Poetry Blog: Isolation

Welcome along to another poetry blog. I won’t bang on too long about this one, because I’ve blogged a few times recently about the fact that we’ve been isolating for ten days after my son and wife tested positive for Covid-19. And this is where these poems have come from. Simple enough.

What’s safe to say though is that this post is very much a first for me. This post contains three poems, something that I’ve never done before in a single blog. I had intended to try and write a poem a day for the time that we were isolating, but quickly realised that what I’d end up with was probably two poems that I liked and 8 absolute duffers.

I ended up writing three poems, all connected to our isolation period. My first one came about for a combination of reasons. Firstly, I was feeling quite shocked about the two positive tests that had happened in our house and while spending the first couple of days largely on my own, had a lot of time to think. Secondly, the Facebook group I formed last April called Lockdown Literature, was somewhere where I hadn’t posted anything in a long time, so when I wrote the first poem quite quickly as a one draft piece, I wanted to post it there as a way of informing friends of what was going on. Only when I wrote the second one did I have the idea for the blog. The third one? Well, that was the result of a head full of ideas and the need for one more poem to complete the hat-trick!

Here’s the first poem, written shortly after we’d found out about the two positive tests.

Ten Days

We've done this so many times before
that I perform a cartoonish double take
as those two lines appear where there should be one.
And although one is barely there, it's still a second stripe, an alarm that stops rather than starts.

A moment stretches out in front of me 
as I struggle to react, to comprehend, before the
adult in me reaches up, takes over and my mind
begins to crunch reluctantly through the gears
that will help me protect you.

More tests are booked, the coming days organised, rest is ordered, distance
kept.

Ten days to get through. Ten days to check on you both as you sleep. Ten days to worry on the inside, but paint a calm picture on the out.

The second poem is about watching my wife through our dining room window as she sat outside in the fresh air and what we laughingly refer to as sun in West Yorkshire at this time of year. It was a few days into our period of isolation and a relief to see that she had the energy to go out, a relief to see that she was smiling once more. It had only been a matter of days that she’d been ill for and it would last a short while longer, but given the death toll and the horror stories that we’ve seen and heard throughout the pandemic, it was a lovely moment.

Fresh Air

It's funny how, despite the myriad cures and treatments 
prescribed by those who know best,
we still insist that fresh air is the cure for all that ails.

I watch you both, furtively through the window,
part concern, part inquisitive and
partly just because it makes me smile.

Despite the late afternoon sun dappling the table
you're wrapped up for winter, for a moment comical,
with your hood up. But then your vulnerability 
returns in sharp focus and I'm stopped in my tracks.

Fresh air won't loosen this deadly grip,
won't work any kind of magic. And so, I monitor,
shoulder the burden, cook beige teas and hoover to stay busy,
keep my mind from wandering too far down darkened streets,
watching from a window as you shiver but smile.

My final isolation poem is one that I fear may come across as pretentious. That’s definitely not the intention though. It was born out of the fact that we’ve had to work hard to avoid each other over the last ten or 12 days. There have been lots of moments where we pause and indicate ‘after you’ or just make eye contact in order to tell the other person which direction we’re headed. It’s been a kind of family friendly isolation and it just occurred to me that it’s been a bit like one long dance. This has mainly involved myself and my wife and it’s been never more apparent than last thing at night when we clean our teeth. We have a small bathroom and so have had to move around carefully in order to keep a safe distance from each other – a kind of cross between an amateur ballet and something out of a fight scene from The Matrix. I suppose we could have just brushed our teeth at different times, but then I couldn’t have written my pretentious poem. Anyway, here it is.

An Isolation Ballet

Little do we know it, but we've performed some kind of ballet this last week.
Two parts grace, one part paranoia, several parts a combination of
fatigue and sleepwalking.
We've picked a path around each room and each other carefully, reluctantly,
traversed two metres apart performing the every day 
routines and collapsed in synergy, separately
at the end of each day.

The discipline has been exhausting as we plie and pirouette 
our way through each hour of a ten day performance of avoidance
in search of some kind of security on our sanitised stage.
There are strange frozen moments, essential for safety, adding
to the drama and prompting the odd grin or burst of laughter at the 
sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Sometimes we don't even need to look as we move,
cautiously yet gracefully navigating space, just sensing the other 
and squeezing ourselves into a safe space.
This is not truly a ballet, a thing of beauty, but what we deem
necessary, vital as we dance apart, to stay together,
to remain safe.

So there you have it. The end to a difficult period of time in our house, although I think in terms of actual health it’ll take weeks, perhaps even months to adjust properly. The positive tests came at a time when I thought the threat had probably passed. I wasn’t ready for them. Not that I think I ever would have been, but at least when we were in the eye of the storm of Covid, say in the period between May last year and January of this, I had at least primed myself to expect the worst. Lately, as things have returned to being quite close to some sort of normality again, I had allowed myself the luxury of thinking that perhaps we’d got away with it. And of course we hadn’t.

I hope the poems haven’t seemed too indulgent or exploitative of the people involved or the situation. I think I just had to communicate what was going on somehow and writing it down is good when you’re being kept away from everyone else.

I hope you enjoyed what you’ve read. As ever, feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Ten Days: an Isolation update.

I wrote a little blog last week about the horrible time we’d had in our house once not one, but two of our family tested positive for Covid-19. There’s a link below, if you fancy a bit of misery! Well, given that we’re still isolating, albeit nearly at the end of our time as a house of hermits, I thought I’d write a little update.

Ironically, it’s not been a positive week at all.

It’s now the Friday after the Wednesday before and it’s been a tiring week, to say the least. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve washed or sanitised my hands and have spent much of the week alone, yet with three other people living in the house. I wouldn’t recommend it.

This time last week we were in the car – a wonderful place to be with two people who’ve just tested positive for any virus, let me tell you – heading to a drive in test centre on the outskirts of Leeds. We would still be in the car couple of hours later, at a third test centre after a mix up with the system led to us basically embarking on some kind of grand tour of some of the less salubrious bits of our locality. Believe me, you’ve not lived until you’ve driven down a dead end street in Beeston to be confronted by someone sat in the gutter in their pyjamas looking less than enthusiastic about life, yet somehow oblivious to your car performing a hasty three point turn and screeched getaway. And while I don’t wish to be too ‘judgy’ I suspect the involvement of drugs.

Tests duly taken, the two positive results were confirmed the day after and so began a week extreme caution, constant alert and an undeniable sense of paranoia. Oh, and from a purely selfish point of view, it’s been a week when I haven’t been able to get out for a run, which has felt horrible and also means that when I do get back out, it’s going to hurt! I haven’t exercised and I’ve had a beer almost every night, so I’m preparing myself for a painful 10k sometime soon!

