Heart ops, Strava groups and 7am starts – how I fell in love with running again.

Looking back, I’ve been a runner most of my life. From scratch races around our estate and school sports days, cross countries and a brief dalliance with a running club I’ve always done it. And I’ve always loved it.

I was born with several heart problems. The main one was a hole in the heart, but there were a few other things that when combined, put my life at risk. As a child, up until the age of about 6 or 7 I spent a lot of time in hospitals and had open heart surgery at a young age when such a thing was very much still in its infancy. I was weak, scrawny and described by my surgeon as “a very poorly little boy”.

I got through, but for a long time I stayed as very much that same scrawny little boy. I don’t know whether my illness contributed, but I took a long time to really grow and always found myself playing catch up with kids of my own age. I was forever skinnier and until I was about 16 years old, I was shorter too. Where any kind of sport was concerned it didn’t bother me a bit. I was always doing some kind of actvity, and while I may not have been the best, I was prepared to put in the hard work in order to improve.

In terms of running, I had a bit of an advantage from quite an early age. I seemed to have decent pace in sprints and about enough stamina to hold my own at longer distances. But I was never quite good enough to make me really happy. I still really enjoyed running though. However, always being not quite good enough began to get to me in the end and I would suffer mentally while running, whether it was a race or I was just out on a training run. Nothing terrible, just a bit of what I saw as a weakness. I’d drift off, losing focus on what I was doing and begin to hear my own voice often telling me I’d done enough, or that I was far too tired and that I should just stop and walk. As time went on I began to just lose interest. In the end on one of the final times that I entered the Great North Run (a famous UK half marathon) I had a bit of a shocker! I had trained sporadically and ended up just putting faith in the fact that I’d done the race enough times before to be able to know what I was doing. It didn’t turn out that way.

To compound my lack of fitness, it was a really sunny day and I got sunstroke. By the time I’d finished I found talking difficult and was slurring my words. I’d arranged to meet my then girlfriend – and now wife – along with, I think my mam and dad, at a certain point away from what would be a crowded finish area once I’d finished. However, by the time I arrived I think they were considering sending out a search party! I vaguely remember asking a man on the baggage bus where our meeting point was but really not understanding his explanation, such was the state I was in. In the end, I gathered my thoughts somewhat and just staggered in the general direction of where I felt it was and finally found my welcoming party. After that, I remember being forced to drink a lot of water and then falling asleep on the back seat of the car, draped across my girlfriend’s lap. I genuinely don’t remember much at all about the actual run.

Needless to say, the whole experience put me off running for quite a while and it was a long time before I found the motivation to start running seriously again. However, to cut a long story short, I got motivated enough to do one final Great North Run (my 6th) in order to exorcise those particular demons, ran it in a decent time, proved a point to myself and then more or less gave up running for a number of years.

Until my mid to late 40s I didn’t really run again much at all. And then – as has been documented in a few previous blogs – heart problems struck again and I decided that I needed to get fit. As far as I was concerned I’d had a gentle brush with death and wasn’t prepared to sit around and allow my body to go to seed any longer. So I ran for my life.

Even then my running was relatively sporadic. I’ve always been particularly prone to niggling injuries and sadly it’s always been something that I’ve allowed to put me off. I think as I’ve got older I’ve got mentally weaker in terms of levels of determination and used small injuries, colds etc. as a good enough excuse to duck out of a run or two. But then something else happened that completely changed my outlook and fortunately allowed me to make my body a great deal fitter and stronger.

When Coronavirus struck, I ran. Simple as that. Being told that I was particularly vulnerable to the virus and then watching how dangerous it could be, made me think. I needed to be as fit and as strong as possible. I had to be prepared to fight. So I fought. And this time I fought properly.

By March of this year I was in lockdown and unable to work. I genuinely didn’t know what I’d do to get through the initial four weeks that I was going to be away from work. So when schools closed and Joe Wicks decided that he’d run a live family fitness class every morning of lockdown, I jumped on it.

Initially it was our whole family. But when my four weeks turned into 6 months, things got busier for the rest of the family. My kids were being schooled remotely (until my then Year 6 son went back to actual school) and my wife was working from home. This left me, pig-headedly doing a Joe Wicks workout every morning at 9am and without realising it for a while, getting much fitter and stronger into the bargain. Suddenly one morning while having a shave I noticed the appearance of actual muscles on my arms, across my shoulders and chest and thought, well this is a bit different!

After a few weeks I felt fitter than I had in years and so started getting into the habit of finishing a workout and then heading out for a run on at least a couple of occasions in a week. And what a difference a bit of strength makes! A couple of weeks later and I was beating personal bests every time that I went out. If I ran 3km on the Tuesday, then I’d run 3.5km on the Thursday, until I was regularly running a 5k after a couple of workouts per week. Just over a year ago, I started to do Park Run and after a couple recorded a 5km personal best of 28 minutes and 56 seconds. That was enough to give me an excuse to stop again! Now, after a few months of going out running, that personal best has been broken several times and now stands at 24.48. Who knew that being actually, properly fit could make such a difference!

Clearly, taking fitness seriously has really worked for me. As someone who’s thought of himself as a runner for years, I’ve now realised that this is actually the fittest I’ve been in probably 25 years and at the same time, the best I’ve been at running! Other commitments mean that I have to limit my running to twice a week, but I find myself getting quite giddy in the lead up to a run. I can’t wait to leave work on a Thursday so that I can get home, stretch and then go for a run with my son. I wouldn’t say I was obsessed, but it’s definitely a mild addiction.

Recently, because of new lockdown rules, grassroots sport was cancelled and I usually coach an Under 12s football team. Armed with the knowledge of what the last lockdown did to my team, I was quick to put in a plan. And armed with a new fitness regime, it was always going to involve running!

The last lockdown meant that the only contact I had with many of my players was via a parents WhatsApp group and all that I could really do was check how they were. It also meant that by the time they returned to football, months later, many of them were really out of shape. So this time I had a plan.

