Call centre blues

I need to add a new signatory to a bank mandate. It’s a task to be completed before I can stand down from my volunteer treasurer role. It seems straightforward, easy enough to start the process online.

I go through the necessary hurdles to log on to the account. A message: we can’t do this online right now, call this number. I call the number. An immediate response. It’s not a person, it’s a recorded menu; I choose option 1. The music kicks in, a steady adrenaline inducing rhythm. No indication of how many are ahead of me in the queue. The occasional interruption of a recorded voice thanking me for waiting.

Forty minutes later, I can take no more. I hang up, wondering if it was nearly my turn.

I leave it a few days before I try again. Another immediate response. I remember it’s not real, select option 1, brace myself against the music. Twenty minutes pass. A real person offers to help me.

I pass the security tests. I congratulate myself on retrieving a texted code without inadvertently ending the call and returning to the back of the queue.

I explain my requirements. Casper, the friendly call handler, works through the process online. It takes another forty minutes to complete the forms and explain the next steps. He takes his time, makes sure he gets it right. I’m grateful for his time and patience. I thank him, and realise that his undivided attention is the reward for a long wait.

Free to be me

I read a friend’s blog. She spoke of harsh words running through her like a stick of rock, the core of her being as it were. She described them as invisible scars.

As I was running this morning (run #29/40 for the GNR solo) I thought about her words. I wondered first, how do they put the letters into a stick of rock? Then I began to ponder the words that run through me. Would the words which others read in me differ from the ones I feel myself?

Earlier this week, my mum described me as ‘independent’. She’s labelled me in many ways over the years: it didn’t necessarily feel like a compliment. She’s understandably angry and fed up at the loss of her own independence right now. There was a sense that she would like to maintain more control.

Sometimes it feels as though I’ve spent too much of my life trying not to rock the boat. Not always with success. Maybe I have occasionally felt that I have lost sight of myself, the person I was created to be. Now I’m thinking it will take a lifetime to fully become that person.

Not independent but interdependent: a tiny efficient cog working within a complex machine. Life is dynamic; we can’t stand still.

Feeling crimpled, but very brave

A moment of real confusion this week resulted in a big win for thisgranny. The prize: a whole day, an extra 24 hours of life recovered. It was like finding a treasure trove of emergency money, folded and forgotten in a pocket. It was always there, always mine, but felt worth so much more for its rediscovery.

A friend asked me ‘are you free on Thursday?’ I replied that I wasn’t sure, there was half a chance of a wild swim. Later in the day, I sent a text: no swimming, I can walk tomorrow. Her reply: tomorrow’s Wednesday, can you walk on Thursday?

Confusion sorted, we set off across the Crimple valley. We talked about its namesake crimplene, that synthetic fabric so beloved by older ladies in the 1960s. We remembered its strange texture and its tendency to generate unexpected static shocks. Not quite back to normal yet, we decided that it’s ok if we feel a little crimpled.

Heading back around the edge of town, we faced a field of cows. Not my favourite sort of walking, I confessed. Mr A calls it an irrational fear. I consider it to be quite rational. I have read that attacks by cows outnumber those by sharks; allegedly in a ratio of around 20:1. And he wouldn’t swim across a pool of sharks. Today we were both in agreement. We didn’t like it, but we would take it in our stride. And, maybe give them a slightly cautious wide berth, just in case.

Attaining safety on the far side of the gate, we felt relieved. We knew we had been brave.

Still seeking solitude

It’s been a strange couple of weeks.

Going into lockdown felt comparatively easy for me. Cancel everything, stay at home. Only go out to exercise or to do essential shopping. No traffic noise, lots of birdsong. Four months later, reversing lockdown feels loud and complex.

It’s been great to have family and friends to visit; good to get a haircut. #GNRsolo runs are fitting into a new schedule of coffee dates and appointments. I have to confess that, some days, I have felt a little overwhelmed by the existence of pre-planned events in the diary.

As a child, I was frequently accused of being too much of an introvert. As if it was something within my control. Self-conscious, I became quieter and retreated to the world of books. The craving for moments of solitude hasn’t gone away. When life gets too busy I still need space and downtime. I’m not a recluse, I enjoy the company of others but I draw my strength from an inner depth. Extroverts can drain me.

I describe myself now as an ambivert. I need time to get in touch with my introvert side, but I’m frequently surprised by the joy of meeting similar souls. Like my school gate friend, Mary. We met for a walk by the river and an open air coffee. She told me that she had willingly sacrificed time alone in an empty house to meet up with me; I felt privileged. We understand each other.

Running solo

On Sunday, a challenge appeared on a whatsapp message for #GNRSolo. The link’s not working for me, I replied. That’s because it’s just a picture, said my daughter. Once that was sorted, I was able to search on line to read the challenge.

Last Sunday, 28 June, was the 40th anniversary of the Great North Run. It’s a late summer event now, but it seems that was not always the case. The challenge, should I choose to accept it: forty runs in the 78 days between the 40th anniversary date and the date of the, now postponed, 2020 GNR. No specification on speed or distance of the runs. That will motivate me, I thought, as I entered my details online. One by one, my family all signed up for the solo event. I even set up a spreadsheet to record my progress. After 5 short runs, my spreadsheet tells me that I have run the equivalent of one half marathon this week.

Mr A managed to achieve this distance in fewer runs, and in considerably less time than me. However, he is now out of action for a while. He hobbled home, battered and bruised, after crashing to the ground on his 3rd run. He had the misfortune of encountering a small dog running out of control between his feet. A trip to A&E and an emergency dental appointment followed. Whilst he may now be able to see the funny side of the event; the pain of his bruised ribs prevents him from laughing.