We decided very quickly that we wouldn’t be able to isolate fully. This was going to have to be an isolation from the outside world, rather than one where two people were locked away in bedrooms and I waited on them. This wasn’t me shirking responsibility, more the need for the four of us to stick together as a family. When one of the ‘positives’ is an 11-year-old boy and the other his mum, locking them away just didn’t seem to be fair.

So we’ve spent the week opening doors with sleeves over our hands, bottles of hand sanitiser dotted around the place and, worst of all, relying on me to do the majority of the cooking. That said, when my wife was feeling up to it she took over those duties, mainly to stop the rest of us from suffering. We’ve also developed a very delicate way of maneuvering around the house in almost balletic fashion, avoiding getting too close to each other, remaining vigilant, taut and balanced; keeping a more than safe distance without appearing too rude to the other person. It’s been a difficult thing to do and I must admit, it’s made me feel pretty terrible. When you can’t hug your wife or children before they go to bed, it’s a horrible feeling.

In order to confront a big issue with contact, I decided that I’d sleep downstairs in our living room for the whole of the isolation period. Sharing a bed and a confined space just seemed like a silly idea and an invitation for the virus to send me multiple invites to its nasty little party.

I spent the first night with only a few blankets for a mattress and a couple of dressing gowns for covers, due to the fact that we had to make our arrangements late and remembered that our camping mattresses were locked away in a shed. That particular luxury would have to wait until daylight hours. Suffice to say, I woke up on Thursday morning feeling like I’d been away on a two week stag do in Eastern Europe…and decided to run home to save money on a flight. Not a great start, but the inflatable mattress has somewhat alleviated the problem.

I’ve found however, that sleeping so close to the floor is not so good for my asthma and while I’ve slept quite well most nights, I’ve still woke up the next day feeling various shades of rough! For the first few nights I secretly popped upstairs to check on my patients in the small hours, standing in the dark just listening to their breathing in order to calm myself. Not a nice place to be. That said, had either of them woke up and switched on a light, I’m sure the sight of me would have been just as traumatic.

My wife and son have recovered in varying levels across the week. My son; young, fit, healthy, has been relatively OK. While his first few days were worrying to watch, his latter part of the week has just seen him look a bit more tired than usual and with the occasional headache. If you’re going to get Coronavirus, get it when you’re 11, seems to be the way forward here. My wife has been worse and it’s been hard to watch. She’s always been so healthy and so watching a shadow of the person I love shuffling round the house has not been good. And there’s not a lot I can do. She’s been nauseous, extremely tired and suffered terrible headaches. There were times in the first few days when I’d pop to our bedroom to check on her to find her passed out on our bed. Sleeping, but positioned as if she’d just fallen and gone out cold. So at that point, things were a bit worrying.

My son testing positive meant that several of his friends had to isolate too and some of them played for the same football team. This is the very same football team that I coach. So, with a game to come within a week, I contacted the opposition coach, who also happens to be kind of a big deal in our league, in order to try and reschedule our game. We were faced with having to play with 8 players at most in a 9-a-side game, after all. Simple decision, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong and then after that, wronger. I actually spent the next three days, messaging and emailing back and forth with various people and basically pointing out how ridiculous it would be to ask us to go ahead with the game. In the end I made them see sense, but only after a monumental amount of time and effort. Ridiculous really, but we got what we wanted in the end. As id to emphasis the need to reschedule, the game would have been last night and we trained instead with the friend who helps out taking the session. We had more players drop out and the session had 5 players taking part. So we would have had to try and play a game with 5 players!

As a result of all the unnecessary fuss, I can’t wait to see the opposition coach when we do play, as he seemed to be hell-bent on denying us the chance to just compete on equal terms. I expect he’s made the game take on much more meaning and importance than it ever had! All this for a game of Under 12s football! And all this while my son and wife were very ill.

So, in among all of the positive test news and the poorly people, this little bit of side-tracking just wasn’t needed. Meanwhile, after a fraught weekend, it was now Monday and my patients were beginning to show signs of recovery. Which was nice.

Monday meant more Teams teaching for me – a Year 11 lesson and one with Year 9. And on Monday, this felt like quite a nice novelty really. Fast forward a day and I was tiring fast. Peering into a laptop screen and attempting to teach a class while self-consciously looking at yourself on screen was little or no fun. And boy was it hard work. I quickly lost count of the amount of times I was having to repeat the on screen instructions or explain that, no I wasn’t going to be able to come into work. No matter how many times the phrase ‘self-isolation’ was mentioned, it just didn’t seem to hit home!

By Wednesday it was taking ten minutes for a class to write the date, title and learning purpose and I was shattered with the confusion of it all. Working from home has always sounded such a nice prospect, but the reality for me was that it was exhausting and incredibly frustrating. While attempting to teach my classes I have been having to jump off the call from time to time to check on my two poorly people as well as my isolating daughter and her school work. Working from home has been the least favourite part of my week.

We arrived at Thursday and I decided that a lie in was needed. My own Thursday promised to be a bit more relaxed as I didn’t have a class in the morning and because of Eid, my afternoon group were being collapsed into another, meaning in all likelihood, a free afternoon as well. Oh, and before people think that I got up late, my lie in was until 6.45am, just so we’re clear!

The morning was pleasantly sunny and my wife seemed to be feeling a lot better, albeit it in a Covid relative kind of way. She was even going to attempt some work, something that she’d done on a number of occasions during the week and that had made her decidedly ill along the way. But, taking the sun as some kind of optimistic cue, she set herself up in our bedroom (or for this week only, her bedroom) and got to work. Meanwhile, I got the lawnmower out and cut our back lawn, wrestling (not literally) with various types of animal poo along the way – I think some is cat poo, but have been left wondering if we may have a fox visiting at night times as well.

I got a lot done on Thursday, including having a socially distanced chat with a friend on our driveway, which to be honest, was a bit bizarre. Just the experience of talking to someone (who by the way, I’d spoken to only last week, as he helps me with the coaching of the football team) who wasn’t in our house was both strange and exciting.

By the way, my wife’s work on Thursday ended up with her lying prostrate on our bed with her head covered in a duvet, exhausted and suffering from everything being too bright. I discovered this when I popped up to ask her not to push herself too far. It seems I missed the deadline by about 30 minutes and she’d had just about enough strength left to put the laptop on the floor before she just flaked out. It’s clear that the virus still has a bit of a hold on her.

And so to today, Friday. The two patients are doing as well as can be expected. My son in fact, who comes out of isolation today, seems very much over the virus. In fact, I can hear him now jumping around in the front room while playing X-Box, while shouting at the television. So, touch wood, he’s beaten Covid-19. My wife is working upstairs, but pacing herself. She looks tired, but doesn’t seem to be suffering the headaches, the dizziness, the nausea or anything else that has punctuated her week.

