There can be no doubt whatsoever that Coronavirus has changed the way that we all live. It will, I imagine, change our lifestyles for a long time to come too. Here in the UK, we’ve been locked down, witnessed food (and toilet roll) shortages due to panic buying on a mass scale and queues to get into the supermarket, clapped in unison to show some kind of appreciation for the NHS and watched news bulletins in horror as the death toll rose from dozens to hundreds and into the thousands. We’ve also learnt a new world – furlough (And I refuse to believe you if you’re telling me you knew what it meant before this point in history)!
Lockdown has brought strain on families all over the planet and we’ve had to find new ways to ease our mental stress. Me? I’ve taken to sneaking off from the stress if need be. Sometimes I’ll simply retire to one of my kids’ bedrooms to read or quietly head outside into the garden to escape the arguments or the tension. Just don’t tell anyone! Stealth, that’s the key.
Away from missing family, friends, socialising, normality, pubs, restaurants, regular haircuts and all manner of other downsides, lockdown has had its plus points. There have been shards of light in amongst the dark of the chaos. So I thought I’d try for a bit of a list of some of the highlights of lockdown. The brighter side of the gloom, if you like.
First up in a list with no particular order, is a Twitter hashtag that has become something of a phenomenon. Let me do my best to explain. Tim Burgess is the legendary frontman with the British band The Charlatans. If you know of the band or have encountered Tim in any way, you’ll know that he’s simply a lovely chap and that The Charlatans are a fantastic band. Tim says he started the listening parties because he was struggling to write songs and since then it’s just grown and grown.
So what happens? Well, an album is chosen to be played and at a specified time, if you want to, you play it and listen along. Everyone listens together and if you want to comment on Twitter you just add the hashtag and post. The added bonus is that there will always be one of the artists responsible joining in and posting comments and anecdotes about the album as it plays. Genius really! A simple idea, but one that’s pretty much guaranteed to lift your spirits.
So far we’ve had artists from Blur and Oasis to Sleaford Mods, Orbital, The Hold Steady, Grandaddy, Glavegas and Aztec Camera. There’s always a diverse mix and on almost any night of the week you can find something that takes your interest. In terms of lockdown positives, it’s certainly up there with the best of them. I’ve ‘taken part’ in quite a few now and it’s a brilliant alternative to what have become lockdown staples such as sitting reading or just finding myself slumped in front of the TV again! It’s amazing what hearing an album in this context can do for your frame of mind and sharing your experiences or views on tracks is a brilliant way of listening. If you haven’t joined the movement, but fancy a go, go to http://www.timstwitterlisteningparty.com or follow @Tim_Burgess for updates to see if there’s anything that piques your interest!
I’ve wanted to listen to podcasts for some time now. However, a busy lifestyle combined with my luddite outlook on technology has left me extremely far behind. Now though, with added time on my hands and in the midst of the battle against boredom, I went and did a bit of reading in order to find out more about something that I’d actually discovered years ago. Turns out it’s been there, more or less at the click of a button, all this time!
So what have I been listening too? Well, being obsessed with football, I’ve been focusing there really. As a Newcastle fan it’s been interesting to tune into the ‘All With Smiling Faces’ podcast as well as The Athletic’s Newcastle focused effort, ‘Pod on The Tyne’. At the moment the club is in the process of hopefully being taken over by incredibly wealthy people and the boost to the local area as well as to the club itself have given the pod participants a lot to talk about. It’s intriguing also to listen for any insight anyone might be able to give on the aforementioned takeover.
I’ve also caught up with some of the very popular ‘That Peter Crouch Podcast’. As well as being something of a popular cult figure in Premier League history, Mr. Crouch is also a very funny man and his podcasts have been really entertaining, giving some light relief in these rather dark times. And then there’s the Match of The Day Top Ten podcasts, featuring Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and the greatest striker of them all, Alan Shearer.
My final podcast port of call so far has been Bob Mortimer’s brilliant ‘Athletico Mince’. What started off as a football podcast has now metamorphosed into something far more surreal. Listening to characters like the Alderman and Barry C Homeowner has definitely livened up my mornings and if you like a laugh, I’d definitely recommend it.
As lockdown enters whatever week it might now be – I’ve lost count – I’ll be searching out more podcasts to listen to. I mean, having spent years thinking that they were beyond my technological know-how, this particular gift still has a lot to give!
Curiously, for a teacher, I’ve found that home-schooling has been a highlight of my time spent in isolation. It’s not all been plain-sailing, but I’ve really enjoyed the adventure so far. I’ve mainly worked with my son, as my high school age daughter has been getting lessons sent through remotely, and dipping my teaching toe into the primary world has been quite illuminating. Suddenly finding myself faced with the kind of grammar tasks that I haven’t had to tackle in years has been a bit of a re-education in itself. As well as my actual subject – English – I’ve been teaching him History and Geography as well as learning Spanish with him via the Duolingo app. How’s the Spanish going, you say? Muy bueno, pero tengo un blog para escribir. (Very good, but I have a blog to write!)