Walking in the water

This week I was able to visit the beach. Not a Covid-19 lockdown breakdown party beach, but a long windswept beach in the North Eastern corner of England. The sort of beach that I can, if I’m lucky, have to myself. It was, admittedly, busier than I have ever seen it before. But still quite large enough to accommodate all its visitors: a few families picnicking in the dunes, others playing in the incoming tide. A minority of dog walkers; a handful of fishermen trying their luck on the shore line.

Sandals in hand, I make a beeline through the warm dry sand. One eye fixed on the shoreline, the other checking for broken glass and evidence of canine visitors; I see neither, this is a nice clean beach.

I do not slow my pace as I stride towards the water. Not pausing to wonder the temperature I take the shock in my stride as the cold bites my ankles, cooling my whole self. I turn and start my walk along the very edge of our island. The waves rushing inwards reach to my knees, occasionally splashing beyond the short line. This granny loves paddling.

Along with salty feet, and a small puddle of sand in Mr A’s car; I bring home a memory, my mind cleansed with hues of gold and blue. My locked down soul is refreshed.

Exploring green spaces

On Monday morning, the shops re-opened. I needed to go into town to visit the bank. Once that was done, I walked around the queues for JD Sports and Primark. I was going to the independent bookshop.

There wasn’t a queue. I was excited to be welcomed as the first post lockdown customer. I didn’t go to browse; there was a specific book that I wanted to buy. ‘Common Ground’ explores the green space on just one edge of our town.

It’s a timely read. Over the last 3 months, I have begun to reconnect with the unplanned explorations of my 1960’s childhood. The luxury of lockdown has been the opportunity to explore with eyes and ears open; smelling the fresh air. Setting off on unplanned walks, experiencing what is on the doorstep. Exploring first, then looking at the map to see where I’ve been, where else I can go.

Living with the convenience and confines of a town centre home, I often feel that I’ve missed out on having a walk from the door to call my own. I’m discovering now that there is a myriad of walks from the door. I’m just left wondering why it took so long to make them my own.

Having bought a book on Monday, my spending spree continued into Tuesday. I bought a bike. I wasn’t spoiled for choice, there were few available in the local shop. This one had my name on it and now it’s even quicker to get to the green spaces surrounding the town. This granny’s adventures continue.

A town without statues

Statues have been in the news this week. The debate about their contribution to social memory will no doubt continue. Sufficient, for now, to say that some of our ancestors were not worthy of the honour their money bought; but we can’t risk erasing history. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past to understand the present and improve the future.

Our Victorian town did not see fit to dignify many of its forefathers with a statue. Queen Victoria stands opposite the railway station, her back turned on the 1990’s shopping centre that bears her name. Standing around the skyline of the shopping centre, a generic concrete family. That’s it for statues in our town.

Plaques, recording historical events and the activities of noteworthy visitors to the town are another story. There are dozens of these, all packed with facts. Florence Nightingale, Oscar Wilde, E.M. Forster, Princess Alexandra of Russia are among the many that get a mention.

One of the newer plaques informs me that the first female doctor in Yorkshire, Dr Laura Veale, set up practice just along the road from the Carnegie funded public library. Sir Walter Scott mentioned the old subscription library in a book. Even the Art Deco Odeon has a plaque, recording it being featured on a postage stamp.

I hope I don’t sound cynical. The brown plaques have added interest to my walks in recent weeks; every so often as I’m out and about, I stop and have a read. And now I discover there’s a website, listing all the plaques. Next time I’m out, I’m going to see where JRR Tolkien came to recover from trench fever in 1917.

Motivation

Three months ago, I foolishly complained that I was too busy. It seemed to be one thing after another, with no rest in between. I’d just like a few days off from life, I said. Ten, or maybe eleven, weeks later, I know to be careful what I wish for.

With no time pressure, it is hard to stay motivated. The adrenaline of a deadline drives me to get started. When time stretches out, it is so easy to put things off until tomorrow. The dull, dreary and difficult tasks that I really don’t want to do can wait. Which just means that I end up worrying about them for another 24 hours, when I could have knocked them on the head and buried them.

Motivation has been in short supply for a couple of weeks. I needed to prepare the financial accounts for a voluntary organisation; I’ve done it for years, this is my last year. It’s been far too sunny to sit indoors looking at numbers, creating an unusually slow and lethargic process. It was a struggle to get started, and an even greater struggle to persevere on to the end. The finish line is in sight, but it’s been a marathon.

I’ve not found much motivation to run either. Some days, it has felt too hot for running. But, the weather is cooler now and the accounts are substantially complete. Maybe this granny will make the time to put on her running shoes again.

Laughter and tears

Some days over the last few weeks it’s been hard to find much to laugh about at all. If I’m honest, it’s been a while since I laughed till it hurts. It’s a healthy thing to do on a regular basis and I’ve missed it. It’s been even longer since I laughed so much that I fell off my chair.

This week we have been fortunate. We’ve been able to get out a little further from home, even meeting up with friends and family: separately and at appropriate distance. But it is still strange. It is so hard, without a hug, to share joy or to offer comfort to those with whom we have been reunited.

Some days, we say that we don’t know whether to laugh or cry. There’s a time and a place for both. Sometimes they are indistinguishable. We laugh till we cry. We cry tears of joy as well as sadness and anger. We don’t always understand what we are feeling.

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy, from the sound of weeping because there is so much noise. That’s recorded in the Old Testament book of Ezra. It makes me think about the Thursday evening clapping and banging of saucepans, celebrating the work of many essential workers, but tinged with sadness at the situation.

Whatever we are feeling, it will pass. And we will, one day, laugh until it hurts again.