Although 2020 was a sh*tshow and 2021 isn't looking much better, I still couldn't resist making plans in January. It's something I've been doing annually since my life got bent out of shape in 2001 and I ended up becoming a bit of recluse for a year or several (not unlike the past 12 months).
Proper plans tend work a lot better than resolutions and I end up getting v excited about the year ahead. It started with a Word doc in 2001 and has escalated to whiteboarding the crap out of my life, printing the scans and pinning them somewhere to keep me moving forward on things.
I've got my main focuses down for this year – walking, writing, health, collage – with a generous smattering of extras that occasionally threaten to take over the main courses. The first big thing is to get my '100 days of the pandemic diary' into an ebook format. I've never done anything like that before but I'm aiming to have it ready for the March anniversary of the first UK lockdown. (There I've said it publicly so… wish me luck.)
But then this exhortation from my vet arrived in my peripheral vision… to live life more like a dog. Now those are resolutions to live by.
So maybe I'll just follow this instead and ask WWADD (what would a dog do?) for life's dilemmas. Sharing on…
For years I've kept a list in the back of my diary of books I've read (recently I've started adding my media diet too). That's how I know that I read 37 books in 2019 and, weirdly, it'll be exactly 37 by the end of 2020. There's consistent pacing for you.
This is a massive jump up from my reading levels of a few years ago. Working from home since 2009 has meant no commute which has also meant no book time since reading is all about the habit.
But then I discovered bath time reading (and also rejoined my local library, which has been fantastic for even the latest books). Reading is now part of my end-of-night routine, involving either a long soak with a good book – or a short soak with a dull book. Anyway, the result is that I'm back to getting through a book every 9.86 days, on average.
Everyone's taste in books is different but here are my top three books of the past year in case any take your fancy. Some are available to borrow.
1. Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
William Finnegan's Pulitzer prize-winning surf autobiography covers the golden era of surfing (60s, 70s and 80s), from his childhood spent in California and Hawaii then travelling and discovering surf breaks around Asia, the South Pacific, Europe and Africa that are now world-famous. How someone can write about waves for 400 pages and keep each one fresh is quite astounding but he did go on to a career as a journalist and is now a staff writer at The New Yorker so he has the word chops.
Out of all the places Finnegan surfed, San Francisco's cold wild waters and Madeira's mid-ocean, round-island currents are the one that stand out as he comes to the edge of his surfing capabilities.
I'll also remember this book as a much-needed escape during the first coronavirus lockdown. It was a birthday gift from Pete, and is currently on loan to a friend, but tap me up if you want to borrow it at some point.
2. Suite Venetienne
Sophie Calle is more than an artist. She is like the bastard modern lovechild of journalism, multimedia and the kind of quirky ideas that you want to see played out (almost story pitches to an editor). She then lives these ideas out and processes them into artistic, often autobiographical outcomes. She is the only artist where I've had to queue to get to her books because other women were in the way discussing how much they loved her show. This was at the Photographer's Gallery in 2017 when she was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Prize.
Ina very French way, she took up art aged 27 or so because she was bored. She started following people as artistic explorations – and this culminated in Suite Venetienne, her first 'artist's book', published in 1988.
In it she meets a man at a party in her home city of Paris and decides to follow him to Venice. The book is a diary log of detection, surveillance and photography of and around her target (prey?). I like how it turns the power dynamic of a male-female stalking around – in her feminine world she doesn't actually want to meet him but have a sort of affair with him in her head. She is a thinking woman and perhaps he is the crumpet although the book isn't really about him while being all about him.
I also like what happens when you act on a crazy idea that takes you on a personal journey – it was an apt start to her art career (she is now in nearly 70). All her books are great but this one is a strangely poetic ride.
3. Fleischman is in Trouble
If I had to pick a fiction book this year, Taffy Brodesser-Akner's book is probably the one. Not because of all the plaudits it received but because of its initially confusing but later clever little inserts of unrest in the narration that changes, well, everything – even the whole nature of the novel you thought you were reading.
You follow the story of the main character – a fortysometing man whose marriage has fallen apart through no seeming fault of his own and is now sinking and swimming in the shock modern world of sex-in-your-face dating. Meanwhile his wife has run off somewhere – a yoga retreat upstate – and he has been left holding the baby (two kids). But who is really telling this story and why?
Clever, smart and a bit of a sleeper until the end – much like another favourite book of mine 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' which I hated until the last 100 pages.
No spoilers. I've already said too much.
Bonus best bath books of 2019
If none of the above takes your fancy, 2019 was an even better year for books. I'd highly recommend:
Educated by Tara Westover – the most incredible memoir of an escape from a batshit crazy family through the power of education.
What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman – a travel autobiography that's funny and honest about the world of backpacking and torrid affairs abroad.
The Salt Path by Raynor Wynn – what happens to a middle-age couple when they go bankrupt, receive a terminal illness diagnosis and decide to walk the SW Coastal Path together on benefits.
Honourable mentions for Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (about women and desire), Circe by Madeleine Miller (a female perspective on the Ancient Greek gods and co) and The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs by Tristan Gooley (a compendium of cool shit you can drop into your walk conversations and sound like a wise old ancient).