We’ve set a 5km challenge, meaning that we’re trying to get every kid in a squad of 14 to run at least 5km per week. This will hopefully keep them fit. We’ve formed a club on the Strava app, meaning that we can all check each other’s progress, the kids are getting respect from each other and there’s a good level of challenge as they can see each other’s efforts in the app. As a coach I can keep an eye on who’s doing what and it’s definitely going to help me to pick a team when we’re all back together as, apart from anything else, I’ll know who should have the fitness to last an hour of playing time! While there are some who’ve avoided it, the majority have taken up the challenge and I know that they’ll be in better shape than last time when we finally play again. The whole thing seems to have kept spirits up within the team too and it’s been brilliant to see each of them trying to improve on their efforts. It’s also been a brilliant way for me to test myself and set a good example to my team too. We’ve even got one or two of the mums and dads joining in too, so running has been a bit of a saviour over the last month or so!

Yes, of course I chose my longest run to screenshot!

So where am I at with my running currently then? Well, given everything in my life – and I’ll be honest, my age – I’ve made sure that I only go out and run twice a week. I run on a Thursday evening with my son, simply because that’s when he should have his football training. I also get up ridiculously early on a Sunday morning and go out for a long solo run, while there’s hardly anyone around.

Fitness-wise, this is great. I’ve been out on the last four Sundays and starting with a 5 miler, have progressed up to my latest effort of 8 miles. This is the furthest I’ve probably run in at least 10 years! I have to say, I love it. There’s nothing quite like running through a foggy Yorkshire town at 7am, knowing that it’s more or less just you for streets and streets around! I’m alone with my thoughts, watching day break (sometimes I even see the sun come up, but this is northern England, so it’s a rarity) and just completely relaxed. It hurts, I must admit, but it doesn’t really matter. As I’ve previously explained, I’m much fitter and stronger and so feel that I can recover fairly quickly, where before it might have taken me days of walking like I’d had a blunt object inserted somewhere unpleasant before I was back to feeling even remotely normal. Like I say, it’s amazing what being properly fit will do for you!

The start of a beautiful sunrise during one of my early morning runs.
But sadly, it’s not always as lovely!

If the pandemic allows I plan to run at least one race for charity in 2021, partly to raise money for a heart fund, but also in memory of a couple of friends who we’ve lost this year. It’s been a tough time and I’d really like to be able to give a little bit back. And now I have a way of doing that again.

It feels like a bit of a success story. I’ve rediscovered something that I really loved and feel that I’ve become much, much better at it too. And for a man of my advancing years it’s been a real boost. Given the context of things with a global pandemic, lockdowns, normality being taken away and the fact that we’re unable to see family and friends, I think we all need a bit of a boost. Perhaps, if you feel like having one too, you might go out for a little run and see how it feels? I’d definitely recommend it!

Poetry Blog – ‘Lockdown Museum’

This was a poem I wrote during our first period of lockdown. It was early summer and I sat down outside with an idea for a poem; something to remember lockdown by. Now, when you think about it, we’re not going to need anything to remember lockdown by. I think, for most of us, it’ll be firmly etched on the mind forever. For some of us lockdown brought the heartache of not being able to see family and friends, alongside thoroughly bizarre sights like fleets of empty buses on the roads, pubs and shops remaining closed and the sight of an oncoming family during your daily exercise stint striking fear into your heart as you played a strange game of chicken about who would cross the road first. And then there were the sounds…oh wait, with everyone locked away there were hardly any sounds!

For other people lockdown quickly lost its importance because apparently they weren’t allowed their human rights. Human rights such as being able to get ridiculously drunk in pubs every weekend, being able to walk down supermarket aisles any way they wanted and having to forego their right to ignore people’s personal space in shops. The term Covidiot quickly became a tired label, but it never lost its accuracy. It’s a hard life for some.

I decided – for some unknown reason – that I wanted to use rhyme in this poem, which is something I rarely do. It was a bit of a challenge to come up with rhymes that didn’t feel forced and, as a result, the poem took me a lot longer than usual. Another result, in my opinion, is that it sounds like I wrote it in Year 8. Sadly, I didn’t. So, a glowing reference for the poem from its writer then!

Anyway, here’s the poem, so I’ll let you judge it and its merits. You, dear reader, might just prefer a bit of rhyming…

Lockdown Museum

With 2020 fast being referred to as a hell of a year I’ve come up with my own commemorative idea. A grand exhibition with a pandemic theme, I’ve decided to create a lockdown museum.

With schools closing in early March, some educational artefacts would really look the part. Board markers, a highlighter, some stickers for praise, my own now redundant planner to prove I worked some days, a well worn copy of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a metaphor for the tragedy, disruption and the stress.

For the NHS and all of the intrepid frontline staff there’s PPE, rubber gloves and the obligatory mask. A child’s painted rainbow and a Thank You sign, pots, pans and applauding hands to represent that time, a video of Captain Tom, later made a knight, a latter day icon to help ease the nation’s plight.

A plethora of lockdown paraphernalia would make up all the rest unusual items that helped every day as the virus put us to the test. A beer pump, idle, to mark that pubs were closed, A ‘No Entry’ sign for supermarket aisles as well as empty roads. A ‘PE with Joe’ T-shirt and trainers for the boom in exercise recordings of Zoom quizzes, Teams meetings and House Parties arranged and on a giant TV screen, those daily briefings play to remind us that everything changed.

And perhaps, if hearsay’s true and this virus means there’s a new normality, our museum will grow and never be complete until a vaccine sets us free.

So there it is. A poem, that now I’ve read it through a few more times, I’m a little more proud of. I hope it captures the tone of those times, although I don’t think it quite cuts it where our second period of lockdown is concerned due to the sort of half baked nature of it all. Clearly, the first lockdown was very different.

I feel that there are some references that might need explaining, as I’m aware that not everyone who reads my stuff is from the U.K. So here we go.

Firstly, let me assure you that the first rhyming couplet works. The words ‘year’ and ‘idea’ clearly rhyme and I’ll have nothing said against it, even though if I read it in my accent it clearly doesn’t rhyme at all!

Then, in the second stanza, the reference to my ‘redundant planner‘ is there because just before schools closed I was sent home as I was classed as vulnerable to the virus. I didn’t work again until this September, spending 6 months attempting to work from home and fighting with a particularly unwilling and rebellious laptop. Thus, my planner was largely left unused. Oh, and I’m a teacher by the way, for those who didn’t realise.

