Thursday, 30 April 2020

Why and When to Write

Over the past few days my inability to write anything has been bothering me a great deal. Having committed myself to writing something every day I did so enthusiastically at the beginning of this period of what some are calling Lockdown. I'm not sure why I stopped other than the days began to be sunnier, then busier, then sadder... The thoughts of what to write are always there along with the feeling that I am missing out and missing something by not recording them. But these long and lazy days pass by so quickly, there barely seems to be time to get anything done between the essentials such as getting dressed, touching base with the family, cooking a meal and of course at some point during the day participating in a quiz of some sort.

And then there are the messages of course. Group chats are busier than ever as so few people are "at work". They may well be working of course but perhaps it is easier to pick up a phone and send a funny video or quick message when you're not actually in the office or working on site somewhere. Emails also take up a seemingly disproportionate amount of time, but when it's impossible to have a conversation in person they do provide a pretty good way to keep in touch - especially when the post office is struggling to keep up with deliveries.

I've been updating the blog over on The Kitchen website today. Although we are closed it feels important to stay in touch with customers. I've been receiving probably 8-10 emails a day myself with help and suggestions on how to remain in touch  with everyone and can see the importance. It's been disappointing therefore to see a few folk subscribe from our newsletter this afternoon, having sent it out with  link to the blog. It's left me wondering if the advice to keep a relentlessly positive and upbeat presence is in fact correct.

It's not that we are being negative, we are trying to remain realistic. It's not worth reiterating here all the reasons why we aren't open - they are here for all to see.

When it comes to feelings I find myself with something of a dilemma. Social media is swamped with images of sourdough, banana bread, gin-0-clock and many more of the things which have become associated with middle class "lockdown". I continue to question the idea of lockdown however as what we are experiencing here really is nothing compared to what some European countries have been through. Being unable to leave your home without the paperwork to prove you are on essential business is quite different to the way in which restrictions have been set out here. We can go out to shop, for exercise, to care for the vulnerable. There have been many cases of people taking advantage of this, with examples online and on the news of people giving ridiculous reasons to the police as to why they are on the roads. Politicians have resigned or at the very least come under criticism for visiting second homes and there has been something of a sense of vigilante-ism with people outing their neighbours to 111 for having friends over or sunbathing in a communal space. But there have been no hefty fines, with the police instead engaging and encouraging before enforcing the guidelines. This really is not a lockdown.

It's so hard to think back to how this snuck up on us. Probably two months ago we were laughing and joking about how if alcohol killed the coronavirus we just needed to consume plenty of cocktails and we would be okay. No one is laughing about it now, though there has perhaps been a rise in virus-related humour with the circulation of clever re-writes of Abba classics, expressing the frustrations of quarantine. And of course there have been the many re-writes of songs from Les Mis. And re-writes of The Specials and The Stones... historians will have so much fun analysing how we spent our time when not quite locked down.

Today there will be another news conference. The return of the Prime Minister who himself has been unwell with Covid-19 and just yesterday became a father again. The expectation is that this period of "stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives" is far from over.

The Time is Write

By way of explanation - this post was inadvertently saved in the drafts folder having been written a week or so before it is being published. It feels important to say this in order to make sense of the next post...

So at the beginning of this pandemic - or should I say at the beginning of the time when this pandemic began to directly affect those of us in the UK - I suggested everyone keep a daily diary.

And I did!

For a few weeks maybe, when I felt a constant compulsion to write and rewrite and spew and dump and in some kind of vaguely cathartic way make sense of what was going on by trying to write about it. But then something strange seemed to happen, in that there "wasn't time" to write. So what was happening in the 24 hours of the day that still seemed to exist, to make it so difficult to find half an hour at the laptop?

Well first of all of course there are the things that do still require me to be at a laptop. Running a small business is busy and stressful at the best of times and even though it may seem to some as though we are on "holiday" many aspects of that continue, and there are other, newer, factors to consider.

