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.

How to survive the pandemic – 5 Top Tips that might not be all that serious!

It’s fairly safe to say and certainly not anything new to learn, but it’s been one hell of a year or so. Since news of Covid-19 broke in early January of last year, things have gathered momentum somewhat. As the virus crossed continents our moods changed and then as the world was locked down things plummeted to new lows. And since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride of decidedly average highs and Mariana trench sized lows.

Here in the UK, we’ve been hit hard and people have been forced to battle to survive not just the virus and it’s various strains, but the boredom and isolation of successive lockdowns as well as the idiotic behaviour of their fellow Brits. As I write news broke just a few hours ago of a school hall in London being hired out and unbeknownst to the school itself, playing host to a wedding where 400 people attended. Thousands have died, but it pales into insignificance at the thought of not having your 3rd cousin’s neighbours and their postman at your wedding, right?

Aside from problems like this, something that has most likely affected a large percentage of people is the sheer boredom of it all. Within weeks I’d painted every fence panel we have as well as our sheds. I’d trimmed shrubs and trees, cut lawns regularly enough that they could have hosted Wimbledon, walked every available route around our town, read book after book, watched television until my eyes hurt, skillfully sidestepped the sensation that became Zoom quizzes and exhausted myself exhausting every possible Joe Wicks video on YouTube. I daresay many of you were exactly the same. Although, perhaps it was just me that approached Zoom quizzes with such grumpiness and cynicism.

As we come up to almost a year of living in a pandemic, it seems boredom is at its absolute zenith. We can’t exercise as much – well not in the northern hemisphere anyway; it’s bloody freezing. And just when you think you’ve pretty much learnt to live with every Covid related u-turn that life throws at you, something else comes along and smacks you right in the chops, sending you back to square one once more. So, I had a little think and I hope that I’ve come up with some top tips that you can try out to make living through the pandemic that little bit more interesting. As usual with me and lists, they’re in no particular order.

Top Tip 1

Simon was determined to have a risk free walk…even if it meant taking the long way round again. Photo by Jenny Uhling on Pexels.com

Perfect your ‘anti-people skills’. Avoidance tactics are never more important than in a pandemic, so these skills include: never venturing near anyone at all, including your own family, walking in zig-zags in order to avoid fellow government sanctioned fitness freaks and fresh air junkies (you may want to never get used to walking on the same side of the road for any more than a few hundred yards), squeezing onto kerbs like a tightrope walker if you can’t get across a road to avoid oncoming humans and holding your breath like a free diver whose life depends on it. Because your life might depend on it.

Top Tip 2

Spotting that a Maths teacher had committed an apostrophe crime, Yvonne stifled a sob and prepared a suitably caustic, mocking email to her colleagues. Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

Alleviate the at work boredom by writing sarcastic emails. This is also a lifestyle choice for me personally and there was no need for a pandemic to invoke this as a rule. However, in times of pandemic and as a teacher working alone, isolated all day in a classroom full of desks, chairs but no other humans, a slice of sarcasm often comes in handy. And while not revealing actual subject matter of work based sarcastic emails, I can reveal that the IT department remains, as always, a wonderful target. Always was and always will be. Furthermore, the silly ‘If you had to…’ style email is always a favourite.

Top Tip 3

Shit just got real in Sandra’s house. Someone was knocking at the back gate. Photo by Kony Xyzx on Pexels.com

Alleviate lockdown boredom by turning knocks at the door or tradesmen’s visits into a new and exciting game. We’ve done this for years in our house, as we much prefer not to answer the door to people until we’ve actually sussed out who they are. If you’re a relative you’re probably getting in…depends on the relative. So, in Covid times, imagine there’s a knock at the door or even a visit from the window cleaner. Now role play! Make sure you hide and shush as much as is possible. Shuffle on your front like an expert sniper and try seeing how close you can get to the window without its cleaner detecting your presence. I find chairs and sofas are perfect allies for this game. Try it. Next time there’s a knock at the door or you hear the rattle of a ladder, enter stealth mode and act like there’s a zombie apocalypse. Those confined to barracks hours will simply fly by!

Top Tip 4

These days, Emma found that calling lemons ‘Shit limes’ was her only source of fun. Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

See just how much you can get away with while wearing a mask. Local ruffians breaking lockdown rules and ‘hanging’ outside a closed off license as you walk by on a Boris appointed walk? Don your mask and stick your tongue out at them. Those cheeky scamps deserve your derision. Has a dog jumped up at you while tied up outside your local supermarket? Remember, you’re wearing a mask – it’s mandatory – so you’re free to call said dog a ‘massive arsehole’ or any other insult that you deem necessary. No one can see you doing it, no one could prove a thing. And surely no one’s going to ask if you just called that terrier an arsehole, are they? This game can also be played inside said supermarkets where volume control is your own issue, but the mask will cover your mouth so no one can prove a thing. So if you fancy making snide remarks at those supermarket dawdlers, now’s your time to shine.