Hopefully, we’re well and truly over the worst. Everyone is very tired, but we’re all looking forward to finding our way back to some sense of normality. I desperately want to be able to hug my wife and son once again. Myself and my son are also looking forward to Sunday and our next game with our football team. We still can’t go out to do the food shopping and I’m going to stick with my cautious approach and stay sleeping downstairs for a little while longer. But things are starting to look a little more normal.

As I type though, there are reports in the U.K. that the Indian strain of the virus is beginning to make quite an imprint here. I’m fairly sure that there’s a Prime Minister’s briefing live on TV tonight with speculation of some kind of further lockdown to come. We’ll wait and see.

Just when you think things are getting back to normal, some other kind of shit hits the fan. That seems to be just the way life is nowadays. I sincerely hope we can get through it all once again.

I have to finish with some thank yous. I’ll start with my work colleagues and friends who have made my week a great deal easier. Resources have been provided for my classes, Teams calls set up, worries alleviated left, right and centre and regular messages sent that have calmed me down no end. Thanks Big Sisters! I also have to say a huge thank my friends David and Sarah who have checked in electronically across the course of the week and just made me and my wife feel better about things. The best friends you could hope for! When we finally do catch up, that’s going to be one hell of a moan-fest! Thanks also to Nigel, my partner in crime at football, who has kept things running as smoothly as possible and gone out of his way to do so. And thanks to anyone who’s a Facebook, Twitter or Blog friend; I’ve received some lovely messages this week.

I hope you enjoy the blog.

Ironically, it’s not been a positive week at all.

It’s been a ‘helluva’ week. I know that’s not the correct spelling or grammar, but it’s how the cool people would have put it, I imagine, so I thought I’d give it a go.

So let me tell you all about it…

Firstly, we’ll cut to the chase (cool language again, I know). On Wednesday night my 11-year-old son tested positive for Covid-19. Then, feeling poorly overnight, my wife took a test on Thursday morning and also tested positive. Now, I know they’re not the first people affected by this. It’s been quite the big thing, as I recall. But it’s never got so personal until now and it’s kind of disrupted the week! The thing we had feared for over a year finally happened, just when it looked like there wasn’t much chance of it happening anymore!

It’s now Saturday, so for three(ish) days I’ve been running around trying to look after the poorly people in the house as well as my 14-year-old daughter. I’m knackered. They’re knackered too, obviously.

Chronologically speaking, we started the week on Monday. Not just us, by the way. You too, dear reader. Everybody. I’m definitely not claiming any exclusivity on Monday as the start of the week. As it is, Monday came and went quite well really. I did a day at work in a job I love, taught two of my favourite classes and then had a reasonably early finish and headed home. I suppose there was a sign of the week to come when the student teacher I’m mentoring didn’t come into work and neglected to tell me she was absent. Damn my psychic powers. They obviously don’t kick in until Tuesdays when you get a bit older. Positively though, we had fish fingers and chips (and beans, as you ask; you have to have beans in that particular mix) for tea and selfishly, my son showed no signs of Covid. Clearly he hasn’t heard of the idea that forewarned is forearmed.

So undetected were his symptoms that he played a full game of football for our team on Tuesday night. This was another negative moment in our Positive week. It absolutely threw it down with rain. We were playing the team that are currently second top of our league and who had previously beaten us 7-1 earlier in the season. Inevitably, we lost. We were absolutely magnificent and perhaps could have won it, but we lost. And we all got soaked. Despite wearing 5 layers on my top half and two on the bottom (steady on ladies…and gents…it’s 2021 after all) I was soaked to the skin. I assume everyone else was too, but it seemed like too much of an intrusive question to ask. And to re-iterate, my probably Covid carrying, yet no symptoms son ran around like a mad thing for an hour, getting pushed and kicked every few minutes by members of a very physical opposition.

He felt tired and sick the next day – no Covid symptoms though – and so when we did our lateral flow tests that night, it was quite a shock to see his read as positive. He’s tiny. He’s eleven. He had contracted a virus that kills.

And so began a whirlwind of activity. Myself and my wife – herself now starting to feel tired and sick – rang, texted and interneted (I don’t know if that’s a verb, but if it isn’t, I’ve just invented it) and organised a PCR test for my son, as well as informing the school of the positive and several parents that their kids would be most likely be isolating for the next ten days. It all felt great. (That’s sarcasm by the way. It actually felt shit.)

I slept on the floor that night with just a duvet and some blankets for a mattress and some dressing gowns for blankets, having forgotten that our blow up mattress was in the shed. I’ve slept on the floor – albeit with the mattress – since (organise my medal now someone; I have been a very brave boy). Each night, when I’ve woken I’ve headed upstairs to check on my two patients, such is the worry that this while thing brings.

On Thursday morning, feeling very unwell, my wife did a lateral flow test and, surprise, surprise, it came back positive. We promptly organised a PCR test to confirm it, but couldn’t get the same venue as for my son’s. Heads spinning – not literally; don’t worry it doesn’t do that to you – we headed out to get to the first test. And in yet another positive, we ended up at three centres after the first one was shut for use as a polling station for local elections and the second one couldn’t fit my wife in (to their schedule, not their room, she’s tiny). So we headed for an entirely different town, getting lost in the one way system first of all before eventually, hours after we’d first set out, my wife and son were able to take their tests.

At a couple of points on Thursday I went to check on my wife to find her literally collapsed on our bed, like she’d been sitting up, but passed out. On one of those occasions, such was her body shape, that all it would have taken was a chalk outline and some stripy police tape to make it look like a convincing murder scene. Scary stuff. Friday was much the same. Oh and I had to make dinner and tea on both days, so could someone organise another medal for me, please? I mean, I’ve been forced to drink beer every night, just to cope…

So caught up in it all was I, that on Friday night, I forgot that my football team were playing and only tuned in to watch about 25 minutes after kick-off. Excuse my language, but we were fucking wonderful. However, when each of our four goals went in, I was forced to completely subdue my usual loud celebrations for fear of hurting the poorly heads of our two positives. Whoever’s organising the medals, get me a trophy as well.

And now, it’s Saturday. It’s throwing it down with rain again and no one’s had any fresh air as a result. The other three members of the household are occupying themselves in various ways, so I thought I’d write this. I hope you enjoyed my week a bit more than we did.

Poetry Blog: ‘I ran’

This is a poem that’s been sat in my notebook for a long time. Months, not years, but a long time all the same. In truth, it’s one that I was a bit unsure of. I didn’t know what to do with it and as such it got a bit lost. Every so often I’d flick through said notebook looking for something else, only to re-discover this forgotten poem. Finally though, after a closer inspection, I’ve decided to give it an airing.

I think the good weather has helped. The poem is about a time when I could exercise a great deal more because for almost the whole time the weather was glorious. Looking out of the window as I write, it’s another glorious evening, much like those of last April and May.