Oh hello! I'm back! And here we all are again. In a local lockdown – one of so many, let's just call it a national lockdown, shall we? Effectively we all relaxed in the summer and now we're on the upstroke of a steepening second wave, which threatens to be much worse than the first, as forewarned by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. (Check out the three 1918 waves in spring, autumn and winter – the second one is the largest by far.)
Here in Birmingham we've already been in a local lockdown since 11 September – not allowed to mix indoors or outdoors with members of other households but ok to go to the pub and meet (because they are legally Covid-safe and we keep forgetting at home that we mustn't hug or hold hands or hand over cuppas).
This week a three-tier system (medium, high and very high) was brought in to standardise all the different lockdown restrictions happening around the UK (predominantly in the North, east and west).
Brum is in tier 2 – high. The good news is we can meet in the garden again with up to six households. The bad news is we can't meet family or friends indoors anywhere, not even at the pub. And it's autumn so it's getting cold. This is very bad news, affecting our family, of course, but also our local community groups and the high street which is all about the 'Stirchley Beer Mile', independent restaurants and eating out. Also my 91-year-old friend in a care home now won't be able to see any visitors and my 85-year-old friend who goes to visit her every day is suffering because he needs routine and social contact due to dementia.
So that's the lay of the land. Not too surprising.
It's not just the UK where it's all going tits-up. Europe is also fighting a surge in cases. Although New Zealand and Australia seem to have it under control (or just suppressed, postponing the inevitable spread?). Meds are being researched and used in medical responses. Vaccines are in development. Test and trace systems are being put in place to greater or lesser success. The phrase, the 'new normal' was bandied around a lot for a while back there, but now we're back to 'unprecedented times'.
The personal update is that I got a sudden cold/cough on Wednesday. (How, given everything is so sanitised!?) I logged the symptoms in my Zoe Covid app as always. But this time, being in a high Covid incidence area, I got an email asking me to go for a (voluntary) test:
Thank you so much for using the COVID Symptom Study app and helping to fight the outbreak. ZOE is very excited to be able to offer you a chance to get tested for COVID-19. By getting tested, your results will help understand the level of COVID-19 infections in your area, so this really will make a difference.
Tim Spector on behalf of ZOE
I guess it helps them to rule out cold symptoms. Anyway yesterday's official invitation was from the Department of Health "to have a PCR swab test to confirm whether you are currently positive or negative for the virus". I got an appointment offered within a couple of hours and off I went to the walk-in at the University of Birmingham.
The white field hospital tent (next to my old gym, waaah!) was like something out of the quarantine scene in ET. I scanned in with a QR-code on my phone, hand sanitised, picked up my test kit and was directed to one of the 10 or so cordoned off tent booths. In it was a table, chair, mirror, light, bin and instruction posters on the wall.
Inside the kit, was a tissue. First job: blow your nose to get rid of excess mucous. Then comes the fun part – get the swab, find tonsils using the mirror and poke them with the swab stick for 10 seconds. This is a long time to be tickling your gag reflex and I was not surprised when the sound of a young kid crying filled the marquee. It must be horrible for them. Then you stick the tonsil swab up one nostril, which was a bit stingy but fine. Put the swab in the tube, cap it and seal in an envelope, which then goes in another sealed envelope.
Then discard all that waste. So much single use plastic – there has to be a better way? This was the most upsetting thing about the test, realising how much plastic we are creating and throwing away.
The bag was then scanned by the assistant and I was told I'd receive results within 72 hours. I threw my pack into a fringed window at the end of the tent and accidentally touched the fringe. Cue mini freak. If you're going to catch Covid anywhere…
On the way out a whiteboard announced: 11,393 tests carried out at the site so far. Each day there are something like 150 slots available. Maybe I'll be back. I overheard another visitor saying this was her third test.
So that happened. I'm pretty sure it is just a seasonal cold. You’ve caught October, said Pete.
Update: Result was negative.
Today I am thankful for my allotment, which is still giving up the goods even though it is nearly November. Thankyou plot 59b for the pattypan squash, runner beans, tomatillos and salad leaves.
On 25th January 2020, the Stirchley Co-op sadly closed forever. The urge to see it one last time was strong. It was a strange feeling, after all it was just a shop. And yet… this was the supermarket I had grown up with in the 1970s-80s and returned to in the 2000s-10s.
Now, as we entered another decade, it was finally disappearing. The Co-op had been in Stirchley since 1875 and on the Umberslade Rd/Hazelwell Lane site since 1914. Its closure was big local news. In the era of late capitalism, it felt as if this was part of a wider crumbling in the way we run our society, the Co-op somehow a victim of a race to the bottom.
But that's a different post… To say goodbye I wanted to take a slow walk around Stirchley’s greatest ever retail character.
My Co-op memories
It was a supermarket I grew up with from childhood. I remember it when it was a thriving shop with a large dairy and rows of milk carts, where the lower car park is now.
I remember being allowed the treat of licking the Co-op Blue Saver and Green Shield stamps and sticking them in a stamp book so Mum could get some money off the groceries. Someone said on Twitter today that Stirchley was never a working class area – "as working class as Shoreditch". I beg to differ. There wasn't a lot of money around here in the '70s. Any money off was coveted.