Without such variety to my day I’m not sure I’d have been half as happy during lockdown. The draw of the TV is still strong in our house and that’s before you even think about social media. But no doubt, without home-schooling, I’d have been slumped in an armchair for far too long each day and possibly piling on the pounds!
Another lockdown highlight is linked to home-schooling and is also something that I’ve blogged about previously. I’m back on to talking about The Bodycoach, Joe Wicks, I’m afraid! Since the closure of schools I’ve completed a Joe Wicks workout on every weekday. As I write, that’s 44 workouts on the trot! (Update – I completed my 50th on Friday). I’ve surprised myself by how much I’ve enjoyed it. Some days it hurts and then on other days, it feels relatively easy. But I enjoy every one of them and once it’s done I’m finding that I’m set for the rest of the day and in general, feeling pretty positive.
I’ve been introduced to a whole new world and a whole new language too. While I knew of the horror of burpees from my school days, exercises and labels like Spiderman lunges, duck walks, up down planks and bicycle crunches have all been a revelation to me. Every morning I tune into YouTube at 9am and throw myself into whatever workout Joe decides upon. As I do it I’m scanning his front room for the Spot The Difference competition and wracking my brain to come up with the answers in the quiz. In short, I’m having loads of fun.
We’re into our 10th week of #PEWithJoe now and, as I’ve stated before in blogs, I’m just as determined as ever to keep going and get extremely fit. In the recent past I’ve suffered with a heart problem and so, as well as the virus, I feel like I’m fighting just to enjoy a better quality of life. The fitter I am, the better.
I’m seeing my body change shape too. Having winced at photos of me from past beach holidays, sporting more of a beer gut than I allowed myself to admit to, it’s miraculous to see actual stomach muscles emerging. Especially for a man of my age! Even my legs are getting bigger, which as someone who’d accepted his pipe cleaners as being as good as they were ever going to get, well it’s amazing. PEWithJoe, and on a few occasions with his wife Rosie and young kids, has been a real game changer for me and it’s safe to see that this highlight of lockdown has left me fitter, stronger and happier.
As dull as it’s been at times, I can’t deny that lockdown has left me with a lot of time on my hands. Even factoring in the time spent doing actual work, I’ve still had time to do lots of great things. And the bonus has been how simple they’ve been.
Initially, we were blessed with great weather. And so, in a flurry of activity I found myself regularly out in the back garden wielding a paintbrush and a pot of fence paint. In no time at all, my fence panels were looking shiny and new and my sheds were painted beautifully. Then it was time to start on the garden furniture, which was all sanded down ready to paint within days. My biggest error was to then switch my attention to the garden as several weeks later the furniture is still patiently awaiting a wax and probably needs to be sanded and washed again as a result! I’ll say it again though, time is something I’ve got lots of.
Having time on my hands has proved dangerous as well though. Not only have I written some very silly poetry, but I’ve also finally been able to find time to film videos; one of me reading one of my poems and the other a parody video of a teacher character that I’d written stuff for a while ago. The response has been great, to be fair, but I’m almost ashamed – again, as a man of my age – to say I’m spent hours filing videos of myself essentially messing about! Good fun though! And even though views were relatively modest in number, it was nice to see people sharing the poetry video and commenting on the fact that they’d really enjoyed it. I mean, everybody likes an ego boost, right?
Another brilliant development in lockdown has been the amount of time I’ve found to just read. It sounds nothing special, but it’s been genuinely refreshing. Usually, with a busy work and family life to contend with reading is literally squeezed in to merely a few minutes of the day. It’s not uncommon for me to be grabbing the opportunity to read a couple of paragraphs at a time. And I’m a big reader, always have been. So it’s been painful to watch as my ‘to-read’ pile has increased to around 5 boxes worth of books. However, I’ve always loved the look of books and even the feel of them in my hands. As a kid, when the other kids were out socialising and just generally being popular if I wasn’t playing football, I could generally be found in our local library, unless I was in the nearby record store! It’s terrifically sad, I know!
The last 8 or 9 weeks have meant that in the time it usually takes me to read one book, I must have read around 4 or 5. And my pile of newspapers and magazines has reduced dramatically too. I can’t begin to express how much of a luxury it is to have a spare half hour to just lie on our bed and read a book! It’s certainly made to being largely confined to the house a great deal more tolerable!
There’s no doubt that during the times that we’re all currently living through it’s important to try and find the positives. I’m usually quite a cynical person and definitely not an advocate of the idea that we should all be out relaxing and taking time to smell the flowers or putting candles on while we have a rose petal filled bath. However, I’ve found that lockdown has at least allowed me to pause a bit and in a strange way, enjoy life away from the pressures of work and deadlines and a hectic schedule. In the midst of a global pandemic, maybe just staying alive is really quite enough.