Saturday, 28 March 2020

Better Days

In the midst of the madness that is a global pandemic there will inevitably be good days and bad days. Won't there? How do we in fact know that to be the case? Has anyone any actual record of how people felt back in 1918 as Spanish Flu ravaged the planet?

Perhaps this assumption is actually untrue, and for some people every day that this goes on will be a struggle, unable to see the light at the end of what may be a long tunnel. As Revered Kate Bottley said on twitter only yesterday "It's ok not to be trying to be cheerful, it's okay to lament and be angry and sad and to rage. You don't have to "make the best of it" every minute of every day of this thing. You have a bloody good cry if you need to, ok?"

Maybe that will be for many the pattern of these dormant days. For others with a natural resilience or the ability to create a routine that somehow sustains their mental health things may not in fact be so bleak. I have heard of some people enjoying the break from the routine or even the stress of work. Relaxing in the sunshine, cooking from scratch, and in some cases even on full pay.

Speaking personally for a moment my hope is that I will manage to maintain some positivity in the midst of all this. One of the reasons for keeping this diary is to document not only what is happening but how I feel about it. In years to come I hope it will be an interesting historical document, and in the present day I definitely find it therapeutic, as I have said so many times, to dump how I am feeling here and try to somehow walk away.

And so to today, which has been better than yesterday. Yesterday of course having been just the worst. Today I somehow let go of the worries regarding The Kitchen. I have absolutely no idea at all if or when we will ever manage to re-open. Perhaps that sounds negative, but it is also true. Hanging on to a relentless positivity  may feel like the right thing to be doing but there is also a reality to be faced and perhaps owning that is the right thing to do at the moment.

Today I have also tackled some of the more demanding emails which have all week been screaming at me. If truth be told it's been an enormous effort to even open the laptop at times but dealing with them, especially if they involve tackling difficult subjects, has been a good thing (even if awaiting some of the replies feels less good just now).

I have also succumbed to a bit of comfort TV - something about Diana is playing on Netflix as I type this. And Cobra has been purchased for this evening. Dinner is planned with little cooking to be done and after that an early night. The press conference was early today - I think someone mentioned it is the weekend? Led by the Business Secretary it focussed on that impact of this crisis but underneath all of that there was the tragic news that over 1000 people have now died as a result of Covid 19.

When will this end? It's so hard to even imagine such a time, when we can visit and hug friends and family, once again drink in the pub and celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings! There will be plenty of parties to enjoy then for sure,  But until then one day at a time and hopefully as many of them as possible will be Better Days.

The only way is up

I dithered between two titles for this post. Having opted for "The only way is up" I discarded "Things can only get better." I'm unsure quite why, perhaps on some subliminal level my brain drifts back to it as the anthem for New Labour and a brave new dawn of opportunities, justice and equality...

To be honest this is being written from the comfort of my bed and I perhaps ought to be asleep. It is so hard, I would dare to say impossible, to explain to anyone who is not themselves a writer, the importance of doing this. I may have mentioned previously that when my son was taken ill on a school trip to Venezuela I had to fly halfway round the world at such short notice that I had nothing on me with which to document all that took place, and help me to unravel my thoughts. I remember clearly being asked by one of the many people who assisted me if I needed anything and my answer was simple - pen and paper. Never mind another change of clothing, something to eat or a Yorkshire Brew...

Why was today so very bad? To the extent that much of it was spent in tears and not responding to messages or requests for a chat. It's really not easy to say why, perhaps there is no reason other than as part of that cycle of grief today was D Day. If D is for Depression (ooh - where did those capitals come from, how very assertive of Depression to make itself felt like that) then today was the day when it hit.

People often say that they are depressed (let's uncapitalize it now and put it in its place). More recently there seems to be an awareness and understanding that it is natural to feel sad about some things, that sadness is transitory, and can often be helped by a good cry, a chat with a friend and a Yorkshire Brew. Depression on the other hand can come from nowhere - or somewhere - and its effects can be insidious, long lasting and devastating.

