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Pandemic diary: A day in the life of zonked mundanity

The closest match to how I felt this morning.

I feel a bit zonked. Today was my first day off in a few weeks and I didn't know what to do with it. There is still a backlog of 'stuff', mostly chores. But they could wait another day. I've cut myself off from daily coronavirus news because I know what to do to stay safe and filling up on more news isn't helping.

So I got to not set the alarm. I watched a full episode of Mad Men over breakfast. I had a video call with family and a chat with an old friend ("Oi, less of the old" – Ray). Got called a bitch for suggesting he was in the risky age group.

I made up a story for my three-year-old nephew over FaceTime using props from around the home office. It turned out that a magic blue flying camel went to the zoo, then the park, then somewhere else and along the way picked up a cat, a digital mouse and a monkey to ride on its back. Only they all fell off his slidey hump when he did his magic flying trick. The end.

Then… a dose of BBC Doctors at lunch, which has been one of my regular shows since I started working from home 10 years ago. I groomed a bunny butt to help Old Man Bunminster with his hygiene.

I did watch a time lapse of the new Nightingale hospital being built at the ExCel centre in London, which is set to house 4,000 coronavirus patients and two mortuaries. Watch it here.

I talked to two friends at the allotment and it felt like a treat to see them. I miss my Stirchley people – it truly is a unique community in my experience. In the evening, we went back to the allotment and had a bonfire and a beer, and felt some kind of normal.

This whole thing feels like a reset. People are talking about the good stuff – the clean air, the car-free roads, the allotmenteering, goats coming into deserted towns and cities, the home-working and getting home DIY done, no costly commute. When this is all over… what will we take with us?

Of course, there is the bad. It's coming. A friend of a friend on Facebook has lost his wife. It's coming. Stay home. Stay home. Stay home. And yet tomorrow I am going to a supermarket. My 84-year-old friend with dementia lives alone and can't get on the vulnerable list for online deliveries. Worse, he can't remember not to take the bus or go to the supermarket.

But I learnt a lot from going on a dementia course with him and that is to set weekly goals, weekly rewards and look for things that you are grateful for every day.

Today I am thankful for… nature, dead or alive. It is very grounding. Here are three things I photographed today: a large bumblebee burrowing into the lawn, a delicately decaying filigreed leaf and the fluffy flowerhead of a defunct globe artichoke. I'm also grateful for having a decent camera on my phone. We forget but modern technology is astounding.

Bumblebee butt – note to self to look up why this behaviour.
A tiny leaf decaying beautifully on the lawn.
Globe artichoke flower from last year – it sparkled like a Catherine wheel on the bonfire.

Pandemic diary: Exercising with bunnies

My goal for last week was to set up a home gym. And here it is – filmed and edited. With puns and buns and fancy titles and strange weights. Plus new moves including: Disinfectant Lifts, Shelf Isolation and Jumping Over Clem Bun Who Won't Get Out of The Way.

Truth is, I've been sitting at a computer pretty much since 1987 and I'm suffering for it now. Three years ago I started trying to get a bit fitter before hitting the big 5-0. Until March 2020 my usual regime involved tai chi, walking netball, swimming, over-50s circuits and art walks (see Walkspace.uk). But then the gym/pool closed two weeks ago and I'm already feeling stiff. Work has been crazy with coronavirus comms work so this was my first attempt to get back into it.

Out of interest during these stressful times, I took my blood pressure. It was borderline high a few years ago and my pulse up to 81 bpm. But since taking up exercise it has come down. Yesterday it was 117/79 with a pulse rate of 67 – despite all this pandemic worry. Which goes to show it is never too late to start a gentle exercise regime.

Lockdown life continues.

Today I am thankful for A Dog Named Stella who loves jumping into piles of leaves. Sometimes (a lot) I wish I were a dog.

Pandemic diary: Good sunrise, sad memories and bad ears

Stirchley around 6.55am after the clocks went forwards

I've swapped out the bunnies today for a photo of sunrise on the first day of British Summer Time.

It's been a strange day, which is saying something in these strange times. Getting up at 5am (6 if you count the clocks going forward, which no-one does on the first day) was always going to be tough but a quick curtain twitch told me the sunrise would be worth it.

I'd said to Andy (of Video Strolls and Walkspace) that I'd meet him on the bridge on Mary Vale Road. This and Hunts Road were the two local options for sunrise-road alignment, according to the lovely Photographer's Ephemeris app, which shows sunrise, sunset and moon rise alignments. Here is this morning's map:

While making takeaway coffee and toast, I popped into the garden to hear the dawn chorus. Not too many birds were awake but it was pretty chirpful in the dusk before dawn.