The ‘pots, pans and applauding hands’ refers to our weekly clap for the NHS, performed at 8pm in doorsteps all around the country. To show appreciation for their heroic work people would stand outside their houses and clap for two minutes. This then quickly took on a new dimension as people added bashing pots and pans, bin lids etc to the noise they’d make to show their appreciation. Very, very British if you ask me!

‘Captain Tom’ from the same stanza was a 99 year old, retired soldier who took it upon himself to perform a sponsored walk of laps around his garden in order to raise money for the NHS. His aim was to raise £1000, but as his efforts became bigger and bigger news, he ended up raising £30,000,000 instead and was later knighted by the Queen. Arise Sir Tom and God Bless us all!

The penultimate stanza then references several things that stood out about everyday life in lockdown, my favourite being ‘PE with Joe’ – the fitness expert Joe Wicks would run exercise classes every morning via his YouTube channel and even on a quiet day thirty thousand people would be squatting in unison! What an endearing image! I personally became borderline obsessive about this – exrecise in general, not just squatting – even going as far as writing a poem about my bromance with the man himself. You can read it on the link below.

Poetry Blog – An Ode to Joe Wicks

So there we have it. Hopefully it’s an upbeat poem that brings back some more tolerable and perhaps even happy memories about a remarkable time in all of our lives. I hope you enjoyed it and 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.

Poetry Blog – Teams Meeting

This is a new poem about a fairly modern topic – the online meeting. Now, I understand that they’ve been around for a while, but my point is more that they’ve never before been so widely used. As Coronavirus struck and lockdown ensued across the globe, businesses and other organisations were forced to find new ways of keeping in touch with employees and clients who were now being forced to work from home. And thus, words like Teams, Zoom and House Party, among others, all took on a new meaning.

I’m generally left deflated by even the mere mention of a meeting and, probably as a result, I’m inclined to simply drift off. I’ve fallen asleep in more than one. But if people insist in reading entire PowerPoint presentations back to me, word for word, then I reserve the right to get bored.

Lockdown and working from home felt, as much as anything else, like time off from meetings for me. And then someone mentioned Teams and Zoom. And so, as I sat in my first ever Teams meeting I made sure that I was paying attention – they could all see me, after all, but kept a notebook out of site after realising that there could be a poem in this! So here you go – the secondary result of my first couple of Teams meetings.

Teams Meeting

A little blue circle floats and spins, taunting me with my lateness. Usually, said circle is laughed off, commented on with a half-baked witticism, something like, ‘It’s thinking about it’ accompanied by a knowing smile, a raised eyebrow. But not today. Today’s blue circle is a slow death, evoking only many muttered expletives.

After what feels like hours, but is probably only minutes faces emerge, framed in their own rectangle and assembled in front of you like a gameshow panel in a strangely decorated studio. There are welcoming smiles and the possibility of others yet. Who knows amongst an array of webcam settings? A nose here, a chin there, the very top of someone’s head. Who knew that a chair could be sat on in so many ways?

It’s orderly at first. One voice with instructions, an agenda and, worst of all, jobs to delegate. Maybe that explains the top of someone’s head? A cunning attempt at work avoidance that clearly I should have thought of first. I consider sliding down into my chair until I’m sat beneath my table.

Virtual hands are pointed out, to wave at the thought of a question. Mine will therefore be very much more virtual than others. Some things never change. Despite virtual hands, still a tangle of voices ensues as we relax into the familiarity of it all; the agenda temporarily capsizing in these rapids while the meeting floats aimlessly downstream. Familiar voices bring warmth, a smile and I consider something juvenile to get noticed, extend the laughter and take the meeting out of reach and off towards the sea. But order resumes, our professional heads fixed firmly in place as the bullet points are ticked off and a department is run at a distance safe enough for all. Strategies discussed, ideas shared, virtual hands waved and questions asked. After such a long time, even meetings can be enjoyable.

But all too soon it’s over and we settle back in our home ports, perhaps, like me, wondering what the next weeks and months hold and longing, ever so slightly, for just a few moments more.

I thought I’d conquered Teams after dipping my toe – my real one, not virtual – for the first time and being able to use it with ease. The first stanza tells you that I was wrong. Teams took forever to connect for my second meeting and I actually ‘arrived’ late, which in truth is much more like the real me anyway. In this instance though, it was nothing short of torture.

Once I was in attendance I took a look at my colleagues – the ladies I refer to as my big sisters – who I hadn’t seen in months. And while it was great to see faces, it was a veritable puzzle working out why they couldn’t use a webcam! It meant that for a good portion of the meeting I was just puzzled and distracted by the fact that someone was sat with just the top of their head in view, while others were so close to their webcam that I could just see a nose or an eye!

Despite the presence of virtual hands for people to raise when they had a question, our meetings would start in an orderly fashion, before descending ever so slightly into a gaggle of voices talking over each other. As usual in meetings, I kept quiet and observed from the safest distance I’ve ever managed in a meeting. But I realised, after a short while, that just being in the meeting was lovely. These were not just colleagues, but friends with familiar faces and voices that just relaxed me and made me feel quite normal for the first time in the months of lockdown. Even when we got back to the agenda I was enjoying the meeting.

In fact, I’d enjoyed it so much that when it ended and faces began to disappear from the screen, I felt more than a little bit low. And then it was back to isolating and trying to find enough things to do in order to keep myself from going mad.

Feel free to leave a comment about the poem and if you really enjoyed it you might like to click on the links below to have a look at some of my other stuff.

Sad, lonely shirt…

This is a poem I wrote about an item that I couldn’t avoid as I bumbled round our house during lockdown.
At the start of a working week I usually like to have some shirts ironed and ready to go. I just don’t like having to be ironing during the week. Anyway…
When I had to start isolating from work – several years ago, it feels like – I had one, ironed shirt left, hanging on the wardrobe door, ready for the next day. I would see it every day and it would remind me of what I was missing. The shirt became both a sad reminder that I couldn’t be in work and a comfort in that surely one day I would get to wear it again with a suit and tie. We would chat, me and the shirt. You know, in my head. Because sometimes being in lockdown wasn’t that easy.
I’m really not sure about this poem. I think I like it. It makes me smile and as time has passed I’ve been able to read it without thinking of myself as some kind of attention seeker.

