Day 37: I’m having a crisis at the moment.

Contributor: Tony:

I’m having a crisis at the moment.

Not one that’s going to stop my world turning, but one that is a strong factor in my thinking presently.

I have been accepted to do a MA in Creative Writing at DMU this coming September, but I am now not sure that I want to do it.

It’s not a crisis of conscience, but simply a practical matter.

When I was accepted we were in normality, and I expected that in the autumn I’d be strolling down to the university to attend my lectures in the company of other students; many of whom will be young enough to be my kids – or perhaps not good for the ego, maybe in some cases my grandkids.

After doing my BA in Literature (but with a distinction in Creative Writing) by distance learning at the Open University, I was looking forward to being a proper on-site student.

But, of course, C-19 has now thrown everything up in the air and word has it that DMU may not have students back in September and, you’ve got it, undertake the course by distance learning on-line.

I might bite the bullet I suppose were it not for the fact that all the uncertainty has made me start to think what do I want a MA in creative writing for anyway?

I am a working writer with some poems and short stories published (in minor and charity gratis publications, nothing too outstanding) and I have had six of my plays performed, which is in itself a form of publishing to my mind.

So why do I want an academic endorsement for what to me is a very practical craft?

It has made me look at other courses and I have been attracted to one at the University of Birmingham through its Shakespeare Institute based in Stratford-upon-Avon on Shakespeare and Theatre.

Now you can do this course through distance learning, but even after talking to Institute academics I still can’t get my head around how you can teach theatre on-line, especially when the academics also enthusiastically tell you that the theatre element is very practical and hands-on utilising the nearby resource of the Royal Shakespeare Company and their theatres, currently in furlough.

What?

Are there any mathematicians out there who can more simply explain how you square a circle because I think I’m losing the plot?

But, in any event, it may all be academic (I know it’s a pun) if, like DMU, Birmingham decides its courses go on-line from September, and then we really see how you teach practical, hands-on theatre in cyberspace.

So, if I’m honest, I’m starting to think that wanting to re-start studying this September is a very bad idea and I was interested to see a comment from a Facebook friend of mine this morning, who is already a DMU MA student, advising me that he wouldn’t start a course in these C-19 circumstances.

Oh well, there’s always 2021.

It’s what we all seem, with increasing regularity, to be saying for all the different things we want to do, but that we have on hold for now.

Day 36: time to stand and stare

Contributor: Jo:

In these days of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, I have repeatedly walked the same routes, and watched the daily unfolding of spring around us, both in my garden and on my walks to the local parks. I consider if I have ever previously had time to take note of each stage of the blossom trees moving through flower to leaf, of new plants and flowers springing into life, watching the small changes in detail within the same scenes.

It may not be much compensation for the restrictions now imposed on our lifestyles, but it is an opportunity I would never otherwise have had.

It made me think of this poem…

“What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.”

W.H. Davies – ‘Leisure’

Day 34: ‘My attempts to keep fit and stay in shape in lockdown may have backfired’

Me at 22 miles during the London Marathon five years ago pretending it’s no big deal…

Contributor: Mark

My attempts to keep fit and stay in shape in lockdown may have backfired. This morning I was on course to run 100 miles in April. After completing a six-mile jog this morning, the goal is now in tatters. It did occur to me when I set out at 9am that I didn’t run 100 miles in a single month during my London Marathon training. Now it would appear that I’ve overdone it and left myself with a knee injury. I had a sore knee when I set out and jarred in New Walk on the way home. And it feels like a bad one. I had until Thursday to get to 100 miles and that should have been smashed with two morning runs. Now I am going to have to sit it out. Incidentally, it would’ve been London Marathon 2020 today so it was a good day to get injured I suppose.

A bad knee is a little frustrating because one of the few things lockdown has given me is time to balance my working day with making sure I got some exercise. For those who use Strava, the running app, my outputs since Lockdown day one March 23 went up by more than 10 miles a week, just by using my daily allowance of ‘Borisercise’. Now I’m going to have to put my feet up, which is all too easy to do. I’ll definitely try some walking to keep myself active and hope that after a week things will feel different.