At 6.30am I had Stirchley High St to myself. I walked on the white lines in the middle of the road, snapped the Stirchley Gorilla and took some 360 video of the closed down emptiness. This was isolation from the isolation. I walked around the school block and up the hill to the bridge for sunrise at 6.48am. Of course, it's a bit later in a hilly city, clearing the horizon about 10 minutes later.

A lone figure was standing on the Mary Vale Rd canal/rail bridge – Andy. We chatted briefly about Blake Morris and Desmond Morris (no relation) at a safe distance while watching the sun rise over Stirchley.

The sky lit up pink and orange briefly before the sun rose over the horizon and we could look at it no more – a proper sunrise.

Andy headed off to the canal towpath on his walk and I drove to Raddlebarn Park for a second sunrise and breakfast.

For the first time in a few weeks I felt I was living life rather than being suppressed by it. There is something transcendent about these moments in nature and something powerful about experiencing it alone with your thoughts, uninterrupted by human chatter. I felt free and uncaged. Soon I would return to my home 'prison' but not before seeing a second sunrise over the park and kneeling down next to a long line of spring daffodils in full bloom along Warwards Lane.

One last strange thing… in the park I was transported back in time to 2001 by the view and location. I realised I had been looking at the last view my Mum had. She had a garden room in St Mary's Hospice which sits inside but at the edge of Raddlebarn Park. After a long night when we had kept watch over her, she had opened her eyes that chill November morning, the winter sun shone in on her and she slipped away, changing our world for ever. I miss her. Especially now.

Later: Perhaps it is tiredness or the stress coming out but the past few days I've had a low tinnitus hum in my ears and a pressure in my head. My hearing feels dulled and I can pop my ears but it doesn't clear anything. Today I started getting that dizzy-woozy unbalanced feeling. I'm really hoping this doesn't trip into vertigo. Now is really not the time to be ill.

Today I am thankful for British Summer Time and some short-lived freedom. For the privilege of being able to be with my Mum at the end. And for snuggling my boo, Bunminster, who is too slow to run away.

See, there's a bunny after all.

Pandemic diary: Lockdown life

Spring is here and it's bunny grooming season – here is a Fat Fluffs fluffball from last year.

Bunnies, bloggings, blessings… that's the drill.

Three notes for today:

  1. Sleeping. I got up at 10am after a long sleep. Medicated and breakfasted the bunnies, watched a Mad Men over toast and tea and then went back to bed from 12-3pm. It's been hard to mentally relax with coronavirus as a constant in the background. And I'm tired.
  2. Pandemic catharsis. Some people are using their skills to entertain others in Instagrams and watch parties (see dancers and actors in yesterday's end bit). But writers gonna write. Many writers around the world are logging the lockdown, giving the thoughts a way to escape and our brains a way to process this. After I did my own brief history of COVID-19, I was glad to see the BBC have done a roundup of the past few weeks, too: Coronavirus: The month everything changed. Meanwhile, this post –A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future – echoes why I'm doing this. I'm writing a letter to my future self in the same way this writer is posting a letter to the UK's future. We're looking back and forward at the same time.
  3. Dead badger. I saw a dead badger up close today. It is a large one that someone has placed under a tree at the roadside. It is beautiful and looks in perfect condition, as if it is sleeping. It's probably been hit by a car. With few vehicles about, wild animals are venturing further afield but with empty roads wild humans are speeding. (This was in a 20mph zone.) I've reported it to the council for collection. Death in black and white stripes.

Blessings!

Before the dead badger, a local corner shop was open and empty. I may have bought several bars of chocolate and a bottle of red to add to my Mad Men TV viewing lockdown strategies.

Also, I got to have a lovely video call with my youngest niece who is in Coventry. We haven't met up for about two years because life always gets in the way. And now here we are, talking about rabbit welfare tactics during a global lockdown. Strange days indeed.

Pandemic diary: How lucky we are

Lucky bunnies: Bunminster and Clem

A bunny, a blog bit and a blessing, that's how this goes.

Yesterday it was Prince Charles. Today it's Boris Johnson who has coronavirus, the first world leader to be infected. We knew the UK death toll would start to jump and today it has by 181 people – to 759. Birmingham Airport is to become a mass mortuary. The NEC, a mass hospital. Stories of people dying are starting to come out. The people behind the numbers. I knew they were coming and now here they are.