Sad, lonely shirt

Sad, lonely shirt. I pass you every day and you remind me of where I should be, but am kept away from until it’s safe.
I see you and I wonder what you think about all of this.

“I’m still here,” you say and then you ask, “Why am I just hanging here?” And I say, “You wouldn’t understand.”
Quick as a flash you volley it back. “Why? I am a smart shirt.”
And with reasoning like that, coupled with the fact that I’m a soft touch I have no option but to explain.

You listen attentively – you’re hung on the side of the wardrobe, after all – as I try to explain the world amidst a global pandemic and how these days, without work, it’s leisure wear only for me.

You stare at me for a while, wanting to shrug, but unable to because I’m using my shoulders and you’re on a hanger. Then you say,
“Can I make some requests?”
I mull it over and then think, why not, before making it clear that I can’t do ‘just hold me’ because I couldn’t stand the creases and I will have to wear you again one day.

You look a little crestfallen and then say “OK” and then, “Maybe just two then?”
“Go ahead” I say.
You ask, not unreasonably, “Can you get rid of this dust off my shoulders, please? I’ve been here for weeks.”
Shamefaced, I take you down and gently brush it away. “What else?”
“Could you hang me in the wardrobe, next to my friends, please?”
And reasoning that the light grey suit must be your closest pal, I place you near to that.

I think mainly, this is a poem that was borne out of having too much time to think. It’s another one that woke me at night and forced me out of bed and I just wrote it down in my notebook, with not a great deal of thought. The words just seemed to be there. I really did find myself talking to the shirt if I passed it in our bedroom. Never out loud. But there was always a conversation of sorts.

If there’s any kind of intellectual aspect to it – and if you know me, there rarely is – the poem could be about our own self image and maybe the relationship we have with clothes. I love clothes, always have. I get it from my dad, who was quite the stylish young Mod in his pre-chidlren days. However, because I’ve always had a very slight frame, I’ve rarely felt confident in whatever I’ve worn. Body image, while never something that has been debilitating for me, has always been a bit of an issue. However, I always feel good in a suit, shirt and tie and I’m careful in what I choose to put together. This particular sad, lonely shirt is a bit of a favourite. Maybe others would have just got thrown in the wash, but this one stayed out, hung up, essentially reminding me that I still had a purpose.

There are a few lines in there that I’m quite proud of. I like the “I’m a smart shirt” line as it makes me smile when I read it back. Again, I suppose it works with the idea of a shirt having a personality and giving me confidence in the way that certain clothes can do. And then I liked the line about the shirt not being able to shrug. I suppose it might say something about the fact that clothes can’t actually do everything for us, as much as they might add to our confidence.

As an aside, I’m now back at work and I wore the shirt in my first week back. I’d like to think it was a day that we both enjoyed just a little bit more than usual!

Anyway, as ever I’d be interested to know what people think, so feel free to leave something in the comments.

Back to School again…

This time last year I wrote an article about how it might feel for teachers returning to work after their annual – and much begrudged by anyone else in any profession, ever – 6 weeks summer holidays. Despite the holiday, I felt stressed about the prospect of returning to work and having worked in the industry for so long, I know that lots of us feel the same way. I looked at things like the anxiety dreams that we would be no doubt suffering from, the clothing I’d have to wear and even getting overwhelmed by stationary. It’s on the link below if you fancy a read, but you know, one at a time!

https://middleagefanclub.wordpress.com/2019/09/01/its-time-for-a-new-teaching-year-and-im-stressed-out-already/

This year, the return to the classroom is days away and I’m more than a little anxious about my return. However, with all that’s happened over the last year, I’m anxious in a whole new way than ever before!

Wednesday March 17th 2019 is a date that will stay with me until I decide it’s time to stop the world and get off. Or someone/something decides for me. This was the date that I spent my last day in school for the 2019-2020 academic year. I haven’t been back since.

As we got into March of this year, Covid-19 was beginning to make a name for itself (actually I imagine scientists made the name, but you get the picture). Around school, pupils were starting to ask about closures and fellow staff were, in truth, a little giddy about getting a couple of weeks off work. I mean, we hadn’t even had a snow day, so a little bit of time off would make anybody giddy, surely. Because that’s what we imagined it would be. This was a bad case of the flu; it would pass. and before we knew it, we’d be back in work.

However, as the month wore on, the changes were glaringly obvious. People were preparing themselves for the worst by buying entire supermarkets worth of paracetamol, cold and flu drinks, dried pasta and anything that they could lay their hands on to then put on said hands and clean them. Oh, and some folk were clearly imagining that their houses were going to fall down and that they would recover from this particular blow by building igloos out of toilet roll. At least that’s what I think was happening.

In amongst all this madness, I was starting to worry. A little, tiny bit. As much as I ever do about anything, apart from my wife discovering the true size and cost of my box(es) of ‘To Read’ books. (If you’re reading this my love, my life, that’s just a little joke for all of the other readers – just never go into the loft.)

I have a couple of health issues that seemed to make me a little vulnerable to the virus that I was reading about. Firstly, I’m asthmatic and much to my embarrassment have been on the ‘At risk’ list at our doctors’ surgery for years. To add to this though, a couple of years ago I was admitted to hospital with a heart complaint and ended up having surgery to correct a couple of things a month later. I was born with heart problems too, so as much as I don’t like it, the fact is I have history with a bit of a major health issue. Bang goes my plan to live forever.

And so, after discussing the problem with my wife, I went into work on March 17th promising that I’d speak with our HR department. The first colleague I met as I went into the building that day almost shouted at me – ‘You shouldn’t be here!’ – which in truth is not that unusual, but as I was on my way to speak to HR, I didn’t feel too hurt.

