can travel any distance anywhere in England for a day trip only. That’s great advice so spread that virus around England’s beauty spots because there are no pubs or restaurants open and social distancing is supposed to still to be practiced. Sensibly most of these areas don’t want visitors because it’s not as if everything is back to normal or even as is constantly being said, a new normal. I am hugely glad that I don’t have to travel work in a big city but for those who have no choice it must be very worrying.

All this when we are also being told that holidays are on hold and the uncertainty surrounding the opening of schools must be driving parents of young children mad. Would I have wanted my children back at school at the moment? I just don’t know and it is this uncertainty about everything that sits so uncomfortably at the back of my mind except for this morning when it was very much in the forefront of my thoughts.

Another week, another pound on.

Some things are just inevitable and no matter how much you hope something won’t happen it does and it will. The local practice has put out a letter of warning saying that we have been behind the the rest of the country up until now but finally the village has some cases of Covid-19 appearing in the community.

It was going to arrive but I think we all hoped in our hearts that we might have managed to avoid it. Certainly some of the younger members of the community have been ignoring social distancing probably because they think they are bomb-proof as well as some of the older locals. Inevitably the warm sunshine is difficult to ignore and many have chosen to sit out during the more balmy days on the banks of the river that runs through the village. Sadly it’s understandable but not sensible. It really will be a case of watch this space now.

The village is close knit and there are many extended families. Most of the local people tend to live and work close to where they were born and brought up which I guess is quite common in a farming community. The village community is pretty well divided evenly between locals and newcomers and generally it works. But the village people are sub-divided into the farmers and those who work in other industries many of which have a connection to farming. Very few of the young people move on or go into higher education preferring to just follow in the family footsteps.

This does make them a bit insular and they really do believe it will never happen to them but we now have patches of the virus springing up all over the area. The lovely sunny weather does make this lockdown more difficult to endure for a great many people who have been used to heading for the coast or out to restaurants and pubs at weekends and Bank Holidays. But we just have to hope that common sense rules.

In the meanwhile I am beginning to look like a cross between Worsel Gummidge and the Weebles. My hair is getting longer by the day and the cooking regime is definitely not Keto or low carb with my willpower firmly out the window but I have enjoyed resurrecting recipes I cooked when the children were small such as quiches, cheese scones and the good old Victoria sandwich cake. We even ate homemade scampi in a light, crisp tempura batter the other evening and it was delicious with a side of asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and baked in the oven and small new potatoes.

But I know I must get my head around losing some weight so after a very short discussion with the LSO we decided to reduce portion sizes for starters. No sudden moves, its bad enough waking up wondering what day it is without adding to the stress of worrying about what is right to eat. One of the problems with this lockdown is the need to have a focus in the day and for us it is the morning coffee with a slice of cake or a biscuit, a lunch that is not too demanding then the evening meal preceded by a G&T or two for me and a beer or two for the LSO and then wine with the food.

I managed to forget the afternoon cup of tea with a scone or a piece of fruit cake. Oh dear no wonder I am expanding.

It’s truly biblical.

Today I found myself standing in the hallway looking intently at nothing in particular and humming that banal little ditty ‘I want to go a-wandering among the hills so green’. Now that is worrying and obviously deeply psychological. What shall I do? First things first, decide what to have for lunch since the decision has already been made for dinner tonight. At the moment I don’t feel like cooking so it’ll be pasta with tomato and chilli sauce. Well that’s another decision made but lunch isn’t for another two hours or so, how shall I fill the space before then?

How many of us around the world are feeling the same? Thousands possibly even millions of people I would imagine trapped in this strange limbo land.

For the LSO and myself this will be a long haul because of our age whilst those younger and less at risk will eventually be able to go out as long as they keep socially distancing. It’s going to be a slow process and I wonder how much will actually change hopefully for the better. I am not so much bored as feeling trapped. Having been trapped for over five years whilst looking after the AP we really had found our freedom only to have it taken away again.

The LSO would like to be sitting on a riverbank watching a small red float drifting past lily pads but I just would like to feel that I can go out at a whim. Perhaps shopping or to lunch or meet up with a group of friends, see the family. Now that really is a miss. The grandchildren are all growing up, our own children are growing older as we are and we can’t visit them or them us. Then just to rub salt into the wound when eventually we can meet up we can’t even cuddle or hug any of them. Cruel world indeed.

I had an email from a friend in Australia who has survived the drought, the terrifying fires, then the floods and now this. It is all truly biblical and I keep looking out to see if we have a plague of locusts approaching. That reminded me of an occasion when the LSO and myself were visiting friends in North Norfolk in 2011 and we heard something like hailstones hitting the car. They were in fact Ladybirds and there were thousands of them. People were rushing around trying to brush them out of their hair and there were piles of these insects lying in the gutters. When we reached our friend’s house we scurried indoors to find the lights on because the windows were black with these invaders, apparently the swarms had been blown across the Channel from Europe.

I have since discovered that these foreign insects are responsible for the demise of our own native species.

All food for thought.

Keep hope close.

Hope. There are so many meanings for that small four-lettered word. It can mean something that you want to happen; it can be a feeling that good things are coming or you can be given hope. As a verb it can mean to strive for or wish for something in the future. At the moment all we can hope for is an end to this pandemic and hope that the world will be a better place for everyone.

In the meanwhile I find myself dwelling on the need to keep to a sensible diet mostly because I don’t want to see the LSO having to open the double doors to get me outside when this is all over. The diet has to have some special features because these are unprecedented times. For instance I need to bake but why do I need to bake? I guess it’s a way of coping with adversity and it is a very therapeutic exercise from the preparation through to the cooking and then the end product also the LSO loves eating them so I feel I have fulfilled some of my wifely duties. Inevitably I need to sample these luscious morsels, just to test them of course but that is never going to be a useful addition to a weight loss diet.

I have always loved cookery books and have rather a large collection which tends to spread around the house but I can read them like others read a magazine. Cooking is alchemy and I enjoy sampling foods and flavours from around the world and on top of that it really is fun. My kitchen cupboards are full of spices, flavourings and sauces for all manner of different dishes and my latest book by Yottam Ottolengi is just a joy. I find cooking a calming exercise and even get enormous pleasure from seeing the colours of a mirepoix of vegetables sautéing in a pan. My first thought of the day is usually what will we eat today and I can spend happy hours reading recipes and trawling the internet if the books don’t help.

That of course, brings me back to the beginning of this post, the inevitable need to hope that I will find a balance with food and enjoyment that answers all the problems that occur during this lockdown.