Top Tip 5

“Good evening Wembley” cried Ian before pointing and winking at the fridge. “My name is Ian and I’m on a mission to rock!” Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The pandemic, coupled with several lockdown situations, have robbed people of a sense of normal life. We are missing out on many aspects of our social lives and this in turn has had an effect on the mental health of millions of people. Sport continues via almost endless TV coverage but one place that remains largely uncatered for is music. Yes, various bands and solo artists have put on Zoom gigs, but it’s not the same as the excitement of attending the real thing. So I have a solution. Kitchen gigging. Put simply, ask Alexa to play songs by your chosen artist and then sing along. Are you in the band or the audience? The choice is yours, my friend. Me? Usually the singer, as you ask, but I play a mean bass guitar too. You may want to factor in other additions to add realism here, otherwise or you’re literally just singing along to songs next to a sink. My sources tell me that footstools make great front of stage monitors, brooms or mops are ideal microphone stands, while a pile of distant balloons and a squint can give the illusion of a passable audience. They tell me that the key here is to have a large enough space to dance or throw other wild shapes, a vivid imagination, no shame or dignity and to remember that the words aren’t important; this is a live gig so you’re free to go ‘off piste’ as it were with the lyrics. You can even pause said device for a bit of pre-song banter with your ‘crowd’ for added fun. My sources also tell me that this is a whole host of fun, it’s extremely cool and that even in middle age, you can play the pretend rock god. Obviously, I have to take their word for it…

So there you have it. Just when you thought you might allow the share size crisps and 12 packs of lager to seduce you into extraordinary levels of lockdown weight gain, I give you five tips to help you get through our current crisis!

I’d love hear what people thought, so feel free to let me know in the comments. Similarly, if you have a go at window cleaner zombie role play or insult the odd dog, let me know how it went. And if you have any tips of your own, I’m a very keen listener! I hoped you enjoyed the blog!

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.

My not so splendid self-isolation diary

coronaWith Coronavirus in full swing across the world it was inevitable that it would eventually come knocking at my door. Last Tuesday was that day. I don’t have the virus, but as a result of underlying medical conditions have had to self-isolate after work told me to stay away for my own good.

I feel like there’s nothing actually wrong with me, but I must admit that I’d begun to worry about the way things were developing and the fact that I would be vulnerable to the virus. But while there’s a sense of relief at being at home, it’s mostly overwhelmed by a sense of frustration. So, in order to alleviate the boredom, I decided to write a blog.

My first day of isolation was largely spent around the house. I did pop out. I gave my daughter a lift to the top of the road to meet her lift to school and went to the bottom of the drive a couple of the times to put stuff in the bin. As you can imagine, it was mostly a mind-numbing experience. As a middle-aged man, I’ve worked for longer than I can remember and so you get used to a bit of social interaction. I work in an English department with fantastic people and so to suddenly be wrenched away from them has left a bit of a void. So it was a day of feeling quite sad really.

On a few of occasions the sadness was amplified too. It started when I received a message from my boss, saying that my calmness would be missed and that the right decision had been made. Thoughts immediately returned not just to my brilliant colleagues, but to my classes – from the over confident kids right through to the more vulnerable youngsters I engage with daily. With exams only just over the horizon it felt kind of desperate that I wouldn’t be there to keep them working hard.

When my wife told me about the Easter eggs at Asda it made me sad. A bit pathetic, right? But there is a reason. On Monday night we received the information that football at grassroots level had been shut down for the foreseeable future, meaning that as a grassroots coach, a big part of my social life was taken away there and then. Last year I bought all of my squad an Easter egg and the thought of not seeing their greedy little faces lighting up as they grabbed an egg this time around was pretty rubbish, to say the least.

Busying myself by tidying up didn’t help either. At one stage I put my football boots away and then realised that it might be a long while before I pull them back on again. In a day of small peaks and large troughs, this had me reaching new depths.

I quickly realised that I needed a plan. Part of that would include blogging and I would also have to be sending work in for my classes until the inevitable happens and the school is forced to close. But in order to retain some sense of sanity, I’d need to get out and about for the odd walk and to make sure I got some exercise.

Later on, there’s a cry from upstairs followed by the noise of hurried footsteps heading down towards us. ‘My school’s closing! My school’s closing!’ We immediately put the television on to be greeted with the sight of Boris Johnson confirming that, indeed, schools across England will close after Friday. I have to admit that it comes as a bit of a shock. The finality of it all. The country’s closing down and despite being someone who tries to never dwell on matters too much, I can’t stop thinking about it.