I remember my exact words when I got there – “Julia, I’m not sure I should be here.” Yep, dynamic as always! However, I was ushered into an office, told Julia my concerns and asked to go and teach until she’d got back to me. A couple of hours later I was back in the office being told that today would be my last day. The situation would be re-assessed after the Easter holidays, giving me four weeks off. I won’t lie, I was as delighted as I was relieved. Not only could I stay safe, but imagine the amount of episodes of Homes Under The Hammer, Bargain Hunt and American Pickers I could watch!

Anyway, four weeks came and went and I was told to stay away from work. For my own good, not because no one likes me. Because people like me – I’d use up almost all of the fingers of one hand if I had to count them.

Weeks later, I was informed that, in all likelihood that was me done for the academic year. Schools were closed and any re-opening wouldn’t need to involve me. Because no one likes me. Not really; it was because I’m such a sickly weakling. Clearly, if someone were to sneeze in the same room as me it could be fatal.

I return to work in less than a week. When I do it will have been 174 days spent at home. That’s 4176 hours or 250,560 minutes, if you prefer. Or if you like, it’s almost as long as the gestation period of a baboon, but only around half of what it takes to make a baby sealion, llama or alpaca. Whatever way you look at it, it’s a long time away from the classroom and a long time in mummy’s tummy.

As my return approaches I have very much mixed emotions. I swerve wildly between feeling really excited and an extreme sense of dread about the whole thing. During lockdown it felt like I’d never have to go back to any kind of normality and so such a drastic change is going to take quite a bit of getting used to, I suppose. It’ll be brilliant to see people – pupils and colleagues – again, but then again I’m really not used to seeing people. So I suppose mixed emotions are to be expected.

Ironically, the lockdown life should have been the life I dreamed of. The solitude, the days stretching out ahead of me with little in the way of plans, the lack of pressure for any kind of face to face interaction. Not having to work for a living was something I’d long ago fathomed out was perfect for me. I’ve often thought that I might well have been swapped at birth and that my rightful family – noble of lineage, rich, idle, better than you and knew it – didn’t want the poorly specimen they were presented with (that’s me) and instead helped themselves to the athletic baby in the next cot. I could never shake the feeling that working just wasn’t for me. Harry and Margaret weren’t my actual mam and dad. The life on the Tyneside estate wasn’t what I’d really been destined for. So being able to do what I want, when I wanted through lockdown should have been perfect, or at least a bit more to my liking.

To an extent, that’s exactly what it was. But the name tells its own story and lockdown meant no travel and not a whole lot of freedom. Within a couple of weeks I’d painted all of our fences and both sheds. The gardens were looking good, I was reading and writing more and discovering Netflix. Our house was even beginning to resemble the type of place that people would want to live and not just the kind of place that was being photographed by the police having been freshly ransacked by burglars…and bears. But I missed going into work. I missed my team, my friends. I missed the kids, the random things that they’d say and the bizarre situations that you’d inevitably find yourself in.

So now, at the time of writing, I’m days away from heading back to work. And although some things will be familiar, the structure of lessons and the day has altered due to COVID and I don’t even know if I’m allowed in my own classroom yet. I’m excited about going back. As I’ve already stated, I’m honest enough to say I’ve enjoyed having time away from work. However, the bit of me that likes feeling like I’m making a difference to people can’t wait to get back in. I think it’ll be good for my own self-worth too. It’s nice to feel like you’ve got a purpose and for 6 months my purpose seems to have revolved around things like being Joe Wicks’s imaginary best friend and being able to make nice sandwiches for my kids. Try as I might I can’t really say there’s a future in either of those things (although I reckon Joe Wicks would be really impressed with my efforts, if not my hair.)

I’m excited about standing in front of my Year 11s again. I’m excited about coming up with new ideas to help my department out. I’m excited about speaking to a class, explaining things and watching the penny drop with kids who were adamant that they didn’t understand (it happens, on average about three times a year). I’m excited about sending sarcastic emails to our department. I’m excited about sending stupid emails about the ideas that swim around my head all day to our department too. I’m excited about meeting deadlines for projects I’ve been working on for months. I’m excited about taking staff briefings and slipping in silly jokes or daft pictures to a PowerPoint. I’m excited about attending meetings…alright, I’m not excited about that; I’m not some kind of pervert.

On the other hand, I’m terrified. I’m terrified of the risk to my health. I’m terrified of hearing the news that someone has tested positive. I’m terrified of the amount of people. I’m terrified that after all this time, I simply won’t be able to do the job. I’m terrified of the exhaustion that I reckon I’ll be feeling in about three weeks from now. I’m terrified of the new routine. I’m terrified of messing up with COVID procedures. I’m terrified of the new routine, the longer lessons, the pressure on Year 11. I’m even terrified that I might get part way through the new term and find that I’m just not enjoying what I do anymore. I might want to return to my royal duties instead! I’m terrified that a department and a school that has done without me for so long might simply not need me.

In short, my head is swimming with it all. From genuine concerns and excitement like those above to silly things like the fact that I haven’t worn a suit, shirt and tie for so long that it’ll just be strange. I also haven’t worn proper shoes for six months. I’ve spent most of it in shorts and trainers (and a t-shirt just in case anyone who knows me finds their eyes are burning at the image that their mind just conjured up).

I’m fully aware that lots of people have worked all the way through lockdown and the trauma of COVID-19. I know some of them and have heard of the strain that this past 6 months has put on them. So I’m not asking for sympathy. But on Monday, as I find myself in a school again and on Tuesday, as I stand in front of a class for the first time in half a year, I will feel physically sick. I’ll wonder what I’m doing, if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m safe.

After over twenty years as a teacher, next week I will enter a classroom both more experienced and more uncertain than I’ve even been. And that is as exciting as it is terrifying. No doubt next week I can tell you all about it. Until then, wish me luck!

101 Things I’ve Learnt in Lockdown (give or take quite a few things for the sake of a title)

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Given some of the reading of dystopian fiction I’ve done over the years and some of the television I’ve watched, lockdown or quarantine has surprised me. We were ready for the apocalypse. And when I say ready, I mean that my tendency to over-buy, ‘just in case’ meant that we could have existed on a diet of Weetabix and shampoo for quite a while yet. As avid viewers of The Walking Dead over the years, we were also confident about how to stave off zombies or even rival gangs led by over zealous culty types.