It was also our local pop-to shop where our Irish catholic working class parents got their whisky ‘n’ fags before KwikSave moved into the high street and undercut them. I moved to London in the late 1980s but would help Mum shop there. She often bumped into friends and would stop for a catchup chat in the aisles. I have no memory of my Dad ever setting foot in it – feminism came late to our house and arrived courtesy of the women on the belt at Cadbury's somewhere in the 1980s.
Years later, I was back and single and heartbroken – and grieving. I recall many Friday/Saturday nights when popping to the Co-op was the tragic highlight of my evening. A place of comfort and loneliness all in one. Is this what my life had become I wondered as I walked across the two pedestrian crossings, past the brimming Three Horseshoes, tears rolling silently down my face. Still, be positive… I got a good Coop saver deal on my saucepans.
The ‘Society Café’ past the tills was where I went on a date circa 2003 – for dating irony at this point. We had tea and cake on the sofas while a mini brass band ensemble and carol singers played Christmas carols. Then he lent me music and books that I pretended to like, as was the dating tradition.
The café was also a destination for pensioners, local councillors, kids and hipsters alike. These were the days before Stirchley had many daytime cafés to escape to. Where you could get an unbranded cuppa char for £1.50.
I didn’t realise I was building up such nostalgia for this shop that many other B30 residents lambasted for its high prices and empty shelves, especially in its final years. The arrival of the cut-price German supermarkets, Aldi and Lidl, and food e-tailers were sounding the death knell.
At a corporate level the Co-op Group had been going through some turbulent economic times, with the near collapse of its bank in 2013 (it is now out of the banking business). But I always forgave the Co-op because it had more ethical policies in place than other cheaper supermarkets.
Still I was sad to see it run down over the years. More recently, with nowhere else to go in the rain, it became a place we took my new great-nephew for a pram ride around the aisles (if that isn't an indictment of our capitalist society and leisure offerings, I don't know what is). And when he started toddling, a trip to The Works concession at the back of the store for a book or toy. To him, it was still a world of exciting colour and riding the shopping trolleys.
The Co-op walk we had to cancel
The Stirchley Co-op’s last day was a Saturday and there wasn’t much shopping to be done anymore. The shelves had been slowly emptying over the previous weeks and whole sections of the store were now being closed off. The number of open tills shrank and then were removed. The raw infrastructure of the supermarket was being revealed in a slow uncovering of hook-on shelving, wire racks and easy-clean metal racks.
Locals were tweeting about the ‘apocalyptic scenes’ as if the end were nigh. Given what was to come, it was prescient.
Little did we know that a global pandemic was about to hit. That panic buying loo rolls and hand sanitiser was about to become a national sport. Or that we would soon have to travel much further afield to get basic food supplies during lockdown.
Before we knew any of this was coming, fellow Stirchley resident and psychogeographer Andy Howlett and I decided to walk the Co-op.
To: “mournfully walk up and down the empty isles, browsing instead the infrastructure that remains”.
To embrace: “The stark angles of empty metal shelving! The receding vistas of shopper-free aisles! The rhythm of its layout and walkways! The final beeps of the disappearing tills! The barren promotional structures offering no deals!”
To say a last goodbye.
We decided to put it up as an event on Facebook for friends and residents to join us. But when 120 people expressed an interest, we knew we’d hit a nerve and this walk would either be a great thing – or trouble.
Sadly our funereal store procession was not to be…
We received a nudge from the councillor and an alarmed email from a respected Neighbourhood Forum member that the walk wouldn’t go down well with staff. Although staff had all been offered new jobs with Morrison’s, who had taken over the site, it was felt a walk by the public would be inappropriate.
And so we cancelled the event. (It still lives on at LiveBrum listings archive – someone added it to the site and it lives on as a memorial marker perhaps.) To be honest we didn’t think so many people would want to come. We probably shouldn’t have formalised it into a group ‘walk’.
I sometimes wonder if the staff would have understood the sense of occasion and the community's wish to mark a historical day. Perhaps even enjoyed the shenanigans like the flash mobs of old. Instead the Co-op slipped quietly away.
Goodbye Stirchley Co-op
On closing day, just three of us went ahead for a last walk up and down the aisles of this iconic store. We met outside, slightly worried that 100 people might still show up. They didn't.
Keri, Andy and I walked slowly around the store, visiting every area that was still open, talking about the changes and taking photos. Staff were laughing and joking. Maybe they were relieved. A near-empty supermarket, shorn of its shiny goods, has to be demoralising.
The Stirchley History Group had set up a small exhibition of the history of Co-ops in the area. It showed the incredible Harrods-like original building on the corner of Umberslade Rd. My elderly friend Rita, now 90, fondly recalls a hat concession on the upstairs level. Why it was knocked down and replaced with a box and the upstairs never used, I don't know. Progress, I suppose.
The exhibition also had a supercuts model of a local TASCO (Ten Acres & Stirchley Co-operative Society). More local TASCO historical photos here.