On a West Midlands radio station, a Walsall man called in to report his brother (54, sporty, no underlying health conditions) had caught Covid-19 at a hospital checkup and died a week later. This is me. This made me scared.

In my local greengrocer's I had to tell a middle-aged couple to stand back, twice. They were so busy shopping for their Sunday dinner like it was important. Such a lack of awareness. This made me angry.

My great nephew, 3, hid behind his mother when I dropped off the supplies (they are self-isolating). He's gone shy and sort of forgotten me for the first time since he was born – three weeks is a long time to a youngster. Or maybe he's scared of me and people and the danger they now represent. This made me sad.

Announcements of financial support for the self-employed came out today. The UK, US and others are throwing money at this – and they need to. This made me feel a bit more secure.

But then I read my second cousin Jessica's blog post about the lockdown in Rwanda where she works as a maths/science tutor, and I realised how lucky we are.

"Rwanda is taking the situation very seriously, which is quite reassuring, if a little cumbersome to daily life. On the downside, they have about 39 ICU beds. Not per million. Altogether.

At some point lockdown will be unsustainable, and the country will have to allow some non-essential businesses to run. And that point is not very far away. Rwanda doesn't have a social welfare system or a government who can borrow billions to keep it afloat while they contain the virus.

But so far they've been sensible and quick to act, and I hope they will continue to be sensible and quick to act."

Ramblings and What Not Blog

So yeah, perspective check.

Last weekend someone from France was ranting on a Facebook community forum that we in the UK were stupid idiots for going out for exercise (even though it is officially sanctioned, if restricted). They were being abusive because they thought we were all taking the threat too lightly. Now, seeing the US on the back foot, I can understand the insults were born of desperation. The US now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than China and Italy. We knew about this outbreak in early January. We knew it was potentially coming, after SARS and MERS, years ago. Why didn't our governments act more quickly? Why weren't they ready?

We're in the rising phase. It remains to be seen how much we have been able to flatten the curve. But we are late – how much flatter could it have been had we all acted sooner?

Thanks for the dance

Today I am thankful for the Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers I've been stalking on Instagram. Seeing principal Tzu-Chao Chou dancing around his garden patio made my day. See it here. (He also does amazing Christmas videos each year.) Or how about principal Yasuo Atsuji doing 100 press up leap things. See that here. Or principal Cesar Morales and his lawn mower ballet. Here.

Actor Sam Neill is also being entertaining, playing ukes and reading stories and poems. Today he read a Hairy Maclary children's book, interspersed with 'stay at home' messages, and it was great. Hear it here.

Pandemic diary: a brief history of coronavirus in Stirchley, Birmingham

Bunminster has a leaky eye – he is not sad.

Diaries are for logging the craziness now so you can process it sometime in the future. Bunnies are for soothing frayed nerves. And the ending is always upbeat.

I checked back in my proper diary and the first mention of coronavirus was on 3 March 2020, three weeks ago. (I keep a proper old-school written diary, as well as a secret digital diary, as well as this blog).

But back to 3/3/20. I noted it as an anxious day 'that will potentially overwhelm the NHS' and 'endanger hundreds of thousands of lives'. Panic buying of toilet roll had started and no one knew why. Then I wrote about property repairs and financial ball juggling and a pleasant session helping old folk get on the internet at the Stirchley Baths community centre.

On 6/3/20, I was joking about a Dexy's Midnight Runners ear worm of Covid-19 to Come On Eileen. Birmingham had just had its first case and radio talk shows were spending hours talking about hand sanitiser and people's hand washing hygiene. I wrote: 'People panic about this and not climate change? Humans are a strange species in their perception of threats and their responses.'

On 12/3/20, we moved from containment to delay with 600 confirmed cases in the country (today, the UK death toll has hit 578). 'No hugs, no handshakes' I noted. A friend messaged to say they had cancelled their wedding next month. The local care home shut its doors to visitors. Loaf community bakery posted its coronavirus plan. Pete cancelled all his PhotoSchool Birmingham courses. Our family started planning who will visit who and how. And the government is lagging behind the actions of its people.

On 18/3/20, things were escalating quickly. I was 'feeling down, anxious, fearful, panicky – and the only comfort is that this is a normal human response to a pandemic situation'.

Social spaces started closing, schools were closing at the end of the week. The panic buying was ramping up. Volunteer initiatives using new technology and social media were springing up to help each other in the community. It felt as if we were teetering on the brink; we are all interconnected and dependent on each other after all, not only within my own family and local community but right up to the macroeconomic and social level.