So it came as a surprise when none of these skills were needed. There was disappointment too that my son’s baseball bat would not be customised and pressed into some Negan style action. Instead, it became an exercise in ridding myself of guilt at being unable to work and then staving off boredom. We figured out new ways to look at things and also worked out how to get through what was a pretty challenging situation. As a result, I feel like I’ve learnt a lot – about other people and about myself. So here we go; 101 things I’ve learnt during lockdown (give or take quite a few things for the sake of a title).

  1. I love a bit of quiet. I work as a teacher and thus, working amongst 900 children as well as my sometimes over excitable department can sometimes be a bit noisy. At last count I worked in a department of 436 women – or it might have been 10 – and when they laugh, screech or encounter anything drag queen or dog related, it can get loud. I tend to stick to my classroom. I’ll look forward to finding myself right in the middle of it again sometime soon though. I miss those gals! Lockdown, with its lack of people, has meant lots of being out in my garden, pottering with nothing but birdsong for company. We live about a mile away from a busy motorway, but for a few months it couldn’t be heard. The quiet has allowed me to think, to contemplate, and to create, although that last bit has mainly been in the form of mindless poetry, so maybe there is a cloud to this silver lining! Whatever has gone on elsewhere, I’ve enjoyed the silence.
  2. It’s actually not that difficult to lose track of the days. I haven’t worked for months. Not in the actual work environment anyway. As a result, my routine has been knocked sideways and as much as I’ve tutted at people in the past for claiming to not know what day it was, I’ve found that at times I’ve really had to think hard just to work out if it’s a Tuesday or a Sunday. It’s usually been a Wednesday though.
  3. The four of us can actually live together in some kind of harmony. I imagined that we’d kill each other. Or that I might just snap and leave the house, Forrest Gump style and run for a couple of years until I reached Alaska or somewhere. None of this happened. None of it ever looked likely either. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve not been like The Waltons (Google them, younger people) but we’ve been quite the harmonious group. I’ve adjusted to home school-related tantrums, the bouncing and shouting that go hand in hand with Roblox, the daily updates on celebrities that I’ve never heard of and their latest moment of Instagram related glory (you’re cheering on people having their photo taken, young people) and even my daughter’s ever more angry explanations of why her phone is vital for school work. We’ve all adjusted. We’ve all coped. There have been afternoons of board games, TV marathons, family walks, baking, Wii Sing, learning of languages…all sorts to fill the time. And we’ve survived.
  4. I can live without football. Younger me would be appalled. But when football closed own at all levels, I coped. I’ve been around the game all my life – playing, coaching, supporting – and I adore it. But despite my horror at it being taken away, I didn’t find it difficult at all. I missed watching my team, Newcastle United. I missed coaching my Under 12 team. But within a few weeks, its absence was normal. I sought solace in exercise; working out, walking, and running and so the element of competition about me was sated quite easily. It’s helped that as a Newcastle fan, I’m used to information coming out of the club being a rarity. The fans don’t matter at NUFC and so we were fully used to hearing nothing. Even when on the verge of a takeover that would make us the richest club in world football, nobody bothered to speak. And after a while even that became normal. I just occupied my time with other things; something I would have never thought possible. Football? I’ve hardly given it a thought.
  5. I love being able to watch football every day! And then they brought it back and I was hooked again! Since Project Restart began there has been football on our screens every day. I haven’t watched all of it. But I’ve managed to sneak a look at some of it probably most days. The empty stadia haven’t mattered. I’ve even turned off the fake crowd noise in favour of the shouting of 40 or 50 people in the stadium and the occasional hilarious bit of swearing. Grassroots football has also resumed and so my Under 12 team has trained once again, albeit under very different, very strict guidelines linked to Coronavirus. No matter – it’s been amazing to be out on the grass again. Football? Inject it straight into my veins!
  6. Driving your car is now an acceptable eye test If you’re not from the UK or you’ve spent lockdown hiding under a rock, the name Dominic Cummings won’t mean anything to you. Quick explanation – he’s the chief adviser and political strategist to our government. Anyway, during lockdown he seems to have decided to visit his parents 264 miles away while the rest of us were confined to our homes. When he got found out he concocted a story about his wife showing signs of Covid19, which subsequently meant that he had to drive 200 miles to ensure childcare in case she was really poorly. Because, of course, he knew no one with any influence who could have sorted him out an emergency babysitter. He definitely didn’t just think he was above the law and fancied a visit to see mummy and daddy on their country estate. No way. Not a chance. Part of his crazy story involved the fact that he then developed a problem with his eyes – some guys have all the bad luck, eh? – and so in order to test his eyesight out, he chose to drive some thirty miles with his now not ill wife and not destitute child in the car. Thus, in the UK, we all learned that if you have a problem with your eyesight then the government’s chief political adviser says, “Go for a drive!”
  7. Barnard Castle is the new Lourdes. Cummings from number 6 again. Barnard Castle was where he drove to and miraculously cured his poorly eyes. He cured his eyes by spending the entire day there. And did I mention it was his wife’s birthday on that day? So, I suppose it was a fitting present from a loving husband to take his wife somewhere where they could cure her of a virus that was killing thousands of people across the globe. So really, he’s just a regular guy who turned hero in the midst of a global pandemic. Definitely not a privileged dickhead he thought he was a great deal better than the rest of us. So, if you’re ill and don’t fancy all the crowds that would typify a trip to Lourdes, head to Barnard Castle in County Durham. Tell them Dominic Cummings sent you. And if anyone asks, he did nothing wrong.
  8. A surprising amount of people can’t follow a one-way system or read a No Entry sign Despite having to self isolate for health reasons I’ve had to go to the supermarket on a few occasions during lockdown. Sometimes, with my wife’s work commitments, there’s been no one else. It’s been quite harrowing. I’ve had to stand in queues like something out of the Cold War and then when you get into the shop there has been an even colder atmosphere. People don’t look at you. Some practically crawl around the place forgetting that there will be areas where a 2 metre social distance just isn’t possible. And sadly, there are far too many absolute tools that refuse to follow the rules. That’s them, tootling up and down the aisles like they own the place, refusing to follow a simple one-way system or take any notice whatsoever of a massive No Entry sign plastered all over the floor in red. Arrow blindness! My local supermarket had ends of aisles railed off, big green arrows on the floor, and actual No Entry signs in red and white and yet some people still managed to get lost and conveniently wander down every aisle the wrong way. The irony a lot of the time is that they’re the ones wearing the masks! They might as well wear it over their eyes!
  9. I like my neighbours I’ve never been one for cozy chats across the fence. In fact, I’d probably have gladly put up a bigger fence in the past. However, throughout lockdown, my elderly neighbour has found a way to appear noiselessly while I’ve been pottering and then just started chatting whether I’m looking or not. One day, he crept up so stealthily and started talking so loudly that I actually threw what I was holding in the air, such was my shock. He just carried on chatting like nothing had happened. Despite this, I’ve found myself warming to him and I have to say, it’s nice to have good neighbours. Apparently, everybody needs them.
  10. I’ve glimpsed retirement…and I love it! No rules, no routine, no commute, exercise when I feel like it, no suit and tie…I’m more than ready for that pension!
  11. Me and IT don’t get along My work laptop won’t attach to the internet. It won’t let me look at documents from work. Its USB ports are all broken. It is essentially a fancy typewriter. My home laptop picks and chooses which internet sites it will find – you’d be amazed at the number of times that Google is unavailable. It also won’t open Word documents. Or PowerPoints. Or Excel. And it runs as if it’s on dial-up. All of this has made working from home incredibly stressful. Even thinking about it makes my blood boil. Anyway, how either laptop still exists is beyond me. My relationship with IT has seen me develop new and wonderful swear words, but I am yet to attempt laptop surgery with a hammer. I must have mellowed considerably.
  12. When someone knocks at your door in Lockdown it is utterly terrifying. It’s bad enough at the best of times when it might be someone trying to sell you something. However, during a global pandemic, when no one should be out and about and a knock at the door could just be a cunning zombie trying to lure you out with politeness, it’s heart stopping.
  13. Whatever the cause, people banging pots and pans with spoons is actually not all that necessary. Here in the UK the public took to their doorsteps every Thursday night for weeks in order to applaud and show solidarity with our NHS workers, who were putting their lives at risk every day. It was nice; a chance to show some appreciation for our often unsung heroes, while also feeling part of your local community. And then it turned into a competition. People turned out in fancy dress, there were fireworks, air horns…and of course pots and pans. Now I don’t want to be a killjoy here, but I’ll say it anyway. The air being filled with the sound of pots and pans is not nice. It’s not a fitting tribute, either. If, when I die, people turn up at my funeral banging pots and pans together, I will find a way to haunt them. I’d like to think that doctors and nurses thought it wasn’t necessary. I’d like to think they were all just thinking that it was nothing short of a racket!
  14. The town where I live has some real surprises. In Lockdown our government sanctioned an hour of daily exercise for families. So out we went, every day or night, often walking for 3 miles. It meant that we explored our town quite a lot. Without doubt, the best thing that we discovered was that in one of the more well-to-do households, where they have a very big back garden, they’ve got an entire railway track running around it. We’ve got a washing line, two sheds, a very annoying trampoline and a small football goal. Flash Harry up the road has got Thomas the Tank Engine and friends!
  15. The empty roads are an open invitation for dickheads to drive badly. Some people – mainly young men – mistook exercise for going out in their car. Some people – mainly young men – mistook a deserted road for a race track. Some people – mainly young men – are dickheads.