It’s a poem about the pandemic. I don’t know quite when I wrote it, but I know that I took the whole thing deadly seriously once I realised the extent of the devastation that seemed to be going on. I was adamant that I was definitely sticking to lockdown, but determined to take advantage of our daily exercise allowance. And so I did.

The poem is about lockdown in general, but also the fact that I took the opportunity that lockdown presented as a chance to make some changes. I’d have said that I was reasonably fit or even kidded myself about being ‘naturally fit’ when it all started. But as I read more and more reports about coronavirus and took into account my own vulnerability to it, I decided that I was going to have to get much fitter. After all, there was little excuse; I wasn’t at work and all I really had was time. So, as the poem says, I ran.

I ran...

When the danger struck, I ran.
Not away from it, but straight at it,
maybe heroically, possibly naively, 
feigning bravery because I didn't know what else to do.
Such is my way with everything.
Don't think, don't plan, act on instinct, 3 in the morning thinking
and possibly a dash of Dutch courage.

And so, when the unseen, yet definitely alien villain headed our way,
sounding dangerously, almost laughably familiar,
I ran.
Decked out like a skinny, pound shop part time superhero,
I somewhat limped into action, exercising evangelically
in an attempt to out-cardio this beefed up cold.

But while others stockpiled toilet rolls and 
took another paracetamol from their selfish stash,
I got fitter, leaner, stronger.
My thirst for the fight meant I doused my fear in fresh fruit, 
nuts, seeds and an ever present bottle of water,
and I ran.

Thousands perished. Some sought solace in illegal road trips
or standing on doorsteps hypocritically acclaiming those who chose the Hypocratic.
I doused my guilt with physical torture, pushing myself to limits I'd not explored in years,
enjoying the isolation, getting evermore prepared to face what felt inevitable
and hoping that this wasn't all in vain.
I ran.

The effects of lockdown – or lockdowns, plural – can’t be underestimated. I think, more than anything, I benefitted from it, but it was still an awful, scary time. Running got me through the fear. In fact, running quite often dealt with the early mornings, while writing steered me through the late, sleepless nights. So my poem is both about what I did as well as being a direct result of what I did.

I’ve tried to inject a dark humour into parts of this poem. At first, I didn’t really believe the hype about coronavirus. It was the flu, it was a ‘beefed up cold’ and I wasn’t going to lose too much sleep about that. I soon realised the truth though! I’ve attempted a little more dark humour later in the poem too. Although I was fit, I probably didn’t really look it; hence the ‘skinny…superhero’ reference. And let’s face it, not many tall skinny fellas look good in lycra!

The whole pandemic scared me and the best way that I could think of to deal with that fear was just to throw myself into something. Exercise, fitness and in particular, running was that thing. Initially, my thinking was simply that if I was fit, the virus would stand less of a chance against me, so I was exercising in different ways every day. At first the whole family joined in and then, as the world righted itself and people went back to school and work it left me largely on my own in terms of exercising. And this was when the running went into overdrive. I’m guessing that when I wrote the poem I was feeling particularly evangelical about it all!

That’s certainly why there’s the reference to people stockpiling certain products. I think lockdown saw a lot of people showing their true colours and it angered me that while I was doing my best to stay safe there were others just making sure that they didn’t run out of anything, that they weren’t inconvenienced. I’d see social media posts from people about how they’d joined in the ‘Clap for Carers’ knowing that they’d been visiting friends or family when it just wasn’t allowed. The hypocrisy of that support for the NHS really bothered me when all it seemed to be for some people was a chance to pat themselves on the back and look good. And I watched in horror as various high profile people in the UK were caught out visiting family hundreds of miles from their homes, while I couldn’t head out to visit friends and family myself. In fact, at the time of writing, I still haven’t seen my parents, my sister and some of my best friends and it’s been well over a year.

So there you have it. A poem that may take people back in time a little bit, despite the fact that large parts of the world are still in lockdown and that even here in the UK we’re only just beginning to glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. As ever, I’d love to hear what people think, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Back to School Diary – Thursday and Friday

Here’s Part 3 of my series of diary entries written to cover the return to classrooms in the UK this week. As a teacher in a high school, I thought it might be interesting to share how things have went, partly because I was curious myself. Today marks the end of what’s felt like a momentous week, so here’s how it went on Thursday and Friday.

Typical isn’t it? You get to the part of the week where the end is in sight and fate decides to extend one of your days. Tonight (Thursday), we have a virtual Parents’ Evening. For the uninitiated, the parents are real. They’re actually fully formed human being parents. It’s just that they’re not allowed into school. I’ll be honest, although it’s a weird thing to do, the system has its benefits. For one, no appointment is allowed to go over 5 minutes, so big mouth here can’t get carried away and any awkward appointments are tempered by an on screen countdown clock. Another benefit is that we don’t have to all sit in a freezing cold, oddly lit Sports Hall for 3 hours where you’re likely to leave at the end of the evening feeling worse for wear.

So, it’s safe to say that Thursday is a long day. And not only is it long, but it’s also my first full day of teaching. Covid has meant that we’ve switched to lessons of 2 hours 50 minutes in length and while we only have 2 a day, it’s tough. So far this week the staggered return of year groups has meant that I’ve had a fair bit of free time, but today apart from a morning break and a short lunch break, I’ll teach for well over 5 hours – stood up, talking a lot (my own fault due to being far too big a fan of my own voice), cajoling, (trying to be) entertaining and instructing with a room full of actual humans in front of me. All while wearing a mask and attempting in sometimes cramped spaces, to keep a social distance. It’s still a fairly daunting prospect.

My first lesson is with a Year 8 group and I can’t work out whether I’m just boring them senseless or they are just not really used to being back yet, but boy are they quiet. It’s been a bit of a theme this week; that classes have taken a little while to ‘warm up’ and are inclined to sit there like a set of rabbits caught in the headlights. It’s understandable really. Even before the latest lockdown, their learning had been severely disrupted with positive cases meaning pupils being sent home to isolate or bubbles collapsing and whole year groups being forced to take yet more time out. For some, school must feel almost like a thing of the past.

The afternoon session brings Year 11, meaning 14 students and two adults have to squeeze into one of the smallest rooms in school in order for us to stay within our bubble. There’s no chance of social distancing and the layout of the room means that I can’t even walk around, so I’m stuck in a small space at the front where I’m invariably in the way of the board. Like a caged animal. But more hamster in a carry case than lion at the zoo.

There are grumbles aplenty at the new seating plan and numerous requests to sit elsewhere. Don’t tempt me! It’s also noticeable that this group – who are one of the year groups that were the first back in – are the worst with their masks, one particular student needing to be told 4 times in about the first 10 minutes to position it back over his mouth. He gets a little spell of detention with me after school for his persistence.