And on top of all this is the virus itself. Countries are closing their borders and Europe is in lockdown. The UK is probably next but the government is being slow. We are all trying to 'flatten the curve' of deaths that will occur if we continue to mix. Even a 1% mortality rate doesn't bear thinking about. I asked my diary: if you don't trust the government or the health system, what can you do?

By 22/3/20, the country is going crazy, and so am I, to get things done before a predicted lockdown (the MOT and pet vaccinations are due, we need shopping basics). Bars, cafes and restaurants have closed. Livelihoods are being impacted. People are not keeping to the 2m social distancing rule. I held back in a Coop queue and an elderly woman stepped into the gap.

My family has now broken down into sealed off units and I wonder when I will see them again. One is already in self-isolation with mild symptoms. There is a new baby who none of us can visit. News of a pregnancy is announced, and then another – happy news but now also fearful. Everything and everyone I care about is under threat.

On 24/3/20, I started a pandemic diary when I couldn't keep track of all the thoughts flying around my head. (It's easier to type than write.) There was a domestic over the road the day after the lockdown was announced on the 23rd (was that only two days ago?!). Then I wrote about being germ-phobic long before any of this pandemic shit hit the fan. And now here we are. Hello!

Today I am thankful for people on our road coming out onto their doorsteps at 8pm and clapping the NHS workers. I had no idea it was a national thing happening but it was heartwarming, even if we were giving the NHS the clap. (Sorry, bad joke, unavoidable.)

I'm also thankful for the empty streets. Animals are coming back into cities. There are dolphins in the Venice canals. Stirchley B30 has its pigeons and was isolating like a boss! I start to wonder if I actually like people.

Finally, if anyone reads this far, I highly recommend keeping a diary for stress relief – just get all these thoughts out of your head and then forget about them.

Go on, do it, it's lockdown time.

Pandemic diary: I was germ-phobic before coronavirus

I'm blogging this because it helps me. And because I want to write a post to the future. Because everything feels like it is changing for everyone and may never be the same again.

The diary template is forming – photos of fluffy bunnies, because who needs a pic of a coronavirus germ? Things I've been thinking about or need to download. And something to be thankful for to end. BUNNIES, BLOGGING, BLESSINGS!

Anxiety, what anxiety?

I'm still enjoying – if that is the word – the feeling of numbness I mentioned yesterday. Anxiety, what anxiety? I feel frazzled with a short attention span but not consciously anxious. Perhaps it is the feeling of home, the safety it offers now that we have been ordered to stay behind closed doors and not go out unless for emergencies, food, medicine, one exercise a day or to help a vulnerable or isolated person.

I'm lucky not to be a key worker. I'm not on the frontline of the NHS, a health service that has been cut back for years and is now short of enough masks, visors, kits and supplies to keep staff safe. I'm also not being forced to go to a workplace like many others, key workers or not.

Remote working and bug avoidance

My risk profile has changed over the years. As a digital worker, I've been working from home for a number of years. And although I mostly love it, I've become kind of germ-phobic over the years.

With no office bugs to give me immunity I have developed a heightened awareness of crowded environments and germ spreading. Especially during cold and flu season. Especially just before Christmas or summer holidays. A couple of years ago I started avoiding some pub meetings just to avoid the chance of getting ill. It sounds reductive – it was, it is.

A walk with an old friend

On the positive side, it means I'm probably less of a risk to an older family friend. He is 84, has vascular dementia and can't necessarily remember the government rules. He needs to walk everyday for his physical and mental health and he also needs to socialise and have conversations to keep the dementia at bay. He lives alone and if he self-isolates for 12 weeks, he will see no one. His sister is 90 and he visited her every day in a care home – until three weeks ago when they closed their doors to visitors. He is a bit lost.

Today I met him in person. I drove him to his podiatry appointment so he didn't have to take the bus (or remember not to take the bus). It was like chauffeuring royalty, opening the doors so he didn't have to touch anything. Being another gorgeous sunny day, we drove with the windows down. I wore a scarf as a mask for an extra barrier.

The appointment was cancelled so we walked, 2m apart, around the park and chatted. How much has changed in a few days! People were now actively avoiding each other to keep a physical separation – oddly called 'social distancing' – veering off paths and pavements to protect themselves and others.

Empty roads

The roads were pleasantly empty – we might be living without pubs and cafés but we are also living without noise and noxious pollution. It has taken coronavirus to achieve what few would do voluntarily to help the planet – give up car journeys. This could be what the world looked like if the remote-working revolution continued.