After visiting it, the three of us went for a ceremonial tea in the Society Café, where we reminisced. Then, as a surprise, Keri pulled out a poem he had written to mark this day.
It was his way of saying goodbye to the Co-op. He read it out for us and I wished the staff could have heard it, too. Reproduced here with permission.
Elegy to a Co-op
In Stirchley, fair Stirchley, a proud beacon burns To a positive wealth of cooperative firms There’s Artefact, Loaf and of course the Bike Foundry But now we are faced with a very sad quandary By the gyratory, where the cars stop, The mum of them all is now shutting up shop.
Over the years, we have given a wave To Fitness First, Ten Pin and (less missed) KwikSave The Co-op has fallen foul of a sad plot So more than a Lidl – we’ll miss you a lot
You’re not just a supermarket. You offered more As Stirchley’s own miniature department store With bedding and linens, and cheap deep fat fryers Tellies and vacuums and big tumble driers. And there at the back an enormous amount Of books that you’d not even want at a discount
When needing some supper we’d pop along late To shuffle through food near its best-before date Each one yellow-stickered and begging ‘choose me’ Like sad Cinderella, disconsolately
An eclectic selection contained in our hand, Then we’d be faced with a different demand The challenge that buying your purchases posed With nine tills and checkouts – and eight of them closed
And on Sunday mornings, now where will we go for An eight-item breakfast on black leather sofa? Though some people avoided you, some people dissed Please understand that you’ll always be missed
And so what approaches us from the horizon? The future is brought to us by Mister Morrison He means well, I’m sure, with his newly found operatives But sadly for us, they will be un – Cooperative
A new beginning
And so it ended. We each left and turned in different directions.
The Stirchley Co-op is dead, long live its new cooperatives (Loaf, Bike Foundry and Artefact). And with their Stirchley Co-operative Development plans for the corner of Hunts Rd/Pershore Rd currently going through local planning and endorsed by MP Steve McCabe, perhaps in some way the baton has been passed on.
From upper case Co-op to lower case co-ops, perhaps this shift in in our high street augurs for a better society and a more modern 'Stirchley'.
Next week on 9 July 2020, delayed by the Covid-19 lockdown, a new Morrison’s will open on the site.Anyone fancy a walk?
Further info and walks
This Stirchley walk and photo essay is part my 'Perambulate With Me' series of 12 walks around Stirchley. More about this and other walking projects on the Walking page.
Currently I'm involved in the Mapping Stirchley project through Walkspace, and we will be creating some walks from the community sourced 'map of noticed things' soon. Join the Walkspace Facebook and Twitter, or sign up for the newsletter to find out more.
I'm not going to lie, personally I already miss the lockdown.
Despite the ongoing anxiety-inducing circumstances of a global pandemic, the lockdown itself was often a time of peace and quiet and reflection and safety, free of many of the usual obligations of life.
Looking back, I mostly remember it for the May heatwave spent in the garden, for scary trips out to the supermarket, for walks in the middle of local empty streets, for the birdsong and clean air, for allotment visits, for the utter joy of seeing other people in real life when that was allowed, for the weird enforced distance with loved ones, for the escapism of my media diet, for the Thursday community clap, and, of course, for writing this daily (nighttimely?) diary.
Already I'm forgetting what those early days were like. As the rules shifted and changed so did our emotions, responses and reactions to the threat. It's good to have written it all down in real time – and I've already submitted this diary to several archive projects for the record.
The diary acted as therapy, social record and a letter to the future. I thought it would last a week, then a month and then 100 seemed the next round number, and here we are.
Writer's cramp brings in new perspectives
I had an RSI flare-up in the middle of the diary when, on top of working and daily blogging, I both went for a job (Pandemic diary 87: Socially distanced job interview) and submitted a long piece of creative writing work to a publisher (neither successful). Writing every day was a pain in the neck at the end of a long day, literally.
Thank goodness then for guest diarists who were kind enough to write a post about their lockdown life.
It was great to get the perspectives of others. There were 12 or 13 in all, I think – from funny entries to angry rants, to the in-depth experiences of friends who were shielding, were inadvertently part of coronavirus transmission due to the government's slow pandemic response or were severely ill with Covid-19. They came from Brum, London and as far away as New Zealand.
Thank you for offering your insights but even more for giving me a night off!
No, seriously, I feel honoured. Ta babs!
What kept me going
Mostly sheer will but also regular readers and feedback. I joke that I work for praise…
The blog stats for the period show 2,300 users and 5,200 unique visits which is incredible. And partly why I added the 'hire/commission me' line at the end of each post – the work of freelance writers is precarious at the best of times.
Unusually for blogs these days, there were lots of comments. Thanks to regular readers and commenters both on Facebook and on the blog, I didn't feel so alone. In truth, they kept me going (Pandemic diary – day 30: Do I keep writing?).
Thanks Chris, Liz, Hazel, Tracey, the Wrinkly Rocker, other Liz, Sheena, Tania, Sue, Kerry, John, Kate, Camilla, Lo, Frank, Julia and others. And, of course, husband Pete who read the blog every night – often voluntarily – and proofread some of the tougher ones.