There is the same attitude to hand sanitiser with some students too; they accept it with an open hand but it’s often shaken off when seemingly out of sight or the hand is turned over so that gravity takes its course. Sadly, I’m always on guard for these tricks and take far too much pleasure in inviting the students back to renew their sanitiser and get them to rub it into their hands while I watch! Such tricks are a reminder though, that we have a fight on our hands to keep standards from slipping.

By the time 2.45 trundles around it feels like I’ve done a 12 hour shift with this class. There’s no doubt that being back, when they’re due to leave school for good in a couple of months, is a bit of a chore for a number of them. It’s felt like everything is an issue this afternoon. Masks, sanitiser, social distancing, seating plans, the size of the room, the size of the board, the fact that we have to leave windows and the door open to safely ventilate the room…everything. Even during one of the high points of the whole lesson, when one student tells me he’s missed me, there’s still time for him to grumble about where he’s sat. But it’s nice to know that I’ve been missed!

As I mentioned earlier, despite it being the last lesson of the day, Thursday isn’t finished. There’s still the strange virtual Parents’ Evening to contend with. It’s the third one I’ve done now and so I’m fine with how it works, but it’s still just very odd. You have a 5 minute appointment accompanied by a countdown all the time that you’re talking. As the time counts down you tend to start speaking faster in order to get as much said as possible – never a good idea with my accent – because once the 5 minutes is up the call just cuts off! On top of that there are always technological issues and tonight brings a gold medal effort from not one but two parents who manage to have their camera rotated to one side, meaning I feel like I have to lean over and put my head on the desk in order to communicate with them. I don’t though. I’m not that stupid.

I finish my last appointment at 6.35, shut everything down and then slowly make my way through school and out to the car. A combination of lockdown and the time of day mean that there’s hardly any traffic, so I’m home by 7pm and dog tired.

Friday seems to have taken about a month and a half to come round. I feel like I’m sleepwalking through school to get to my classroom, but Friday is always good. I only have one class in the morning, leaving the rest of the day free and meaning that I can plan lessons and sort out resources for the next week. A quite majestic bit of timetabling!

My Year 9 group are just a good bunch of kids and there’s no sanitiser shenanigans or mask issues today. During lockdown’s live lessons I used to run mini competitions with them where the first student to answer whatever the question was would get one of a selection of rubbish prizes, like a straight to camera forced smile or a thumbs up, so I make sure there are a couple of these moments today. It’s brilliant to have that type of relationship with a group, but all the better when they’re in the room!

The same class have P.E. after my lesson and have to walk past my window on their way out to the field. Several of them would always give me a wave or shout ‘Hi sir’ even though they’d left my room only ten minutes previously and today marks a return to this. It’s one of those lovely moments that I realise I’ve really missed and as they start warming up and running round on the field I can’t help but smile. It’s great to be back.

The message at the start of the week was to enjoy having students back in front of us. And I have. It’s been a real thrill to be able to teach properly, to run a lesson and just to chat to the kids and put a smile on some faces, including mine. No, genuinely. No, I can. I can smile. It’s been a good week; exhausting, testing, but enjoyable and it’s brilliant to be back to doing my job with students in a classroom. Just explaining a point to a sea of faces, most of whom are actually paying attention is exactly how it should be. Now that’s what we really call a live lesson!

It’s felt like a reasonably smooth transition back to face to face lessons. The kids have largely been great and the management of the whole thing has been brilliant. It’s genuinely felt like a normal week and it’s credit to everyone involved really. Next week marks the first time that all year groups will have been in school together for any length of time and it’s going to interesting to see how it goes.

Poetry Blog: Sixth on the list (behind key workers and various degrees of old people.)

I had my first dose of the Covid vaccine last weekend and it’s safe to say that it felt like quite a momentous occasion. As someone regarded as being vulnerable to the virus, it was something I’d kind of looked forward to since news of a vaccine first broke. Not in the same way as I might look forward to some beer and cake, a new Grandaddy record or Christmas, but I was looking forward to it.

It was done early on Saturday morning and I was in and out within about 20 minutes, including having to queue outside for around 10 minutes. Everything was well organised, the staff were friendly and helpful and it was a generally positive experience. Definitely something worth writing a poem about. And it would have been a bright and breezy, optimistic poem as well. But then the side effects hit on Saturday afternoon…

Anyway, here’s my poem about having the vaccine.

'Sixth on the list (behind key workers and various degrees of old people.)'

On a misty Spring morning the air fizzes with an optimism and good humour
that I can't remember feeling in a long while.
March gently attempts to wrestle February to one side 
and it's almost twelve months since the fear began.

Within minutes a smiling volunteer injects some fight into my
'at risk' body that signals hope, a way forward, a route home.
As I walk back, the town is waking up and as their day breaks
I feel I have a secret that I'd like to share with all.

I bury my bare hands deep inside the pockets of a jacket,
turn my collar to fight the chill and resist the urge to skip 
down the hill to my front door, safe in the knowledge that
I have at least half of the weapons needed for the rest of the fight.

The rest is a canyon sized unknown; I will suffer to feel good,
wait in the dark to feel better and then go through
it all again before I am able to even think about 
casting aside the unwanted cloud of our restrictions.

Over sixteen hours later, having grumbled my way through
discomfort, nausea, shivers, fatigue and pain, 
having shouted myself hoarse at a curse of Magpies, I will sit alone,
at the kitchen table, as the house sleeps around me.

I will try to find the words to make it all sound like a proper
opera, praying silently for sleep and the chance to shut down
the hell and then feel well again, but fail as all the while 
one inane thought gnaws away at my brain:

I didn't even get a sticker.

On the whole, I have to say that the whole vaccine thing was a positive experience. It wasn’t stressful at all, mainly because of the way it was organised and the staff, but my worries about the after effects would come true and then some!

For the first few hours, all I suffered with was a bit of a sore arm, but then gradually more and more went wrong. I was fatigued, felt sick, was dizzy, everywhere ached and I just felt incredibly rough, as mentioned in the poem. Strangely though, when it came to heading off to bed, I was wide awake and ended up back downstairs, where I proceeded to open a notebook and write this poem!

I managed some sleep that night, eventually, but didn’t really feel a great deal better on the Sunday. It doesn’t matter though. The fact that I’m safer now means the world and the fact that I may be able to see my family and friends again relatively soon, makes it all worth while.

As for the poem, it’s all quite straightforward, although there’s maybe a couple of lines in the sixth and seventh stanzas that are probably best explained. Despite feeling worse than I’ve felt for a long time, I was fully aware that my football team, Newcastle United were playing that evening, live on Sky Sports. There was no way that I was missing it, as long as I could keep my eyes open. Hence then the line about shouting myself hoarse at a curse of magpies, as if you don’t know, we play in black and white stripes and are known as the magpies. It’s safe to say that my croaky voice next morning had nothing at all to do with the vaccine. The other line that I wanted to explain was the bit about making it sound like a ‘proper opera’. That’s me laughing at myself as I wrote the poem. The opera reference, be it soap or the more theatrical version is me looking back and just wondering if I’ve made a bit of a big deal about it all! In my defence, it was particularly horrible though…

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem and I’d be interested to hear any feedback you might have, so feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry Blog – ‘Unused in Pandemic.’