The strangest thing is that before lockdown I did not take running seriously. I either went running or I didn’t and I did not care. The lockdown has enabled me to get my act together and get some training momentum (even though I was training for nothing. Hopefully I’ll get back out there soon, but more fundamentally I’m thinking how I can carry on this positive development of finding time to exercise during a demanding weekly work schedule into the post-lockdown era – whenever that may be.

Day 31: ‘It’s always great to see the solitary of the street and is becoming an important marker in the weekly lockdown routine’

Contributor: Mark

Come on feel the noise: Residents thank the NHS

The weekly ritual of celebrating the NHS never fails to draw people onto the street. I took this photograph from the velux window in the loft. I did my best to show all those who came out and make some noise for our brilliant key workers. What the image doesn’t capture is the sound – lots of chatter, cheering, a random firework and the bells of St Ursula’s Chapel in Wyggeston’s Hospital. It’s always great to see the solitary of the street and is becoming an important marker in the weekly lockdown routine.

I went out to the back of my house and saw an amazing red sky:

Red Sky at Night: Limitations of iPhone camera exposed…

Things like this make lockdown life a little easier to get through.

Day 30: ‘Get out when one can, embrace nature and appreciate what we have on our doorstep, don’t wallow, take one day at a time’

Contributor: Jacky:

Holiday means longer walks with the dogs, sunshine and being nearer the countryside

I was on annual leave last week, so when going downstairs I just swerved my work kit on the dining room table and didn’t log on!  Luckily the weather was mostly fine and did some jobs around the house and garden (I now have a mini greenhouse with some seedlings in) and some sitting in the garden with wine and a good book. As I wasn’t at work, I was able to do some longer walks with the dogs and enjoy being in the sunshine and nearer the countryside with the walks taking in the Great Central Way and back along the River Soar. 

I’ve added some pictures of one walk. I also managed extra workouts in the lounge and had my usual video link PT session.  Still losing some weight despite a bit of extra wine and snacks! It’s all about balance really isn’t it?  Have a routine, get out when one can (and within allowed limits), embrace nature and one’s surroundings and appreciate what we have on our doorstep (and excellent neighbours), don’t wallow, take one day at a time, try not to stress over situations out of our control.

Tried Aldi last week as I didn’t fancy an hour’s wait at Asda and I was pleasantly surprised.  Excellent value and quality of food (and wine!) and I will definitely be going back.

Back at work this week, but the sun is still shining and I can get out for lunch break and be thankful that I am still working and still have my health.
Signing off for now; more in a few days.


Jacky

Day 29: ‘A degree in pottering’

Contributor: Jo:

During virtual coffee with a good friend last weekend she asked me “what have you achieved today?” As she went on to express her frustration and boredom at life under lockdown, and how she was rapidly running out of things to do, it occurred to me that firstly we were not experiencing lockdown in the same way emotionally, and that in a strange sort of way, my recent life had been preparing me for emotionally coping with ‘lockdown’ conditions long before they were imposed.

So how did I come to this mental place? After working full-time since 1995, about 7 years ago I reduced my hours and began to work part-time. This decision was in part triggered after finding myself in ‘Sainsbury’s’ doing a big food shop at 9.45pm, flying around the store before it shut, on my way home from an evening playing badminton, which I had gone to less than an hour after I arrived home from work. As I stood under the fluorescent lights, stressed and frazzled, wondering at the madness of that situation I decided to take a step back and live some of my life in the ‘slow lane’, to give myself time to actually enjoy it and do some of the things I wanted to do with my life. Now here unexpectedly in lock-down we are all to an extent being forced to do the same.

Sharing a day-time coffee with another friend soon after this, we discussed her new retirement lifestyle and how to achieve ‘the slow life’ on my non-working days, and she made me promise to ‘get a degree in pottering’. In attempting to achieve just that; – continuing to do the housework and DIY, see friends and family regularly, get more exercise, yet build in space to spend an hour or three reading a good book without feeling guilty, taking time to develop new hobbies – finding the balance between feeling like I haven’t wasted the day, but also living my life and taking ‘me’ time – I have found the skills and attitudes that now serve me well in our current situation.