If I'd kept everything in my own private diary then you bet I'd have skipped a few days or weeks or just flung a few notes down when I was tired. Having an online community was an important part of the process.
To be fair, connecting over tech is how many people have held it together in the face of sudden extreme isolation.
On day 54 I wrote a post about death and getting my affairs in order – just in case (Pandemic diary 54: Confronting death pt 1). But there was never a pt2 philosophical/spiritual followup. Because somewhere along the way, all this became a 'new normal' – as the coronavocab would have it. The immediate oppressive thoughts of death somehow receded, to the point where a lot of us now are pretending like there is no killer virus risk and especially not at the beach (Pandemic diary 93: Lockdown all but lifted).
Posting 'the numbers' on Covid cases and deaths locally, nationally and worldwide did help keep me focused. Pretty sobering. I should add them here but I can't face it. (Update at 12/7/20:289,603 UK cases, 44,819 Covid-associated UK deaths , 21 additional deaths on 11/7/20 and 650 further cases. There were 25,767 cases across the West Midlands. And in Birmingham 4,853 cases and 1,162 deaths with 63 new cases last week. Comparisons are shaky but on deaths per thousand, it looks as if the UK has been the hardest hit of the leading G7 nations. The death rate for this time of year has now returned to normal with no excess deaths. Sources: Gov.uk and BBC.)
Then there were the thanks at the end of each post – the things and people I was grateful for or brought me joy. I might have to gather them into a whole separate post one day. Yes, the fluffy bunny at the start and the upbeat thanks formed a 'shit sandwich' but there is another reason.
In 2019, I learnt the power of gratitude from going to a dementia therapy group with a newly diagnosed friend. There I learnt that focusing on what you are thankful for can bring joy, especially amid anxiety and the unknown. A gratitude/goal diary can be very helpful as a way to deal with challenging mental health situations. It also helps programme the brain to think more positively and combats that frequent negative internal monologue and other doom-laden thoughts.
Gratitude brings joy into everyday moments. As a certain TED and Netflix vulnerability guru says…
A good life happens when you stop and are grateful for the ordinary moments that so many of us just steamroll over to try to find those extraordinary moments.
So today I amthankful for so many things despite the ever-present 'situation'. I'm also thankful that things are changing. Life goes on. Thankfully.
What did I learn, what did I gain?
I'm not sure yet. It helped me sleep, for sure! There is nothing like emptying out your brain every evening for a good night's sleep. And I've learnt I can write every day, come what may. There is now no excuse for putting off 'the book'.
'100 days of lockdown' has done its job and fulfilled its purpose – it's here, these things happened and have been recorded. There is a social record from my little corner of the world. We're not through this pandemic yet, so maybe I'll be back – if I need it.
But also I need to stop. I'm looking forward to taking a break and getting back to 'normal'. Whatever that may be.
I hope I've inspired, entertained or connected with people at some point along the way. Maybe someone reading this will start a diary. Now that would make me really happy.
100 days! Can you believe it?
PS. I'll leave you with our new bun from Fat Fluffs Rescue who will be arriving in a couple of weeks. He'll be bonded with Clementine Bundango once he's recovered from the snip. Say hi to Dymaxion! #allthenames
A friend commented on one of my earlier posts that I was "really LIVING each day". Which did make me smile since I have found lockdown life pretty limiting. I'm not sure if she was referring to the daily writing here or the sudden interest in my allotment or my rich inner life where I imagine going surfing, for example. But 'really living' for me usually involves going somewhere with sea and mountains. Preferably a warm country far away but, more often now, Wales and Cornwall.
Since the recent announcements around lifting travel and holiday restrictions, my dreaming of holidays has escalated. Yesterday, I ended up having a collage session in which three 'map women' emerged from my subconscious.
Prior to that it was walking and surfing that came out of my collage sessions.
The walkers were all alone and distanced. Often they had their hands raised in triumph and joy. They were also torn, which gave them an extra divided, emotional feel. All the cuts and tears were of open countryside because walking mags don't really show urban walking. (Maybe they should since so many of us have rediscovered our local zones and the area within a mile of so of our homes.)
In our case, we also discovered 'extreme noticing' by walking the same streets over and over during lockdown, and this led to creating a local map of our findings, which has opened up new ways of thinking about and walking our local area.
The surfing was just expressing a desire to see the sea (or dive into the sky, which some of the waves were made from). Brummies have a thing about the 'seaside' – we need to see the sea once a year in order to live in a landlocked city the rest of the time.
Before the holiday dreaming started, my collages were a bit darker. I wanted to log them here as responses to lockdown life. Every two weeks members of Birmingham Collage Collective were invited to submit a Birmingham-themed collage responding to the lockdown.
My collages were not the best I've done as I felt quite blocked and frustrated at the time, but they did reflect the isolation and social distancing, the work furloughs and the growing death toll.
I did four over the project and I'll post them here for the record.
After writing about Commitment issues a couple of days ago, I think I will commit to doing a bit more collage practice. And maybe combine it with walking.
Update: these and other Birmingham Collage Collective lockdown collages are now being added to a Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery archive around Birmingham life in lockdown (see Flickr site and project info).
Holiday – yes or no?