2020 has been one hell of a year. Of course, we can put that down to just the one thing; coronavirus. Like something out of an unbelievable Hollywood blockbuster, a pandemic struck killing well over a million people worldwide. With it, our lives and lifestyles changed almost beyond recognition.

Confined to the house for a lot of the time, I did a lot of writing. The blog posts increased, but I also found myself experimenting with writing poetry. While the subject matter of the poems was often wide and varied I couldn’t help but keep coming back to lockdown and coronavirus.

It occurred to me that there a lot of things that I could no longer do. Simple things like work, see friends and family and attempt to have some kind of interests in life. But it also occurred to me that there a lot of everyday things that were simply off limits during the pandemic. Cash, for instance. Even my window cleaner had us paying by internet banking. I worried that I wouldn’t remember how to fill up the car when the time came for me to do it again and it even concerned me that simple things like shopping in the supermarket would be almost unrecognisable once they went back to normal. Out of all this came a poem about the some of the redundant objects that were now in my life.

Unused in Pandemic

Pandemic itself was a word rarely used round these parts. But to paraphrase a great man, these parts they are a-changin’. These days, as well as bringing death, fear, paranoia and the strange bumping of forearms by way of saying a more hygienic hello, it leaves in its wake a number of redundancies.

I’ve learned to live, for the most part, without a car. In turn, I have rediscovered my feet. I have left lonely shirts hung up, ironed or bundled on a shelf, crumpled and lifeless. Ditto suits and ties. However, in a U turn that any politician would be proud of I have begun to adorn my middle aged frame in undignified, clingy and regularly mismatched leisurewear.

A similar thing has happened in the shoe department where brogue is now rogue, usurped by a much plainer choice of trainer. Eschewing technology for horticulture I have ditched the fucking infuriating laptop and transformed, all too early sadly, into my father via spade, weeding implements, lawn mower and trowel. The planner is no more, replaced by an endless stream of envelope mounted bullet point lists. A laissez faire version of keeping organised and meeting targets.

Some days I don’t even wear socks, just pad around our pad barefoot, like some kind of castaway from society on an unchained island, occasionally seeing a speck on the horizon and imagining it’s my ticket back to normality. But it’s usually just a pebble, dragged in on a trainered foot. How long before I forego clothes altogether and embrace wandering round in the altogether during daylight hours. A second wave? A third?

For now I will continue to gaze in the direction of my passport and hope that should naked days come, I’ll have used it to head for warmer climes and a more continental acceptance of an out of shape, hairy white body.

I hadn’t looked at this poem in a good few months and it turned out to be a little less polished than I’d have liked. Not quite unfinished, but definitely in need of attention. In fact, at the side of the page there was a long note scribbled about my Nectar card, which was itself massively unused in the pandemic. I liked what I’d written but it didn’t fit in the poem when I’ve looked again and so I’m going to sit down with those notes and write another poem…about my Nectar card. Tragic really.

Anyway, the whole poem reminded me of how carefree things were when we were locked down. There was definitely something altogether healing about the whole process despite all of the negatives. I hope this tone came out with the clothing section. It was actually strangely liberating not to have to be ironing work shirts or wearing a suit and tie every day, even though it’s actually something I like being able to do.

For anyone who knows me and is actually feeling a little concerned, don’t worry; I’m fairly certain I’m not going to resort to naturism any time soon. I’m certainly not shy in terms of the human body, but I’m kind enough to realise that it’s not the time to inflict mine on the world! Had lockdown gone on another six months though, well who knows…

As ever, I hope you liked the poem and I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry Blog: ‘English in the Tech room’.

Some of you will already know that, when I’m not writing the type of nonsense that regularly populates these pages, I’m a teacher. I teach English in a high school. So far, so straightforward, right? Well, no. This is the bit where things get a little complicated.

Unless you’ve been time travelling or hiding in a cave for the last year or so, you’ll be aware of Coronavirus or COVID-19. You’ll also be aware that it’s caused quite a lot of disruption to our everyday lives. (Someone get the Understatement of The Year klaxon, quick!). So it’ll come as no surprise to non-teaching readers to learn that life in schools has changed massively.

I wrote about some of the changes in my previous blog about our second lockdown so I won’t bore you with it here and now. However, one thing I didn’t mention is that because of the introduction of Covid-safe year group bubbles in school, our kids stay in the same area for each day and us teachers have to go to them. Oh, the joy of not having a classroom of my own again! Lugging everything you need for a whole day to the other side of school – one of the rooms I have to move to is literally as far away as I could go while still in a school building – and then invariably realising you’ve forgotten something 5 minutes into a lesson, dropping books along the way, forgetting to go via the one way system and finding that nothing IT-wise works when you get there. Yep, it’s been a tonne of fun!

Anyway, two of my lessons are now in Science labs, while another is in a Tech room, as in the kind of room where people make stuff out of wood, metal or plastic using dangerous tools and great big machines. It was here I got the idea for a poem. I mean, this wasn’t really the ideal place to be teaching Priestley or Dickens! Then again, I do love a challenge!

‘English in the Tech Room’

Beneath the desk I’m immediately struck by the presence of a pair of rig boots, loitering. Handy, I think, if I’m carrying the complete works of Shakespeare; such a weighty tome could break these toes currently entombed in just a pair of brogues. Handy too if this pandemic takes a bizarre twist and we move to zero gravity.

My students are perched uncomfortably on stools surrounding wooden work benches adorned by vices, And thus, the reading of any text, from Dickens through Owen to Heaney will inevitably be accompanied by an incongruous metallic jangle as child spins handle, or whatever they call that bit.

Further distraction will come in the form of various examples of heavy machinery. A lathe, several nasty looking drills, an enormous cutting tool… Dickens would spin in his grave as we learn of Scrooge’s redemption surrounded by the collected works of Black and Decker and every kind of saw that man could care to mention.

Warning signs will catch the eye, while shavings of wood and a range of glue assault our nostrils, making concentration a bit of an afterthought. But then a friendly baked rock cake, delivered on a tray from the adjacent cookery room serves to change the teacher’s tune and lighten up this lesson’s mood.

When all said and done, these alien surroundings may not actually matter if we just allow the words to do their work. These benches are our stalls when sharply written literature calls and in these extraordinary times this slight adjustment we must make shouldn’t be a bind. As every English teacher keeps in mind, the words win every time.