What I initially found hard to deal with was the need to feel ‘productive’. When I first went part-time, people kept asking me what new things I had achieved with my 2 days off, as my friends ask me now ‘what have you achieved in lockdown?  Part of developing ‘a degree in pottering’ is considering ‘what is being productive?’ Who sets the measurement parameters for productivity? How have we all become innately measured by the marketplace, by the terms of business and busy-ness?

The pressure to fill every minute with ‘useful’ tasks as judged by ourselves and society now haunts us in lockdown.  As we are all now suddenly and unexpectedly confined to our homes for an extended period I hear rumours of landfill over-flowing, refuse collectors over-whelmed by the national frenzy of decluttering in order to be productive with our time; there is a national shortage of flour and yeast as the nation collectively bakes enough cakes to feed the five thousand. Certainly, ‘enforced leisure’ is a great time to catch up on those outstanding jobs. Since lockdown began I have achieved some ‘tick ‘em off’ items on both my working and non-working day lists. However, these are largely lifestyle changes for the better, and also things I should have done ages ago – such as sorting out ordering organic meat from a local farm, buying more things direct from local businesses, and holding more phone calls with friends; ‘pottering’ can also disguise a good deal of procrastination… as the pile of junk in the dining room not taken to the tip before they shut also testifies…

So over time I have re-framed what I consider ‘productive’. Is it achieving lots of ‘goals’ or having a good day? I consider the notion of the things ‘to do’. I look it up in the dictionary and see several different interpretations including ‘to take action’, to complete a task’, and ‘to be occupied with something’. I think we get too hung up on the notion of ‘complete a task.’ On an alternative Covid-19 lockdown to-do list,  we could include, I didn’t get ill today, I supported a friend having a hard time, I cooked a delicious (if I say so myself) and nutritious meal without ‘popping to the shop’ for any missing ingredients, or I relaxed and read some of a book (not even a whole one).

I am thus in no danger of running out of things ‘to do’. As we enter lockdown for another 3 weeks, I realised that from the start I have been mentally prepared and ready for 3 MONTHS of lockdown, ever since the first rumours that the elderly and those with health conditions might have to self-isolate for 12 weeks. Way back in early March I made a huge ‘lockdown list of things to do’, including many activities I have been meaning to find time for for a while which keep me busy alongside the usual weekly and daily sourcing and preparing of food, and house-cleaning (which now takes a lot longer than it used to!), and the seasonal gardening tasks. And I am working from home 3 days a week, and that comes with its own comprehensive list of things to do. My virtual coffee friend teased me that I probably still wouldn’t have finished all the jobs on my ‘lockdown list’ by the time the pandemic is over, and to be honest with you she’s probably right!

This is underpinned by my habit of writing more on the list than could possibly be achieved in the given time-frame, even by superwoman! Plus, I don’t feel the pressure to have them all the items done on the allocated day; they will keep for another day, and time is one thing we have a lot of currently. This is the beauty of the ‘pottering’ paradigm. I also have a simple solution to the pressure of completing the ‘things to do list’ – before all this started, another friend and I laughed as we both admitted that we secretly add things on to our lists that we have already done that day, and then immediately cross them off just to satisfy the psychological need to feel like we’ve been useful.

So gaining my ‘degree in pottering’ has involved recalibrating what ‘productive’ means for me It has involved stepping away from the pressure to ‘achieve’ in terms of constantly complete tasks, and gained acceptance of the process of ‘doing’ as equally valuable. I am not bored, I have plenty to do, and time to do it in. I am not ‘filling my time’ for the next 3 weeks, but adapting my life to the on-going situation. This isn’t to say I don’t have bad days too, when the enormity of the global situation, the inability to physically visit friends and family, and the long-term possibly permanent nature of these changes hits me, but on a day to day basis for now, I am pottering along reasonably well.

Day 28: ‘The period we are living through does indeed need to be immortalised in art – I want to make my very own small contribution to that’

Contributor: Tony:

Tony is writing monologues to be performed at the next Everybody’s Reading festival

Writing for this project has been a godsend, and well-done Mark and Richard for coming up with the idea. 

But I also need to think about my own writing.

After all, I do title myself since retiring from the last day job (forty-six years is very long day), as a self-employed writer. 

So, I have started work on a series of monologues in the style of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to play Graham in one of Bennett’s pieces, A Chip In The Sugar.  

