Glass Half Full

So, lockdown sucks. When this all started I kept crying myself to sleep, spent the night wrestling with anxiety dreams and woke earlier than I ever have (I am a sleeper not an early bird). It felt like the end of days. I was acutely frightened for my family’s health and our financial survival. The terrible death toll has been a source of great sadness throughout this period, even though I have not been directly affected. And I have worried about the other myriad impacts on the economy and the vulnerable, which will be profound and lasting. I know that for many this time has been extremely difficult to manage, and that many have suffered grief and loss.

The beginning of lockdown seems such a long time ago now. Now what sucks is people going a bit wild with their new found freedom now we only have to ‘stay alert’. My walks, runs and supermarket shops are full of encounters with people who, to quote Patrick Swayze, seem to want to be in my ‘dance space’. Go and be alert somewhere else, guys!

The current situation around Cummings is more than depressing, and – just like at the start of lockdown – I’m torn between hibernating for a few days in the hope that it will all be sorted when I wake up, and constantly watching for the next update.

Today though, I’ve been mostly distracting myself from the particular unfolding awfulness, by keeping busy. Since you ask, I’ve done some work, been for a run, pulled down a dead tree with one hand (it was rotten), viakal-ed the kitchen taps, and supervised the tidying of 10’s bedroom (yes, basically I did it myself). During said activities, I’ve been pondering the good things in my life right now, and some of the unanticipated positives that lockdown has brought to me and to my family. I know that for other individuals and families things have been very much tougher than they have been for us.

We are lucky that everyone in our family remains healthy, though some of them have health vulnerabilities that I continue to worry about (especially since the community seems to have collectively lost the plot having taken it all so seriously to start with – the beaches and coastal paths are traffic jammed here). My parents are, reluctantly, shielding and since our own 14 days of self-isolation ended I have been their chief shopperer and designated shopper for our family.

This means that I get to be able to see them regularly, albeit at distance as I deposit the shopping in their garage. I can check in with them and make sure they are ok, I can stop and talk in the driveway about seedlings and flowers and how well they are doing with Joe Wicks. I want to give them a hug, to sit in my mum’s kitchen and be endlessly asked if I want another biscuit. But seeing them several times a week when I deliver supplies makes me feel that I am giving back a tiny bit of the care that they have given me over the years. It’s a joy not a burden and I feel good knowing they are ok.

Between visits we have been sending messages on the Marco Polo app (If you don’t know it I highly recommend it). Although my mum mainly looks bemused or bored in videos, my dad has been sending us lengthy video messages, often tours of his ever greener garden, or tales of his dad’s life as a soldier in WWII, of D-Day, tanks and battlefields, of seeing his father for the first time aged about 3, on his return from the war, frozen to the spot. The video technology has unlocked something, and dad has shared things I didn’t know before, things he had forgotten, and things he has researched online in his pre-video research. Although mum has been rather less enthusiastic, last week we received a video of mum remembering her village school 70 years ago, where the milk arrived frozen in the mornings and had to be thawed on the coal boiler that heated the classroom. In that video mum gave tantalising hints about her bad behaviour as a child and as a teenager. These videos are treasures.

Apart from the history lessons, there is regular video communications between our household, my parents and that of my brother down the road – sharing updates about the kids, our activities around home and garden, the views on our walks. If I think back my communication with all of them is far more frequent than it has been for many, many years – and we are sharing some different part of our lives than we would typically share over the table at a family Sunday lunch.

The same goes for old friends who go way back, two of whom I’ve been in daily contact with, but who live too far away for us to meet face to face very often. Seeing into one another’s houses, sending messages whilst still pyjama clad and puffy eyed, sending a quick message whilst doing the chores or between work meetings, sharing minor triumphs and frustrations, laughing about long forgotten shared memories… has been a blessing.

In the initial weeks of lockdown there was limited work available, which was worrying, but which gave plenty of time to get other things sorted out. I decorated my office (thank goodness, it has seen a lot of use since), and in recent weeks have really quite flat out with work. But, whilst I’ve worked pretty damned hard, I’ve managed to squeeze in the runs that I rarely managed when commuting in the week, I don’t have to waste time travelling, and I have, by and large, kept my weekends to do other stuff. Now that the acute stress and worry of having no income has subsided, it’s clear that my work life balance is much better and I am the better for it (money is still a worry as much of the available work is poorly paid and the final hearings that we depend on are dropping like flies, so things are still unpredictable). I’ve also found that I have been far more productive in the nest I have created in my office than I ever was when working in chambers, or elsewhere at home (I am lucky enough to have been able to focus on my job as bread winner whilst my other half acts as the main teacher – I would have lost the plot completely if I’d had to try and do both of these jobs simultaneously). I can focus, I can get on with things, and in fact I can also take a break and do something else that needs doing in between. I have loved being able to do a hearing and then pop out for a walk in the sun or to get some milk before the advocates’ meeting later that day – of course that doesn’t happen every day, but that it happens at all is a blessing.