Thanks

Today, I'm thankful… that my friend got to his appointment safely and enjoyed some sunshine and company. People are organising via Google docs, WhatsApp group chats and Facebook groups to help care for others in similar situations in their communities. Phone calls, prescription collections, food drops.

But the thing that really brought a lump to my throat, and made me feel something other than numb, was that 500,000 people signed up to become NHS volunteers overnight after a call out for help. Half a million people! That was proper emotional. The kind of thing that unites a divided, broken country.

Photo: Bunminster the bunny slug.

Pandemic diary: first fracas

bunny attack

I want to start blogging this because it helps me. I want to write to the future in a year. Because the world is about to change forever.

Today was the first day after strict coronavirus regulations came in for the UK that will enforce people stay at home, barring a few exceptions. It was a sunny, mild, clear blue sky March day. The queen bumblebees were waking up from hibernation with the rising temperatures. Already there were midges in the air. With the schools all closed, the neighbour's young lad was suddenly keen to talk with us 'olds'.

At 6pm I remembered the laundry. Two lots. I went into the garden and gave the rabbits a dusk run, which sends the little dudes crazy. In the distance – shouting from the street. I thought someone was shouting at to 'stay at home'? Then I heard two cries of 'help'.

I chased the buns in and ran through the house. It was a domestic between two family members across the street.

Maybe it's unrelated but everyone is cooped up with each other in 'self isolation'. Even the ones we love will drive us mad. Every day since the escalation of the pandemic, I've felt frazzled with a head that is full of information and warnings and social media stress and anticipation of worse things to come. Strangely, though, I feel almost no anxiety. It reminds me of grief and feeling numb from shock. Maybe it will come.

Today, I'm thankful to have a garden and a relationship with a fellow loner, who I can tolerate better than anyone for long periods alone.

Capturing the moon – reflections on Full Moon Walking

How can you share a walk beyond the walk? What can be the artifact that arises from, for example, our recent full moon walk, which drew 22 people into 'an expedition to explore our local waterways by full moon'.

A poem seems most apt as a way of processing the experience in text – if I had any skill in that direction. A walk report – doable, journalistic and a useful archive document but that's what I know and want to move away from. A Q&A or blog post to process the experience, as last time? A photo – there are some posted here on Walkspace, but they are Pete's photos not mine. A video – too dark. Some moon water – I did indeed capture the moon in water but spilled it to mark the lunar spell's boundaries. A map – I like that idea. An artwork, a collage? A single overriding memory? Some kind of feedback loop from the 22 people who came on the walk? Did their wishes, prayers and intentions come true, for example?

Maybe the walk is the thing. But creating an artifact from it makes each walk live on beyond the thing itself, and gives something to revisit.

If I have any kind of 'practice' it is the diary. My entry from the pre-walk check reads like a set of mythographer's travel notes:

…River Rea bridge troll, parallel tunnels, bridge ladder to a floating island, Lifford lake monster, Orion tracking/hunting the night walkers, the upturned Plough, tree of shoes, cachunking of the mineral automaton, a lost bridge, corrugated rusting barn, brutal concrete water tower, guillotine locks for chopping off heads of giants, moon water at the junction of waterways, the moon travelling alongside us in the canal, cat's eyes watching the alley behind the houses, the river stopped, freeze-framed in mid-flow.

Diary entry, 2 March 2020

While these notes conjure up the walk for me but they feel more like raw material for something else. The post-walk artifact is something I want to think about a bit more for future walks, and they are going to need some planning.

I particularly like Hamish Fulton's videos of slow group walks (especially his Penzance Beach walk) and Craig Mod's SMS book 'Pachinko Road Walk With Me' that tapped into the real-time activity of his long distance walk and created a book from his SMS texts (he explains the tensions of real time v asynchronicity in a great newsletter/video post).

There is also Richard Long's The Line and his other way markings. And a favourite from the recent Walking's New Movement's conference: Miranda Whall, who crawled the sheep tracks of Wales with a bunch of cameras attached and which led to an atmospheric multiscreen, soundtracked exhibition. Finally I love Sophie Calle's multimedia outputs and recordings, for example, her book log of surveillance activity and photos from when she walked (stalked!) a man from Paris to Venice.

These walk artifacts are what I aspire to but I've yet to figure out what I can create from a walk that will be of lasting value. Last year, when I expressed an interest in art, my mentor Kate Spence said to use this time for exploration and play. Be interested and interesting. So I guess you can expect more random walk experiments in the months to come.

And if you've come across creative outputs from walkers or walking artists. I'd be interested to hear about them. Please do leave a link in the comments.