So there we are. A poem about sacrifice or just a poem borne out of an old bloke having a bit of a whinge because he’s been told to move from his precious classroom? I’ll leave you to come up with an answer. And whatever the answer might be, I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I’ve enjoyed putting myself to the test against whatever the virus throws at me, workwise. Feel free to leave a comment and if you liked it a lot, having a little click at some of the posts below!

Lockdown 2 – the sequel no one wanted!

As the UK enters its second period of lockdown due to a disturbing rise in numbers of cases of Covid-19, I’ve found that there’s a hell of a lot to think about. And rather than throw myself into a world of sleepless nights, I thought I’d write about the current situation.

I spent the first lockdown isolating because of a couple of underlying health conditions which marked me out as vulnerable. This wasn’t something I was particularly comfortable with, but I had to swallow my pride and live with it. I’ve always thought of myself as fit, healthy and strong so the label ‘vulnerable’ doesn’t sit well with me. They’ll be labelling me as ‘not altogether that butch after all’ next! Anyway, in the end I was away from work – as a teacher – for 6 months.

This time around lockdown seems distinctly different and it makes me feel more than a little scared. The one major difference, for me personally, is that I will be spending this period of lockdown at work. This alone is responsible for a great deal of lockdown stress! Schools aren’t closing and whatever our views on that, it makes me anxious about coming in to work, where before Covid I looked forward to almost every day and almost very minute spent in the building.

Since September though, I’ve felt safe and largely looked after at work. My employer – being a school – had done their homework, so to speak. A risk assessment was prepared for myself and any other vulnerable members of staff who would be returning to work, so I was familiar with the way things would be before I had even entered the building. And I’d had a couple of ‘how are you’ type catch up calls and Teams meetings too.

We’re actively guarding against the virus. We wear masks, we wipe surfaces down before and after use, we have hand sanitiser readily available, we are socially distant where possible, we keep the kids in year group bubbles and a common sense approach has been employed across the board. I’ve felt safe. And you’d think that’d be the case across the board with schools, but I’ve heard tales of places where such protocols are simply not followed.

Things are different now though. It feels far more like the situation we encountered in March with rising positive cases, rising death rates and a general sense of confusion that is frankly quite frightening once again. And let’s face it, we shouldn’t still be confused about something that’s been around for such a long time. It’s not the fault of my place of work, but now, every day it’s a case of gritting my teeth and getting on with it in the face of quite a bit of trepidation. It’s practically the only place where I mix with people and although in theory we’re safe, it’s beginning to feel like keeping schools open might not be such a great idea.

Away from work though, it feels like a general sense of boredom and, dare I say it, a sense of entitlement is beginning to rule people’s thinking. You could feel it towards the end of the first lockdown. People had had enough of the same four walls and unfortunately it started to manifest itself in a lot of stupid behaviour.

Despite the one way systems in shops, the obvious need to wear a mask and the constant knowledge of what social distancing was, people decided that there was no need for any of it anymore. In the town where we live, as bars began to open again people began to congregate in ridiculous numbers both inside and outside of the premises. The message seemed to be ‘sod the virus, I haven’t been tanked up in a public place in far too long’. And while I’m no prude, it all just seems incredibly selfish. Is an afternoon drinking really worth it? The ignorance of people that can recognise what two metres looks like for only a certain amount of time is quite something. And they’re attitude to the one metre+ rule is just staggering. Rather than stand a decent distance away from someone or maybe just refrain from going out for ten pints, it just seems to have become easier to blame semantics and say that you can’t imagine what one metre+ looks like because it’s not an actual measurement.

As we settle into Lockdown 2 I fear that the attitude will continue. I wonder if people will reject the lockdown for the simple fact that it has an end date. I mean, what’s the point for four weeks, right? If you listen carefully you could probably hear someone saying it right now. I can imagine people doing four weeks very much on their own terms; like only locking down properly until the boredom sets in.

Then there’s the approach of the festive season – which isn’t actually that close at all. I feel certain that there will be a raft of people who decide that their pre-Christmas socialising is far too important to give up, even though we should be out of lockdown in time for it to commence at the right time anyway. Any excuse for a barbecue in the garden with your friends though, especially when your precious human rights have been infringed for so long! And anyway, you’re outside so it’s all OK!

It’s the thinking of simpletons and it worries me that I could be even more vulnerable to the virus because of this type of selfishness.

The second spike of the virus means that things that are dear to us all will continue to be out of reach too. Gigs, football, theatre to name but a few; they’re all out of reach. Then there’s loved ones. I haven’t seen my parents (or my sister for that matter) since December of last year. I don’t feel that I can visit as they’re both extremely vulnerable and with three of us in my immediate family mixing with lots of people in schools every week, going to see them would be utter stupidity. It hurts not seeing them and it hurts them too. But my parents are sensible enough to say that we shouldn’t visit, even just to stand in the garden and I’ll be respecting their wishes. But at the back of my mind, as things continue to get worse, I do genuinely wonder if I’ll ever see them again. They live over 100 miles away, so even going round to stand in the garden is a bit of a trek. It’s a thought too horrible to dwell on, but it’s the kind of thing that makes me even more angry at those who are determined to just carry on as normal and either deny that this thing exists or make excuses about the number of deaths.

Recent reports of a new strain of the virus make things worse and yet there are still people – and there in fairly large numbers – who happily deny its existence. There’s not a lot I can say about that that’s probably not already been said or that would be original, but it’s a frightening thought. During the first lockdown I overheard a conversation between two neighbours in their gardens blaming Bill Gates – apparently as it was his fault he “needed stabbing” – and was just astonished. These people are real! At one point they even blamed Brexit and even though I heard the explanation I couldn’t really work out what they meant. I imagine the idea of a second lockdown is being swiftly rejected by them and in fact a couple of days into it they were in their garden, mixing with another member of the family not in their bubble, letting off fireworks!

The long and short of this story is that Coronavirus isn’t going away. We’re not controlling it, we’re not coping with it and in fact, some people seem to be totally ignoring it. At the start of it all I laughed out loud at people panic buying toilet rolls, before being left without a smile when I was sent home from work as I was too vulnerable to be there and was subsequently away for 6 months. Now, as we get back to lockdown, there’s nothing about this virus that can make me smile.

My Lockdown Diary – Part 2

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Here in the UK we were put into a state of lockdown indefinitely on 23rd March. Now, some weeks later and firmly into April, it’s been a very strange time. For some, everything has changed, while sadly for others nothing seems to have changed at all.

For me personally it’s been a very curious time. I was initially sent away from work and put into self isolation on 17th March and so had some time to myself before the majority of the country was affected. Life at that point seemed to be going on as if there was no prospect of a pandemic. As I went out for a socially distant walk there was traffic everywhere (well, on the roads anyway) and people were not avoiding each other like they would be in the weeks to come. Having been isolated because of my vulnerability to the virus, I was keeping my distance from the off.