I won't be going on holiday for some time yet. At least, not internationally. I'm not ready to get on a plane but, much more than that, I'm not willing to risk getting ill with Covid-19 overseas. Not just for healthcare reasons but because of the potential financial impact.
My friend Jill, who is a travel journalist, said that almost no insurers will cover the cost of Covid-19 now – or if borders closed again, or quarantine was required. And thanks to Brexit, Brits will only have EHIC coverage until the end of this year. So her best advice is stick to the EU in 2020.
As for next year or going long-haul, who can afford a potential hospital stay, possibly in intensive care? Surely this could bankrupt people!? Not worth the risk for a week or two away.
Jill started a discussion on LinkedIn about holidays and airbridges. She said that she would be booking to get away as soon as she possibly could (although not flying… yet).
Others responded to say that potential contagion meant they had "lost their enthusiasm for travel" or that being freelance "I don't want to blow money on a holiday, if I could be out of work in a couple of months" or "I won't be doing any international travel until a vaccine is created for this virus". Basically health, finances and anxieties meant foreign travel is a no-no for many people. My favourite response was from a cyclist: "I have been delightfully surprised at just how much a sense of travel I can experience within a 12 mile radius of home." Preach!
The balancing responses were: "A totally 'risk-free' life frankly isn't much of a life" and "already booked a flight to Italy" and city dwellers may be desperate for "some fresh air and green space" by now. Meanwhile, an independent travel agent seemed relieved their industry was cranking to life: "I have been making sure I keep up to date with hotel, airline and airport regulations so I can advise my clients on how to travel safely."
We've all got different risk profiles. I'm looking at Wales or Devon by car – but as a freelancer I also need to be sure I've got the income first. Warm swimming pool seas may have to remain a dream until 2021 or even 2022.
Roll on the vaccine, so to speak.
Today I am thankful for my GP. I've delayed checking out some new moles – a non-essential thing (hopefully). With no face-to-face appointments I took photos, sent them in and booked in for a follow-up chat.
Turns out they are not even moles but th lesions of ageing and, man, they have some fancy names. One of the two suspect items is called a Campbell de Morgan. Also called cherry angioma (another top name). It's so posh, I might start introducing it to friends. Or perhaps name a bunny after it: Lady Bunnella Campbell de Morgan?
Sometimes I feel I’m stuck inside a giant human sand timer waiting to go through the bottleneck and hopefully come out the other side.
Back in March, the wake-up call quote was when Prime Minister Johnson said many of us will “lose loved ones before their time”. I’ve been lucky. I’m still in the top section of the sand timer. And nearly 100 days in, I don’t know anyone personally who has died from Covid-19. I also only know three people for certain who have had it, all dealing with after-effects of recovery.
One is a friend of a friend, from ‘stoic Irish stock’, who I’d heard was knocked out by coronavirus quite early on. Colette is a mother of three grown-up kids, works as a college counsellor and lives in south Birmingham.
I felt this '100 Days' diary needed to record someone who had actually experienced Covid-19 and Colette kindly agreed to write about her time with the 'Rona…
What a surreal experience this lockdown has been. Thinking back to those early days, and what seems like a lifetime ago that my eldest son returned home from a ‘final’ visit with his girlfriend to tell me that she had been unwell over the weekend. Nothing serious, just a high temperature and sickness.
What a lovely Mother’s Day gift!
The ‘virus’ was just about to hit our household, but I did not feel particularly worried as I am a 50+ female who is fit and healthy (although I do have mild asthma).
By the following weekend I began to feel a ‘bit weird’. Initially I was just out of sorts – headache, slight nausea but I couldn’t face my Friday night curry and G&T, which is unheard of.
Saturday morning usually means an early rise to do the weekly shop before the rush. I had to drag myself out of bed but only made it to the sofa as the vertigo and nausea were overwhelming. No high temperature or cough, so no virus, right?
The high temperature hit over Saturday night. Even paracetamol didn’t seem to work and the fever appeared out of control. This lasted for about five days. The nausea and fatigue remained constant and I found this really distressing.
After the temperature was under control, I then developed a D and V bug for two days – I’ll spare you the detail but it was nasty!
Then an itchy rash appeared, it looked very much like chickenpox and my torso was covered.
This was closely followed by some sniffles and a cough that worsened day by day.
I pretty much stayed in bed for a week and the family would pop their head round the door. We all had to isolate at home. My son was able to go out and get supplies after seven days as he was the first to have symptoms.
This was the day to worry, so the media told me, and there were some scary moments, prompting my husband to call the doctor and the Covid-19 helpline. “Stay at home and only go to the hospital if you can’t breathe,” was the advice.
This was a difficult time and seemed to go on forever.
When my chest hurt and my breathing worsened, I didn’t know if it was the time to call an ambulance or I was having a panic attack. It was a bewildering time and I didn’t want to overreact, but I also didn’t want to miss something or wait until it was too late.
The toughest part of this whole thing was not being able to get any reassurance from a medical professional.
It wasn’t until day 14 that I noticed my sense of smell and taste had disappeared – probably because this was the first time I had eaten for a week.