Our family has fallen into something of a routine, albeit a slightly fluid one. Mornings are for school and court, afternoons for goofing off (for them if not for me), and at some point most days either I will run with the dog or we will all go on a walk with her instead. And then we all stay up too late (case in point – its nearly 1am!), and joke about who is the biggest sleepyhead the next morning. The amount of formal schooling the kids are doing is relatively limited, but they are each working on projects of their choice that interest them alongside their set work.

During lockdown I’ve cooked more and eaten better than when on the move with work. We are sharing the cooking, which means a more varied diet and less ‘sod it we’ll just have fishfingers / pasta’ days.  Some days I have time to put the dinner in the slowcooker at lunchtime and its ready when I finish. On days when I finish work exhausted (there have been a few) I don’t have to pack up, catch a train or drive home struggling to stay awake at the wheel or rammed in standing room only. I don’t arrive home after everyone has eaten to reheated my plated up dinner and eat it alone. Now I just shut my laptop, close the door and I’m home in time for dinner.

We’ve done stuff with the kids – bike rides, tie dyeing, dog walking, baking, running, gardening, decorating. Today I helped 12 with his drama homework – we had fits of giggles at our attempts to learn how to speak and read a poem in a Yorkshire accent, and make a recording of it for the teacher (I can now speak pretty passable yorkshire!). Don’t get me wrong, all this wholesome parenting has been interspersed with long, long periods of screen time (minecraft, youtube, coding etc etc), and much of it has been a struggle to get them to join in with – though more often than not they enjoy themselves once they get going. This weekend 12 and I picked elderflowers on our walk and made elderflower champagne.

Also, if I’m honest, I’ve spent more time in the same room as my other half during this period than I would have in a whole year. Whilst there have been some moments of mutual irritation, it’s been a relief how well we’ve rubbed along.

What else? I’ve cleaned things I haven’t cleaned for *cough* quite a while… (I confess though that other than bursts of spring cleaning enthusiasm the general standards are pretty low – please do not run a finger over my mantelpiece). I’ve done a bit of knitting, and I’ve taught myself some basic crochet – something that I’ve just not had the headspace to do until now. In a moment of lunacy I bought a sewing machine, and yesterday I made bunting as a gift. My sewing skills are limited, as are my crochet skills, but it’s lovely to spend some time on doing something with my hands.

I’ve been able to spend time on the garden, which is now looking better than it has done for years, and we are tantalisingly close to finally taming that bit at the bottom that has had a decade of neglect. And I can look out of my bedroom window in the morning to see my other half happily pottering in the greenhouse, doing his morning check on his seedlings, sometimes with 12 who is helping him test out novel ways of growing tomatoes – up strings and in tanks using hydroponics! It makes me happy to watch them pottering in the garden, contentedly tending to things they have grown.

I’m beginning to realise that whilst there is a lot I miss about my old life, and a lot about lockdown I hate, there is a lot about life at the moment that I will be sad to lose. I hope that I can hold on to how much better life feels when you get outside, when you stop to look around, when you have time for yourself and your family, and when you just slow down.

I hope I hold on to that, because although I’ve done all sorts of things with my lockdown I still have a huge long list of other things I want to do. There are still books to read, decorating to do, crochet and gardening projects and spring cleaning tasks to sort out, a book to write, blog posts to type… I realise now that I could have a year off work and never do everything I want to be busying myself with. And that makes me realise how small a portion of my potential life I was living before lockdown released all of that. What’s more, I quite like the sense of comparative internal calm where there used to be a knot of only barely manageable stress that I thought was inevitable and incurable. Turns out maybe it wasn’t at all.

The chances are I will slip back, as the need to earn enough money to pay the mortgage month on month looms larger. But I hope I will do a little better than my pre-lockdown self managed on the wellbeing front, and that I will have more to give back to friends, family and colleagues as a result.

4 thoughts on “Glass Half Full

  1. So: in the world in general and in the UK in particular: more lockdown divorces or more lockdown babies?

  2. Pete Burtenshaw

    The overwhelming feeling of utter helplessness and loss. Whilst I have been an alienated father for many years dealing with the panic, scaremongering, ignorance and snowflake mentality from those afraid of their own shadow with a look of utter fear on these sad individuals faces when one breathes, was alarmingly disturbing. Liberalism is the 21st century’s fascism..

  3. I love this post from Pink Tape. It highlights the work/life balances that have been neglected. It contemplates that there may be another way postpandemic. I say ‘don’t slip back’, despite pressures to pay the mortgage. Let us try to bank something from our Covid-19 experience – in the way we choose to work and lead our lives.

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