I enjoyed it greatly and the review from my director was that it was the best role that he had ever seen me in. 

I am working towards my own monologues being performed at the annual Leicester Everybody’s Reading festival this coming October.  

That is, of course, if we are in a position to have a festival, and if not, I suppose they will have to wait until 2021. 

Of course, the material in our street diary is rich futile ground for any writer, but let me assure everyone that I will create from and not pinch your contributions. 

Even Shakespeare needed his stimuli, and the period we are living through does indeed need to be immortalised in art.

I want to make my very own small contribution to that.   

I hope some of you will see the final result to enjoy, but also to draw your own conclusions on whether I have been true to my word. 

Day 28: A podcast in which we discuss Pink Floyd, the number of cars on the Hinckley Road, and work

Contributor: Richard:

Following on from Day 20’s podcast, in which Mark and I discussed my current obsession with the 1980s and 1990s and whether Mark has been dreaming, we turned our attention to 70’s music (especially The Bee Gees), our views of labour (alienating or purposeful), the number of cars on the Hinckley Road in Leicester as a measure of desire for herd immunity, and the potential for democratic planning rather than competition. Fun, huh?!

You can listen over at Richard’s blog.

Day 27: Me Time: ‘Take some time for yourself, through exercise, meditation or pampering. We all need to find our own ways of coping’

Contributor: Chris:

The new self indulgence?: The bath time clay face mask

As week 4 of shielding draws to a close I wanted to reflect on the time I now dedicate every week for looking after and pampering myself. Prior to the Covid cloud overshadowing the world, life always appeared to be quite frenetic for myself… alarm goes off, go to work, come home, do housework, cook dinner, watch a little TV with the family and then off to bed. This became the standard routine barring the days off whereby I might stay in bed an extra hour and also sneak some time in down at the West End Brewery.

One of the few positives to come out of shielding however, is the time I now get to dedicate to myself for pampering and relaxation. Long soaks in the bath have now become the norm for me at least 3 or 4 times a week and one of these will include a clay face mask (try not to laugh too much at the piccy).  I also take the time to carefully trim and polish my nails on a weekly basis which may appear trivial on the surface but deep down provides a feeling of pride in my appearance even when it matters least. I also try to dress smartly on occasion even when stuck at home… A smart crisp shirt for a beer in the garden with family makes me happy.

My wife and I have started doing yoga sessions this week and this is something that will definitely continue throughout and beyond isolation. Due to the joint issues that I suffer from due to my Crohn’s disease, the first couple of sessions have been really tough but the positive psychological impact far outweighs the physical constraints and I’m sure over time they will improve also. 

The main evolution of my self indulgence has come around my beard, the days of a vigorous scrub of my face with shower gel are now a thing of the past due to some research.

I would like to share a couple of pointers if I may for anyone looking for support with facial hair but with limited access to resources:

  • Your beard should ideally be brushed or combed at least twice daily and especially after being washed.
  • NEVER use shower gel or soap on your beard, these chemically laden products are not good for your follicles. Ideally a specialist beard shampoo should be used but I have found using a good quality hair conditioner works well.
  • Don’t use very hot water to wash your beard in the bath or shower – if the water is too hot it will strip the ‘Sebum’ oil of your face that occurs naturally and prevents dry skin. It can also cause deep skin irritation due to the blood vessels in your face becoming damaged Luke warm water only.
  • Having finished washing and rinsing, don’t scrub your beard with a towel to dry it, only pat it with the towel to remove any excess water. Again this will prevent any of the sebum oil from being removed from under your beard where it is needed most.
  • Following the removal of excess water, use a hairdryer on a cool setting to completely dry your beard  to retain all natural oil and protect your beard for the day ahead. 
  • After your beard is completely dry, a beard oil or balm should be applied (again if you don’t have access to either then a good moisturiser will do) and your beard brushed and shaped.

If you stick to this regime, you will be proud of your beard and also be brimming with self confidence when you look in the mirror.

I can’t recommend enough that you all take some time every week for yourself, whether it be through exercise, meditation or pampering. The Covid storm won’t be moving away soon and we all need to find our own ways of coping with the isolation.

HAPPY BODY = HAPPY MIND