I was ill for over 20 days, but Covid-19 isn’t a ‘usual’ illness. I’d wake up one morning thinking I was getting better. I would try and do something ‘normal’, like potter in the garden but would need to lie down part way through any physical exertion.
I was the only member of my family of five to develop these symptoms – apart of my eldest son, or ‘super spreader’ as we fondly refer to him. His symptoms were mild, mainly consisting of loss of smell and taste.
Three months later
I am still recovering three months after first contracting the virus.
I feel tired, even after a good night sleep, I am still breathless and eagerly await the full return of smell and taste, which still haven’t properly recovered.
I am also overly anxious, particularly about leaving the house. The first time I went into the supermarket alone – about six weeks after first developing symptoms – I panicked and forgot what I needed to buy. I purchased a bottle of shampoo for £15.95 because I had picked it up by mistake!
Covid-19 is the Mother’s Day gift that keeps on giving taking!
What’s your view of the wider situation now?
I don’t want to become ill again, but I have been conscious of spreading something to others. I am careful about handwashing and using sanitiser, but I was like that before if I am honest!
I try not to judge what others are doing – most people are just absentminded about ‘new rules’, I think. We all have to be more patient and take things more slowly.
I am frustrated when I see packed beaches, etc, but I understand that people just want some normality in their lives. I’m not sure what we can do to change this aspect. I think the Dominic Cummings situation was a turning point for many people and was handled badly by the government.
Just make sure you follow precautions. Don’t take risks and be mindful that others may not have the same immunity as you. Respect each other.
Thanks again to Colette for writing for the 'pandiary'. Hope the recovery continues and life gets back to normal asap.
I had a nice day, which started early, doing a pickup of six rabbits from Fat Fluffs who needed to be picked up and transported to the vets for 9am. I am thankful that Fat Fluffs exists – rabbits are a neglected pet and they are a dedicated rabbit rescue, specialising in bunnycare. Plus they do boarding, adoption, bonding and also look after a permanent floof of older, health-challenged rabbits who can't be adopted out.
Finally I'm thankful that my garden roses bring joy to others. A lady spent a good five minutes walking up and down our front garden wall, smelling every rose, twice, and the look on her face was uplifted and uplifting. What's the Covid isolation time on rose petals? 😉
I'll leave you with a collage I did for Birmingham Collage Collective's callout for lockdown/coronavirus responses last month. The endless hands reaching up towards what looks like infected hands seemed a good illustration for today's guest post. Remember when the government message was just to 'Wash your hands'?
The thing about doing 97 posts for 97 days straight is that I have noticed an improvement in my writing. (Have you? I hope so.) It flows better, stays more on topic and is, judging by the stats, visited by higher numbers of readers over the quarter it has been running.
I seem to remember someone at pop music college (yes, it's true; that's how I spent the Noughties; blame Fame) saying that that you need to spend the first three months of any creative endeavour getting all the crap out of your system. Often, those few months bring forth things you think are pretty great but are really just hackneyed ideas with beginner's level execution – it's just new and great to you. To 'get good' the journey is long and takes commitment.
As a proud generalist, I rarely get to the three-month stage. Boredom and alternative interests kick in long before I actually have to show any level of proficiency.
But the things I have stuck to over the years – diaries, editing, gardening, walking, photography – well, they have each improved to the level where I get genuine satisfaction out of them. It sounds cheesy, but I get off on a job well done.
So the thing I've been thinking about today is: What next?
Yes, I am embracing the luxury of thinking about the future. After 100 days of lockdown diary writing, what next? What do I want to stick with, work on daily and dig deeper into?
Ha! As a generalist, where do I begin?
Ballet, art, walking, art walking!, creative writing, video essays, bushcraft, ebook publishing, drawing rabbits, collage, feminist activism, horticulture, surfing, fitness, a tree futures project.
I'm pondering. But if I can do X daily then in three months, I'll be through the crapola and hopefully out the other side and on to the good stuff.
If there's anything I've done more of in lockdown, it's been the allotment and collage. Collage is the probably thing that fits the SMART goal and would benefit the most from some dedicated effort. That or some kind of durational walking art – 100 days of walking and video reporting maybe?
My local MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, Steve McCabe, did a survey about what people felt about relaxing the lockdown. I'm sure he won't mind if I republish some of the findings here for posterity. Sadly he doesn't say how many people responded but it was a free survey so I'm guessing it was a fair few. The e-newsletter was sent out 23/6/20.
Relaxation of rules: 65% felt concerned that the rules were changing too quickly; 23% were not too sure and only 12% were feeling really positive
Trust in the PM/government decisions following Dominic Cummings saga – 78% said they had less trust; only 1% had more trust, with 21% saying it made no difference
Work – just under 70% had kept working throughout the crisis; a further 19% were furloughed; 12% shielding and just under 1% have been made redundant
Furlough – in Selly Oak constituency 10,300 jobs have been furloughed through the Job Retention Scheme ( 14% of the population)
Still shielding – for those not returning to work straightaway, the greatest concern was around those who are shielding and anxiety they might feel under pressure to take greater risks
Unemployment – figures for May 2020 unemployment in Birmingham is now 14.5%, the highest level since 1987. Youth Unemployment is at 18%.