So there you have it. I learned a lot during Lockdown. I think we probably all witnessed human behaviour at both its best and its worst. Or at least its most selfish. But where there are negatives, you’ll most likely find positives. And it’s always good to learn from your experiences.

Did you learn anything from Lockdown? Let me know what you learned and what you thought in the comments.

Poetry Blog – A New Normal

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I wrote this one lockdown morning, a few weeks ago in the early hours. I couldn’t sleep, as has been the case all too often lately. I felt creative – what had kept me awake was that phrase, ‘a new normal’ that we’ve all been trying to get used to lately. I had a few lines swimming round in my head and decided to get up and try and write something. It’s no understatement to say that COVID-19 and lockdown/quarantine has changed everybody’s lives immeasurably. One thing that it has done for me is boost my creativity and on this particular early morning, that feeling of having to write something, combined with fear and uncertainty had me scribbling for a good hour. Amongst other things this poem was the result.

A New Normal

And from our fearful hibernation a new normal emerges.
Where faded lines on the ground tell us where to stand and judgemental frowns tell us how to do it.
Elsewhere, no lines are drawn in the sand and crowds flock like fearless pilgrims to beaches and beauty spots.
No one can count to six anymore.
Those we have lost, it seems, are easily forgotten for a burger or an ice cream.
You paid your dues in Thursday night applause, after all. This is the least you should expect.

Meanwhile, some still huddle together, scarred by the past and frightened of this new way of life, feeling our way back tentatively, occasionally forgetting ourselves at the sight of a friendly face, then paranoid that we stood too close.
Our children leave us but remain in bubbles for safety.
Life has to move on, yet we wish to stay this way forever. Confused like a swirl of spinning leaves, we have no answer.
We are passengers, resisting yet blown along all the same. Powerless. Frightened of a silent, faceless foe.

We frown at those who attempt to live again, but know we must submit ourselves back to the crowd sometime.
Sometime.
We don’t know when.
It is a devilish inevitability that awaits us. And we know we cannot shake its hand and be done.
We scold ourselves for feeling afraid, for not daring.
Life, it seems might simply never be the same again.
However brave, wherever you stand in that crowd, the back of your mind will always echo with the voice that warns against the new normal.

Some notes…

I’m not returning to work yet, but have many friends who are. The world scares me a bit at the minute. I keep hearing that phrase ‘new normal’ but I’m yet to discover mine because I’m so isolated. That made me write the poem.