Depression has been a familiar "friend" since I was around 12 years old. That's my earliest recollection of it knocking at the door of my life. It took up semi permanent residence when as a sixteen year old I stopped eating. To the extent I was hospitalised for three months and luckily escaped organ failure. At that time Anorexia Nervosa was "the slimming disease" and the cure was basically a high calorie diet, practically force feeding, and privileges removed and re-introduced as "rewards" for weight gain. All whilst on high doses of Largactil - a drug worth a google if you are interested in how dissident citizens may have been treated in some parts of the world...

With such a tendency to the D word, post natal depression was hard to avoid. But then there was the trauma of major spinal surgery (scroll back to 2010 to read what a barrel of laughs THAT was!) and more recently the stress and anxiety of running a small business. Please believe me when I say I do know what it is to be depressed, when I am and when I am not. And today has been a very tricky one.

Part of the issue seems to me to be the many well meaning folk telling me to enjoy this enforced rest from what has been an absolutely manic chapter of long hours and hard work at The Kitchen. I love the idea in theory but find it way too hard to relax when the news is full of how many people are dying. When some of my closest friends are really sick. When others are working so hard for us and at any other time in my life I would have been out there volunteering to help. This feeling of helplessness, perhaps associated with a lack of control, is definitely a trigger to feelings of depression and anxiety in my own experience.

And then there is the randomness of how we found ourselves where we are "when the music stopped". Just as in a game of musical chairs there we all were moving around and living our lives then "STOP" and that was it. In some ways I feel so fortunate. Our youngest son is living back at home now - or he would have been away from us on the Isle of Wight. But then I see others with children/grandchildren to distract them whilst our first grandchild will be born into a world very different from that which we expected when we heard the wonderful news they were on the way! We have a lovely garden for which I am grateful but I wish our daughter was here and not in a flat with no outside space. Blessings to be counted, alongside situations to grieve - cancelled holidays, a postponed wedding, jobs lost and a business that may not survive.

For someone whose daily worklife involves countless interactions with customers, colleagues, suppliers and friends to suddenly be cut off from them all is difficult to deal with. I was thinking about this only today. For those of us working from home as part of a large organisation there are still the calls, video conferences, emails and other interactions. For some people who are perhaps older, maybe retired, the loss of social gatherings must hurt badly, especially if they are unfamiliar with the type of technology many use to keep in touch. Young families with children will no doubt be thankful for the abundance of resources online such as films, educational materials, and the means to speak to wider family whilst also seeing them. Everyone's circumstances are so different but if when the music stopped you found yourself sharing these surreal weeks with others whose circumstances are very different then a heck of a lot of patience and understanding may be needed to get us through.

This is a long post and has only just begun to touch on some of why today was so tough. But I have somehow dumped enough to make sleep seem a possibility. Or perhaps the analgesics (back pain never helped depression) or beta blockers (pre-existing anxiety came in handy when it came to a prescription) are kicking in. Whoever said that the drugs don't work?!

Friday, 27 March 2020


This evening we were encouraged to #clapforcarers

This was incredibly emotional. I have to admit it was way out of my comfort zone to stand on my doorstep and clap. But when I thought about it, the people in the NHS working for us all on a daily basis are so far out of their comfort zones that this seemed liked the teeniest little social inconvenience, so I was there.

Ever conscious of how easy it is to opt out of these events I consciously messaged those on the WhatsApp group recently set up by my neighbours. I was out there early, ready to clap alone in support of all those known and unknown to me who are putting their lives on the line in this fight.

In the end it was an incredibly emotional event. Children banged their saucepans with wooden spoons, we all clapped and I tried to make a little video.

It's weird, isn't it...