Of course, things are moving so fast that this already feels like last month's news. Lockdown is as good as lifted with people going back to work, shops reopening and the wider movement of people starting up again.
For example, I'm just now reading about the holiday booking "explosion" following the UK gov announcing that the English can go on holiday to some European countries and not have to quarantine on their return. Which is nice for them but, ahem, isn't international travel how we all got into this global pandemic mess?
But back to local issues…
My neighbourhood shops have mostly closed during lockdown, except for the likes of food shops – Dave's convenience store, Ward's greengrocer and Loaf bakery – and, of course, the pharmacy.
Many local businesses in Stirchley have been adapting to new trading conditions by pivoting their business models to:
food and drink takeaways (Attic, Birmingham Brewing Company, Couch, Alicia's, Can-Eat, Eat Vietnam, Anjuna Lounge, Balti Bazaar, Akrams and others)
There have also been casualties. Mirror Image, a longtime hairdresser on Stirchley High Street, announced it was closing permanently as "with the extended lockdown and escalation of Coronavirus we feel we can no longer ensure your safety". It was sad to see the shop emptied out when we walked past today.
As from next week (4 July), the micropubs and breweries of the Stirchley Beer Mile can open once again as drinking venues – though they will surely take a hit with all the restrictions that need to be put in place.
How else can we help our high streets?
Pedestrianising Stirchley high street, which has mostly become a place to go out rather than shop now, would be the change I would like to see – if only for certain days or evenings in the week. After all, outdoor activities carry the least risk. Plus, lockdown showed us how much better life was without vehicles clogging up the roads, and we already know we need to clean up pollution hotspots and reduce carbon emissions.
The council is supposed to be making more emergency space for distancing to happen by using parking bays as pavements, but wouldn't it be great to be able to spill out across the whole main street area, to run outdoor classes, night markets, set up stalls? Allow for safe socialising and a more outdoor economy, even if only for the summer months?
We could alternate closures with other local high streets so that we swap traffic for those times. It wouldn't suit every high street, but why not use this time to experiment and test all the options? Yes, it's radical but no more so than lockdown.
A lot of businesses in Stirchley are independent and new, and this has knocked them for six. Most are just trying to survive. And although the community wants to help and support them by buying their products and services, it's not going to be enough.
I'd like to see more creative solutions tested out now, ones that allow our high streets to pivot to the new normal that was always coming with the changing nature of retail and leisure, and bigger issues around clean air and climate change. I would like to see more options that enable small businesses to make it through to the post-Covid-19 world.
Basically, help us to help them.
Today I am thankful for the simple things, such as, sun-warmed bricks for my coffee-drinking, biscuit-dunking arse; a dousing of rain to water all the flowers and allotment crops and save me a job; and a garden full of roses and scents – I'll leave you with our wedding rose (anniversary due in two weeks).
For a bit of light relief after recent posts I thought I'd write about a lovely thing that has been happening once a week every week since last October.
Every Thursday/Friday a postcard pops through my door.
The picture on the front might be of a bronze sculpture, a Renaissance painting, an architectural icon, art by a well-known artist (O'Keefe, Van Gogh, Picasso), a cigar box label, a safe sex ad campaign, an 'F', religious iconography, cowgirls, Kabuki, vintage luggage label… Anything goes. I never know – and that is the beauty of it.
The postcards are from one of the most interesting ladies you could ever hope to meet. Let's call her A. I stayed with her and Pete's uncle while visiting coastal Essex for GILF Island last September. We hit it off – I am in awe of her full life and stories to rival even John Mostyn's (another friend who's led a life worthy of an autobiography).
While there I discovered we had many things in common and one in particular: a postcard collection. Mine are all travel-themed but hers reflect a lifetime of eclectic mementos, going back 50 years. It's a life in postcards.
Rather than keep them unadmired in a box, she's sending them out to (I think) three friends weekly over the year until they run out. When I expressed an interest, I got added to the list.
Each week has a different theme, eg, animals, nude ladies, the American Southwest, family/friends, textiles, portraits, statues, Mexican California, calligraphy, church interiors, winged creatures.
I've received 35 so far – and my favourite one is a Mexican Day of the Dead skeleton couple by celebrated folk artist Javier Ramos Lucano, followed by Albrecht Durer's beautiful Field Hare (pictured top).
It's a little bit of loveliness in the post when these days it's all junkmail and bank statements on the mat.
Maybe I'll do the same one day. Maybe this collection will inspire someone else to start their own collection of random items. Maybe postcards will make a comeback. Maybe I'll send out some more diary snippets into the world one day after this 'pandiary' ends. Maybe maybe maybe.
I'm sure collecting and diary writing go hand in hand – it's all about the collecting of memories, after all. But how lovely to set them free and gift them to others.
Today I am thankful for The Artefact Quiz. Fun times once again. What other quiz makes you post photos of your fridge and scores you on out-of-date items, mustard, fake milk, medicine and more?
Also, we won. Team 'Living La Vida Lockdown' (or Living La Visa Lockdown as my autocorrect said) came first with 96 points, probs because we had all the mustards in our fridges. There's no prize but no one cares.