It’s amazed me watching some people, who rather than adapt, seem to think that they’ve been locked down enough and that somehow time has healed things. That’s there in the line about ‘pilgrims’ and the line about ‘Thursday night applause’ refers to the Clap for Carers campaign in the UK, where people have stood outside their homes every Thursday night to applaud and acknowledge the work of our NHS. I think it’s a brilliant gesture, but have always wondered if some see it as some kind of badge of honour that allows them to take the moral high ground and then and go and do whatever they want. The fact that ‘no one can count to six anymore’ references the government ruling that people could gather in groups of six when certain lockdown rules were relaxed and many people seemed to just believe that what they actually meant was groups of over six or just multiples of six!

The line about feeling paranoid was just me referencing the fact that when I have bumped into people on our lovely government sanctioned walks, I always leave the situation wondering if I’d dropped my guard and mistakenly stood too close. I’m not the most tactile person, but nor am I a natural at standing two metres away from people I’m talking to!

The final verse was meant to represent the uncertainty of some people. I know in our house, we’d rather stay locked down, while understanding that this all has to stop somewhere and that things are undoubtedly a lot safer now.

Anyway, I hope you like the poem. It was an attempt to get out some of the frustration and fear that I have felt over these last couple of months and also at the situation that we find ourselves in now amidst the prospect of the ‘new normal’.

Feel free to leave comments – it’s always interesting to hear what people think of something so personal.

Lockdown Literature

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Lockdown should have been a miserable time. If you’d been told that you’d have to stay indoors almost indefinitely because there was the kind of virus that you’d only ever witnessed in the realms of Hollywood and this was the only thing that would keep you safe, you’d have been terrified. As well as looking at the people you’d be living with and wondering which one you’d end up eating first. But then, of course, this is exactly what you were told. (Answers in the comments about who you’ve eaten or are eyeing up for the garlic and herb marinade, by the way).

I’m sure though I’m not alone when I tell you that lockdown has been far from miserable. Yes, it’s painful being away from family, friends, loved-ones and simple normality, but it doesn’t half test your resolve and your sense of creativity. I have two children – a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old – and the challenge of keeping them busy, both with home-schooling and just in terms of general entertainment is tricky to say the least! The challenge of actually continuing to like them has been even trickier at times!

But there have been bright spots and one of which has been the way that people have rallied round each other. Yes, we can’t be together, but that’s not stopped people being kind and resourceful. Some have volunteered and made deliveries, picked up shopping and prescriptions for the elderly or clapped for the NHS. Me? I’ve done some of that and offered my services out even more. However, easily one of the best things I’ve done is to form a Facebook group to help everyone people stay creative.

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Lockdown Literature – although it seems to have fizzled out of late – has been great. It was a group that I started in order to encourage some of my friends to stay creative during isolation and to see what people would write. It would also be another good way of staying in touch. The response across the weeks has been amazing – poems, short stories, life writing, even some literary criticism.

The whole idea came about because a friend had done similar, but with an art group. A bunch of us were attempting to post artwork regularly and as I’d been keen to start sketching again, so it served a purpose too. It was definitely fun. I must admit though, that looking at other people’s art made me feel quite inferior and this played a part in forming the Lockdown Literature group. In short, I knew that I was a better writer than an artist!

Lockdown Literature has prompted me to write some poems. This was something I had last done a few years ago and something I’d considered starting using as part of this blog. Typically for me though, I couldn’t find the notebook containing previous poems. And so, I had to start all over again.

My first idea came when I was pegging washing out on the line to dry. I was looking around the washing at my neighbour’s garden and it just occurred to me that his shed was massive. I was humbled by his shed! And a bit jealous, if I’m honest. So, I finished the hanging the washing out, dashed inside and started scribbling stuff down in my notebook. In about 20 minutes I had a poem and by the time half an hour had passed I’d posted it in the group.

I see my poetry as generally being a bit silly really. I like to try to use humour and to experiment with language, if I can. ‘My Neighbour’s Shed’ was exactly that. Silly, sarcastic and, at times, just me having fun with language. There was nothing here to change anyone’s life, nothing to move anyone to tears…or even think, really! Just an attempt to make people smile.

Since then, I’ve written poems about exercise gurus, home-schooling, nature and Prince amongst other things. And yes, that did say Prince, as in the little funky, purply adorned fella. But, inspired by others in the group, who it has to be said have written with real beauty and maturity, I’ve also written much more personal poems about family, which I’ll be posting in the blog in the coming weeks and months.

At the moment the group seems to have hit an almost terminal low. I’ve continued to contribute, but I feel like people might start to think I’m using it as some kind of showcase soon. A bit of a ‘Hey guys, this is me…’ kind of thing and that would never be my intention. So, I’m trying to come up with ways of getting people interested again, but it’s tricky without appearing to be annoyed at people, which I’m really not. I’d just love to read some more of the poems and stories that I’d read before.

So – and apart from me it seems to be an exclusively female group of contributors – here’s a little push, I guess. Laura – I’d like to see more life writing, Karen, that short story never ended, Ruth, Kath, Kylie, Emma, Hannah and anyone else in the group who I’ve missed, more of your poems, please! I’m clearly pals with a lot of very talented people! I’ve loved reading the things that my friends have written and for a month or so it felt like Lockdown Literature was a tiny force for good. And although I’m sure it’s not the most original idea anyone’s ever had, I’d definitely recommend setting up such a group with other like-minded souls. You could let me know about our own groups in the comments.

It seems appropriate to end with a poem. So, I will! This was a poem I wrote that was a little different from my other ones. I wrote it a while ago now having been forced out of bed by an idea. I knew I had to get up and get some words down on the page. I’m still unsure about this poem, but, as I said when I posted it in the group, it might be apt for the times that we’re all living through.

Happen

Don’t.
Don’t forever wait.
For the right time, the perfect place, the ideal feeling.
Make something happen.

Pick up the phone, write the letter, click send,
speak to him, speak to her, write the song, do the thing.
Make something happen.

Don’t.
Don’t sit on the fence.
Don’t leave it for tomorrow, count to ten, count to a thousand.
Make something happen.

Life will not wait. There is no perfect time.
There is no perfect. The wind won’t change and the cracks in the pavement don’t actually matter.
Before you know it time has flown, things have changed, they’ve found someone else who said or did what you should have, could have…
Make something happen.