There are those of us on the absolute front line who deserve all our appreciation

There are those of us who may lose our livelihoods because of all that is happening

There are those of us confused as to what we "should" be doing

And there are those of us who feel almost guilty that whilst others are on that front line fighting the virus we are doing the "right thing" by staying home. Which for some mean horrible self isolation in a tower block, but for others may mean relaxing in the garden, enjoying something that could almost feel a little bit like a holiday.

I'm trying so hard to make sense of it all and can only draw comparisons with historical events. For example, during World War One had we seen images of those in the trenches our hearts would have been in our mouths. During World War Two the images that lightened our hearts were those of people gathering together. Perhaps this is the hardest issue of all. How do those of us staying home - to protect those around us - cope with the feeling that we should be doing so much more?

Time to sleep ...more tomorrow for sure!

Thursday, 26 March 2020

As Time Goes By

We are living in scary and surreal times here in the UK, and despite my best intentions and efforts to document all that is happening on a daily basis that somehow hasn't happened.

To be fair, some of this can be found over on the business blog at  There I have outlined the steps we took as each announcement was made from the government. I spoke with Herts Live just this week about how we agonised, every step of the way, as to how we might continue in some way. Reduced opening hours, takeaways only, call and collect. Crowdfunding, pay it forward, gift vouchers. All were considered as possible ways to ensure the survival of The Kitchen until such time as this pandemic has passed.

To the title of this post then - As Time Goes By. Time appears to have warped itself in a most peculiar way this week. It feels like forever since the Peace Hospice Black Tie Ball was cancelled and Watford didn't play Leicester. At the same time it seems only yesterday that Ian and I were walking along the promenade in Monte Gordo, telling our Portuguese friends that in April we would be going to Vilamoura to look at wedding venues with our daughter and her fiance.

Time may have warped itself but the rollercoaster ride that our emotions have been taken on has been perhaps even more interesting. Someone helpfully posted on Facebook that if we are feeling anxious we are feeling grief. And as many of us know, grief consists of many stages from denial, anger and bargaining to depression but eventually acceptance.

Initially this week the overwhelming feeling was with hindsight denial. On a personal level I spent perhaps 48 hours hibernating! Sleeping late, snoozing  during the day and sitting in the sunshine doing very little indeed. Possibly inevitable after the madness of the past few weeks, when you then added in the realisation that a business built over almost eight back breaking years, first from home and then in The Kitchen, was perhaps on the brink of collapse.

Following this initial period anger did indeed set in. With no-one, nowhere and nothing to direct it at this anger found itself in a difficult place. The obvious way for it to go was inside, to transform itself into depression but instead it found itself sparking at the silliest of issues. At every point I had to remind myself that we are all in this together. Everyone is responding to the unknown in their own way. Everyone's circumstances are different, and for everyone requesting a refund for a cancellation there are perhaps four or five people willing to donate or postpone their deposits. We've never been here before and there are no "rules".

In between dealing with these emails, listening to all that the government has to offer, chatting to friends/colleagues/family and still finding time to eat and go to the toilet, I have tried to write. Rather - my brain has tried to do so. This whole thing about what we do in these surreal times has fascinated me if I am honest.

There are those who champion mindfulness of course. Running, jogging or simply walking are also up there with things to do during times of social distancing. Colouring, cleaning, decluttering and knitting are alternative options but beware the closure of charity shops and the dump if you're hoping to Hinch your home in these tricky times.

I am going to unashamedly nail my colours to the mast and say one thing... WRITE!

I would encourage everyone - whatever your age, whatever your experience of writing/journalling or blogging - to record your experiences and thoughts during these troubled times. For two reasons...

1. We are living a historical experience. I certainly didn't see this coming, and to be honest it came upon us so suddenly that I doubt many were prepared to document these days. Don't worry about grammar, alliteration, paragraphs or prepositions - just chuck down on (virtual) paper what you are doing and how you are feeling about it...