So how’s life looking a few of weeks on? Well, for the most part people are keeping their distance. But my part of the UK looks very different for all sorts of reasons.

With lockdown being enforced people seem to be following the daily exercise guidance like it’s an order. We certainly are. But it’s immediately noticeable, even if you just look out of the window, how many people are out and about walking, jogging, cycling and the like. In truth, it’s a lovely site. Couples out walking, families – together at last now that work constraints have been taken away – are running, cycling and just playing together. We live right next to playing fields and I’ve rarely seen them busier. And that’s not to say that we have hundreds of people congregating in any kind of dangerous way. The fields are huge and can easily accommodate a steady stream of people and leave them able to keep a responsible social distance. Despite the fearful whiff of death and illness, people have come out fighting and life is flourishing.

I’ve seen nothing particularly different in terms of exercise though and I’m very hopeful that within the next three weeks I might see someone on a penny farthing cruising down our road or maybe even a socially distant yoga or tai chi class on the playing fields next door.

The same praise can’t be levelled at what I’ve noticed on the roads, where a general lessening of traffic has led many to believe that they’re budding Lewis Hamiltons. And I don’t mean that they’re going out with braids in their hair and wearing shit clothes. For now it seems that the 30 mile an hour limit is a thing of the past. And I understand that in the real world there are few of us who actually stick to such a slow speed. Now though, young men – and it genuinely appears to be largely them – are hurtling around like they’re at Silverstone. Maybe it’s because of the boredom elsewhere, but I doubt it. It’s certainly a worrying development. Especially when you’re out for a walk these days, what with all the crossing over roads in order to avoid each other.

For some it seems that they’re flying around the place with no destination either. The far more empty roads have seemingly turned into the Nurburgring and people are out, ignoring the lines and hurtling round bends with little or no warning. The only thing missing seems to be their overalls. Certainly there are more than enough helmets. It appears to be a genuine deliberate choice – I can’t go out, so I’ll jump in the car and fly around like a complete idiot for a while. We’ve noticed a couple of cars just cruising around the place, revving engines and staring at people. Certainly, the amount of Vauxhall Corsas with over-sized exhausts on the road is very much out of proportion nowadays. Either Morley’s just a strange place or lads are incredibly bored and just not very creative. It could well be both. It’s certainly been a bizarre thing to observe though.

Another lockdown observation has to be the amount of online sales. I suppose it’s quite a sad thing really, given that most shops are closed and people are losing their jobs. It will most likely see the end of some shops altogether. But the amount of sales is incredible. And it might leave some people in a total conundrum. There are things I genuinely want, as well as stuff I’d like because they’re reduced in sales – trainers mainly. But then the idea of something being delivered has started to worry me. There’s a palpable sense of paranoia about these days. Understandably really. While you’re crossing the road when anybody comes within a hundred yards of you you’re not going to want to accept a parcel on the doorstep. I almost followed through recently when there was a knock on the door and was terrified going to answer it! It was Amazon and the bloke had left our parcel – something for the wife from work – on the doorstep and was already halfway down the drive. He simply stated our surname as a question and was off like a shot when I confirmed.

Wherever you look though, there’s an online sale. For someone who likes the idea of getting ‘stuff’ it’s ridiculously tempting. As a result of a Coronvirus programme and a wife with a propensity to worry over much, we’ve recently started to wash the shopping as it comes into the house and are quarantining the things that we don’t immediately need to use and the idea of handling a parcel, with literally no idea where it’s come from is terrifying. So maybe for now there’ll be no exploiting the online sales.

Something that’s started to worry me while continuing to appear ridiculous is television. What if it runs out? What if there are no more programmes because new shows have stopped being made? I totally get the availability of boxsets, downloads etc, but what happens when it’s new series time and it’s just not been made yet? One of our favourite shows is The Walking Dead and their recent season finale had to be suspended when post production work couldn’t be carried out in lockdown. So, we’re running out of telly! It’s not just a possibility; it’s actually happening!

We’ve needed to call Sky in order to re-arrange our package and the fact is you can’t call Sky. We want to re-negotiate (Oooh, my favourite call to make!) but we can’t because they haven’t got enough people working to actually deal with these calls. More proof, if it was needed, that telly could actually be endangered. And while it’s not the most pressing concern at this time, it’s still completely unexpected and a bit of a worry.

I’ve managed to spend quite a bit of my lockdown time in the garden. There’s plenty of room and a lot of jobs that needed doing, which is a good job given the amount of time we all have on our hands. One morning was spent painting the fence panels on one side of the garden. I roped my ten-year-old into this one, prompting lots of comments about “hard work” from a boy who so far in life has been fairly pampered.

Next up was turning over the soil in the flower beds; a job that literally never gets done because despite being fairly deep into middle age I’m still not a full convert to gardening. There are limits and things like digging go beyond my boundaries. But, needs must, so fork in hand – garden one, not tea one – I spent a good half an hour digging and turning the land over. I’m assured it’ll create better conditions for plants, but the bigger bonus was that I got to spend half and hour in the sun.

Since then I’ve trimmed shrubs, weeded heavily overgrown areas, regularly filled up the bird feeders, painted both sheds and cut the lawns a few times – which is a few times more than usual at this time of year. As my time at home continues so will my work in the garden. I love being out in the fresh air anyway, so being forced out there is kind of a bonus. Pots can be cleared out and cleaned up, the garden furniture will get oiled and the often neglected area around the side of our house which is home to the bins is in need of a real tidy up. So almost a summer’s worth of outdoor jobs to do, but lots of springtime to get it done!

The final thing that has been very noticeable during the last few weeks of lockdown has also been garden related. It’s a wonderful thing and I hope it’s going on in your lives too. There are noticeably more birds around. Very noticeably. We have a few birdfeeders on the tree at the back of our garden and traffic has very definitely increased. Sadly, we haven’t had our woodpecker back, but we’ve had goldfinches, robins, blue tits, great tits and long-tailed tits as well as the usual blackbirds, wood pigeons, collared doves, magpies and sparrows. There are also at least a couple that we just can’t identify and it’s genuinely a lot busier at the end of our garden. It can’t be a coincidence that things are a great deal quieter in the surrounding area and it’s certainly given me a bit of a lift when everything feels a little bit flat. It’s nothing dramatic, nothing life-changing, but the fact that I can sit and watch the birds getting bolder and bolder around our garden and feeling safe enough to be exploring the patio is definitely a good thing.

The other day, as I stood doing the dishes I watched as a robin approached. It flitted around the place getting gradually ever closer. Within seconds it was perched on a chair right underneath the window, just staring at me. A moment of complete peace among the chaos. Just what I needed.

So far lockdown has been a very strange time. We’re living in fear, definitely, but something has changed societally. Life is, in some ways, a lot calmer and people are adapting to suit their surroundings and situations. With at least three more weeks of this it’ll be interesting to see how things develop.