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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wrote a couple of flash fiction stories last week, both based around cold water swimming. They led to the cheeky question have you ever? This may, or may not, answer that question.
This granny lives inland; well away from the sea and a longer walk than I like to the nearest river. No lakes within walking distance. One of my daughters lives by the coast, another by a beautiful canal junction and the other has a duck pond in her village. Despite living in the centre of a town which built its Victorian prosperity on spa water, I often suffer from a degree of water envy.
I have swum, quite recently, in the North Sea; in my youth, and somewhat foolishly, in a canal, but never in a duck pond. And I am lucky enough to have a memory of swimming beneath a waterfall in the Cuban mountains.
After a chance comment from my hairdresser, the sort of low key challenge that I can’t resist, I started thinking about outdoor swimming as a more regular activity. I bought a season ticket for our local pool, thinking that I would build my swimming stamina. Just a handful of sessions of my granny style swimming later, the pool was closed for lockdown.
Somewhere near the top of my post lock down to do list, just below giving all my girls a hug, is another swim in the North Sea. In mental health awareness week, still living in lock down; just imagining the sight, sound and smell of the sea refreshes my mind.
We shouldn’t have been at home for the VE day confusion of Bank Holiday Monday falling on a Friday. We were supposed to be on the North Yorkshire Moors, walking St Hilda’s Way with friends and their dog. Another event cancelled, or at least postponed. We tried to rebook the same accommodation for May Bank holiday 2021; someone had beaten us to it.
The road in which we live is in the centre of town, a short walk from the station. With all the comings and goings, it’s sometimes hard to know who lives locally and who’s just passing through. Suddenly, the traffic and footfall has stopped. Thursday night is clapping night. We look up and down the road. These are our neighbours. You’re new here, I shout to the people who have been here for 10 years… you get the picture.
Disappointed not to be going away, and having seen a small homemade poster in another part of town, the idea came to me to build on the Thursday night spirit. I was nervous of being seen as, at best, a rule breaker; at worst, jingoistic. I felt prompted to take a risk. I texted a neighbour. A Northern Irish Catholic, she knows about risky communities. And she may have a view on displaying Union Jacks. If she does, she didn’t say. She definitely has a view on sharing a cup of tea and a cake with her neighbours.
Go for it she said. So we did. We each contacted the people we know and word spread up and down the street. Almost without exception, people came out for a ‘no rules broken’ cup of tea, or something stronger. Spilling out from our driveways, we shouted and maintained good social distance. We even had music, and some dancing, thanks to the church music group’s provision of an amplifier.
It was an afternoon blessed by sunshine. There was real community spirit in the air. People wanted to bottle it and take it home. Now, our neighbours are all seeking to build on the day, something good is happening.
I dream of the luxury of a spa day. In the past, waiting on a cold station for a delayed train, I have imagined myself into the warm spaces of our town’s Turkish baths. Today, I dream of the freedom to visit that public place. Ironically, a public place which is more often visited as an escape from the busyness of life.
My diary reminds me that one year ago, with the sun shining in the Yorkshire Pennines, I set off to enjoy a 60th birthday present. A spa day, with dinner and sleepover, with my 3 daughters.
Cleansed by steam and ice; hot rooms and cold plunges; oils and scents; we enjoyed a complete de-tox for the body and rest for the mind. It was followed, of course, by a mini re-tox in the evening. Just a small glass of prosecco to add fizz to the celebrations; and possibly a G&T and a glass of red… a perfect birthday present, from which we all returned invigorated and ready to face the real world.
It is an extravagance that I can enjoy or, quite easily, live without. For those within the industry, self-employed or maybe on zero hours’ contracts, it is a time of huge uncertainty. Government schemes will offer some help in the short term, but some may fall through the support net. I don’t know and I hope not. I can only hope that, once facilities are able to safely reopen, I will be there ready to support the industry and enjoy the luxury.
It should be a time of celebration. My mum on the mend from the virus, back in her care home, convalescing. But the joy is not there. She is on the mend, but there is still a sense of bereavement. Visits remain forbidden. Harder for her than for us.
I at least can escape, stand in the middle of a green space and breathe. Last week I ran or walked fewer steps than ever. A quantifiable measure of my pain. A lack of motivation, combined with complaining knees, held me back. I tell myself that this will not help anyone, I will get back outside.
Thisgranny loves a board game. Throwing the dice, taking chances, climbing ladders, crashing down snakes. Long ago, I used to talk with school gate friends about the game of life. The chance cards: ‘Washing machine breaks down, go back 3 spaces’; ‘Sick child, miss 2 goes’. It made the badly timed mishaps laughable. We never anticipated this turn of events: ‘Global pandemic, spend 6 weeks (or more) without your family’.
My wise daughters gave me three pieces of equally good advice. Ticking things off on a list releases happy hormones, definitely true; it’s good to lament, don’t feel bad about it, also true. Finally, remember we’re operating at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid just now. In other words, we’ve crashed down that long snake back to square 1. Survival mode. I’ll keep throwing the dice, hoping for ladders and double sixes, and not worry too much about the inevitable snakes.
Despite the joy of the Easter message, I found the bank holiday weekend hard. Seeing others by zoom, in some ways brings them closer. It can also remind us what we’re missing. Each in our own homes, no visits from family, no hugs.
Sometimes too, there’s a feeling of overload: an expectation that, since we can’t go anywhere, we can respond to many screen calls. I felt confused and torn in all directions at the beginning of the week. Mixed in with the celebration of Easter, there was the realisation that lockdown is here to stay, for now at least.
Then, on Thursday, my mum ended up in hospital with suspected COVID-19. A worrying time. That evening, as per the new normal, we went outside to applaud the NHS and carers. Our friends and neighbours all offered support and prayers; but of course, no hugs. This morning a much welcome, life size, drawing of a hug arrived in the post from my granddaughters.
In the heart of Northumberland, there is a simple chapel that has been a refuge for me. It’s a lean to building on the outside of a walled garden. Wooden benches run down either side; a wood burning stove sits in the corner. The path to the door runs through the edge of woodland. By the door, there is a simple painted sign: ‘those who lean on Jesus’ breast hear the heartbeat of God’. Those were the words that brought me comfort when the journey felt tough.