2. If you do the above try to add in how you feel about it. Again there's no need to make this stressful or more difficult than it needs to be. Easy words like "happy" "sad" "worried" "scared" or even "curious" will do just fine

Curious...? I'm not altogether sure where that came from other than it is a word that sprang to mind. When I think about this situation we all find ourselves in just now curiosity is definitely a word that comes to mind. So many questions about where this virus came from, how it spread, what we can do to help and why we are all so fearful...

That is it for now but will be blogging again very soon - see you there!

Friday, 20 March 2020

Looking for the rainbows

Someone whose writing I love just emailed me. "Keep a diary" he said! I haven't replied yet but when I do I can't wait to tell him that is exactly what I am doing. Albeit in the form of this rather hastily composed blog which in all honestly hasn't yet reached the heights of literary excellence I aspire to. At the end of these long days its more a case of a bit of a brain dump ready to clear the space for whatever tomorrow may bring.

I just updated The Kitchen's Facebook page with this post 

"Well what a day that was! The overwhelming support has moved us to tears today, thank you everyone.
At times it did all get a bit much for me and I have to thank the wonderful team here for reminding me to breath, for the endless cups of tea (no offence several of them went cold on me) and for their patience when I struggled to respond to every query with the cheery smile that I wanted to but which was somehow stuck behind the fear and apprehension. Sorry everyone - you know how much I love you all.
We have received so many emails and orders, with more people coming in for takeaway cakes than ever before. This means so much as it encourages us to continue, believing you want us to be here when this has all blown over. Thank you and tomorrow I will endeavour to update you with the progress we've made on some of the new initiatives.
If you haven't heard back from us then I apologise. I have done my best but now it is time to sleep before an early start making more cupcakes!
A final shout out to the team who are working tirelessly, above and beyond their hours, sacrificing sleep, putting in unpaid shifts for the love of the community here and - I say it again - making me endless mugs of tea.We will get through this - just keep looking for the rainbows xxx"

That kind of sums it up to be honest! The rainbow initiative is such a lovely one. As children are not in school, and unable to meet their friends at the swing parks etc they may well be going on a lot of walks around the village. This idea is to give them something to look for and count when out and about. Rainbows are appearing in windows all around the world and whatever your faith they are surely a sign of hope in the midst of dark times.

A final but important thought though. It feels a little bit strange in some ways to be working flat out at this time. Especially when so much of that work is dealing with refunds and cancellations. There's a sense that perhaps we shouldn't be doing so as we ought to be self isolating, locked away for four months. There's lots on social media about how to deal with boredom when it's tempting to lounge on the sofa in your pyjamas all day, but we haven't reached that stage yet.

There is so much talk of the keyworkers and I genuinely don't believe for one minute that we are those. My respect and admiration for those on the frontline is boundless. But I do have a deep feeling that what we are endeavouring to do is also important in its own way. The temptation to pull the shutter down and hide is strong at times but we are trying somehow to demonstrate that we are still here for the community. The baby squidges have stopped, the hugs and cuddles will have to wait another day. We can't welcome people to eat at our tables and sit with them to chat and share in their lives.

But we can offer sustenance. Sandwiches and cakes yes, but hopefully more than that. Hopefully a sense that life will return to normal, that there is still cause for celebration, and that we are here for you.

Definitely time to sleep now but thanks to all who continue to read these ramblings. To be continued for many months no doubt.....

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Day Two

Such is my determination to blog my way through this surreal situation that in spite of it being the end of a long day which had its fair share of challenges I felt compelled to pick up the laptop again.
To be honest tonight did not present the same challenges as yesterday evening. I had managed to save the log in page and passwords which meant no crazy searching for the correct URL, logging in unsuccessfully with probably three of my known email addresses and somehow navigating my way to the correct blog of the many listed on my account. Definitely time to sort out life online!