By around 6pm I’ve had enough. For the first time in a very long time I feel like I’m going to explode. Not literally, thankfully. Because the virus the leads you to explode sounds like a nightmare and I’d happily sit in the house for as long as it took to avoid that one.

I take the kids out for a long walk, hoping that fresh air will help us all out. Later that evening I resort to a tried and tested method of banishing my worries. A great big glass of red wine and a cornetto. It’s been a hell of a day.

Day two is different. Better. I take the kids to school and the pop down to Sainsbury’s to buy a few things. I’m not there to panic buy as we’ve always tried to make sure that we have a little extra in. I’ve said I’ll get cotton pads for make-up removal for my daughter. However, I’m forced to wait in the car for half an hour as the supermarket are giving over their first hour of trading to pensioners and the vulnerable. I could play the ‘high risk’ card here, but instead just go back and sit in the car and listen to the radio. What I witness over the next half hour is a little annoying to say the least as pensioner after pensioner unloads over-stacked trolleys into the boot of their cars. They’ve stripped the shelves like a rare breed of toilet roll locust. From my vantage point it’s clear to see that a fair few of them already have packed bags from other supermarkets in the boot. So even the old and vulnerable are panic buying! But it’s OK, we’ll just lay the blame at the door of stupid people instead. None of this could possibly be attributed to cuddly grey haired people.

When I return home I watch a little bit of TV before deciding that I’d be better off outside the house. So, I wrap up and go for a walk. Today, according to my watch, I’ll do over 21,000 steps and rack up some 11.3 miles. I walk and walk and walk. And when I return home, I head straight back out again, and walk up to the doctors to collect my wife’s prescription. It’s predictably chaotic and I leave empty handed. But at least I’m not sat in the house, watching telly and driving myself mad. And yes, I’m keeping a safe social distance from other people. If you’ve met me you know that social distancing isn’t just a rule for a crisis with me, but more or less a way of life!

In the afternoon I make a video and send it to some friends to see what they think. It’s a parody video of a teaching guru. He’s his own biggest fan. It may yet make a more public appearance, but for now I’m happy that my pals seem to enjoy it. It’s a lovely response, but in turn it serves to accentuate the fact that I really miss being at work. However, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so I’m glad that my boredom has forced me into action.

By Day Three I’m a great deal more calm. This will be the last day spent on my own as my kids will be at home from now on, what with schools closing across England. My wife will most likely work from home too. I watch a bit of television, but by about 9.30 I’m crawling the walls and so, I grab my wife’s prescription, put my jacket and trainers on and head out. The streets are quiet so it isn’t all that difficult to avoid people, but it’s a very different story at the pharmacy. I walk in through the automatic doors and take my place in what seems to be a very strange queue. There aren’t many of us, but we’re spaced out right across the floor of the pharmacy. There’s also a two metre barrier across the counter with red and white tape stuck between cones on the floor. I realise that things are serious, but I can’t help but smile.

The barrier isn’t the only thing that’s serious though. The faces of the pensioners in front of me are too. And they’re staring at me. I wonder briefly if I have porridge down my chin, but a furtive stroke of my face reveals that I’m OK. Then the woman speaks.

“You can’t be in here.”

“Huh?”

“You can’t be in here.”

“But this is where you get prescriptions.” I raise my little booklet prescription to illustrate my point.”

“But you can’t be in here.” I’m just about to lose my rag and start ranting about panic buying in Sainsbury’s when she explains.

“It’s three at a time. You have to wait outside.”

I shrug my shoulders and leave, hoping that I’ve missed the explanation on the door. But the only thing on the door is a sheet of A4 paper with a word-processed notice that informs all who cross the threshold that Coronavirus is knocking about. Considerate, I think, and resolve to watch the news a bit more.

Eventually, I’m allowed in and this time I’m successful. As I pay I make an exaggerated fuss of reaching over the 2 metre gap, flailing around trying to get contactless to make the required contact in order to transfer the money. I manage on the third attempt and hope that however dark the humour here, it’s made people smile. It hasn’t, unless you count me. I grab the prescription, stuff it in my pocket and leave. I head away from home. More exercise, more thinking time.

I walk and my thoughts turn to my Year 11 class. I didn’t tell them that I wouldn’t be back at the end of our final lesson on Tuesday. I didn’t want to unsettle them. At that point there were still exams to be studying for. But that was short-lived and now I feel quite rueful about the fact that I didn’t say goodbye. Every year they ask, “Will you miss us, sir?” My answer is always the same. In the nicest possible way I ell them “No”, not because I won’t ever give them a passing thought or because I don’t build relationships with the classes, but because there’s always another Year 11 group, another exam class.

This year, in forced isolation, I’ll miss them terribly.