To be honest now is probably a good time to sort out life not just online but off it as well. Such surreal times indeed. This evening the Prime Minister announced the closure of all schools in England. We have been advised to stay away from pubs, bars and restaurants. As a tearoom/coffee shop we've struggled a little with where we fit into this and today sent out an email to all our customers with our updated position.

We are remaining open for takeaway coffee, sandwiches and cakes - as long as we are able to. We have heard that in some countries complete lockdown has been introduced, and to be honest expect that within the next week or two. This virus is so scary, some have likened the situation to us being at war but against an invisible enemy.

That's where we are at with the practical aspects of social distancing and attempting to flatten the curve. Emotionally however the issues are harder to deal with. Everyone is anxious - who wouldn't be at such times. This anxiety however is demonstrated in different ways according to a person's personality, experience and resilience. Some have become withdrawn and almost paralysed into inactivity. Others have adopted a more blase approach, in denial perhaps and reluctant to express their deep rooted fears. Obviously when people who cope in different ways come together there may be some difficulties in seeing the others point of view. But when these people are quarantined, self isolated or simply socially distancing from others fireworks can fly!

What is needed is a quite enormous helping of kindness - the hashtag #bekind was trending just a week or so ago. Along with a huge dollop of understanding, an ability to listen and the patience to allow someone to express their feelings and fears without immediately stepping in to argue.

It's 10.15pm. Not a particularly late night but this situation seems to be making everyone very weary indeed. The massive amount of adrenaline, the fear and anxiety, seem to take it out of us in a way I personally have never known. The anxiety remains but unlike in the early days when it prevented us from getting us to sleep (I must stop generalising and use ME and not US!). Anyway - in those early days the anxious thoughts would circulate constantly in my brain, looping around and stopping me from sleeping. Now however it's rather easier to drop off to sleep, it's waking in the small hours and struggling to drop off again that's the challenge.

So we are off to bed. Hopefully to sleep and hopefully sweeter dreams tonight!

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Four Years? No Way!

Where on earth to begin?

In times of crisis I have so often turned to writing, but it surely cannot be four years since this blog was last opened by me, intending to add a new post?

I know for a fact that in the meantime it has been read, but to be honest it feels like a stranger to me after all these years. Even the act of writing a blog post feels a little alien, and that is in spite of endless updates over on the "blog" I write at The Kitchen Croxley

So why begin again?

Mainly because with all that has been happening in the news recently I have felt driven once again to journal, and doing it on a blog has for the last ten years or so felt like a better way to do so than writing in a notebook. That may yet change as I have been gifted a couple of quite structured journals recently. The type with space to express gratitude and goals, dreams and expectations, to reflect and plan in a thoughtful way.

Whilst writing a blog I have come to find the knowledge that someone else may be reading it to be a real help. The scribbled notebooks of times past often left me worried that someone would stumble upon the unstructured thoughts poured onto the page without the filter (and edit) that comes from knowing that someone is looking over your shoulder.

For a few days now the world seems to have shifted in a way we could never have imagined. This invisible insidious virus that we first heard of as something on the other side of the world has found its way across the world to our country, our towns, villages and homes. As someone who admits to following the news pretty closely, and keeping updated on international as well as home affairs, I have been anxious for a while now. But nothing prepared me for the sudden devastating impact that this disease would have upon us all.

The sheer volume of sickness and deaths in countries such as Italy, the ever rising numbers and graphs, the sense that worse is to come, all can lead to an overwhelming fear and anxiety.

For some it has been an end to live football that has brought home the reality. For others the closure of the West End theatres. Today I was deeply moved by the announcements that church services are ceasing - though the work of the church continues unabated as it moves further than ever into the communities it serves.

For many it is the economic effect, the almost inevitable recession to follow, that they most fear. Perhaps the loss of their lifetimes work and wealth. There is no one on the planet unaffected by this hideous virus.

This post is quite long enough and it is time to sleep - perhaps. It will be continued tomorrow. To anyone reading this far I pray God's blessings on you and a peaceful night x