There may be fewer emails requesting cakes or wanting to book Afternoon Tea - of course. But there are lots asking about their wedding cakes, or private bookings later in the year. For many of these lovely folk there is so much uncertainty and concern around what should be the happiest celebration, we do not want to add to their stress as we have personal experience of this. So we have tried to be reassuring, to rearrange, and to accommodate whatever the customer requires from us. Yes we may have twenty cakes to make one week in October but if that's what is needed then we will call in the troops and make it happen!

There have been suppliers to pay and refunds to issue, discounts to negotiate and a whole heap of forms to fill in as we have applied for some of the help the government has been offering. At this stage a huge shout out and thanks to Three Rivers District Council for their amazing support and swift processing of a grant which means we do have enough money in the bank - for now.

Looking ahead however who knows? To reopen with limited covers would be unsustainable. The losses are already piling up as stock goes out of date and we continue to pay bills that cannot be deferred. It's a very worrying time but above all else of course the priority is the safety of our customers and our staff.

There have of course been lighter times too and we also want to give a huge shout out to Peter Taylor  the Mayor of Watford - and to Luther Blissett - former Watford and England striker - for the wonderful work they have been doing to support #watfordtogether.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Virtual Hens

When you are getting married in June and a pandemic breaks out in March and you don't really know what is going to happen as you are juggling a venue and suppliers and invitations and a myriad of other factors it's possible that the hen do(s) could slip through the net - especially if as is usual they are being organised by your Maid of Honour.

Indeed it was only on Friday that my daughter mentioned in our family WhatsApp group that Saturday should have been her family hen do. And because of this she had persuaded her fiancé to do girlie things all day. We added in a few suggestions ourselves - a manicure, facial, massage, cocktails and watching Dirty Dancing all featured in our list of course!

What Rachel didn't know of course was that the Family Hen Do WhatsApp Group had been busily buzzing ever since the days when we were looking forward to a do that would be anything but virtual! I won't mention here what had been planned since the hope is for that to go ahead on a future date. But suffice it to say we were looking forward to it very much indeed and did not want the date - April 18th - to go unmarked by us (even if Rachel and Rory were going to have the time of their lives...)

Plans were made to deliver Afternoon Tea to Rachel and Rory's flat in Croxley Green on the morning  of April 18th. At this point she was added to the WhatsApp group and told to make a bit of an effort at 3pm!

Originally the plan had been for a small group video call, with other friends sending photos of themselves with a glass of fizz and piece of cake to the group. It's hard to work out at what point we opted for a full blown Zoom call but that's how it ended up. Several participants did indeed have their own full Afternoon Tea and of course I had a carbon copy of Rachel's - in the same way that she had "shared" my birthday cake a couple of weeks ago.

Bunting and photo props were included in the surprise delivery along with a bridal veil and sash. At 3pm the call commenced and three hours later the last few slurry speeched ladies were still standing!

The highlight of the afternoon surely had to be the introduction of Deborah to the group. Divine in a blue dress with her blonde locks she made the event truly special.

We ate, we drank - a lot - we played games, we did quizzes. People came and went. Some had limited technology and needed flash cards for the questions. The bridesmaids and the flower girls (but we missed Hannah...) were there along with the Maid of Honour, Mother and Grandmother of the Bride, the Mother of the Groom and many more besides. It was an absolutely memorable event - aside from the fact that the amount of Prosecco consumed "may" make it difficult to remember every detail!

Sunday, 19 April 2020

We were on a break

Hello there,
I have been absent for a few days and to be honest that was a pretty calculated decision. After all it's not as if my social life has suddenly taken an upturn, keeping me away from home or even just the laptop for hours on end.
Rather, it felt as thought these entries were becoming rather repetitive, slightly samey and dare I say it a tad depressing. With little to do other than write, bake and create meals from the depths of the freezer I wasn't the only person comparing these days to Groundhog Day.
Aside from this there was great sadness on Friday with a wonderful local lady who was a dear friend  to many being laid to rest. In these difficult days funeral services are restricted to close family only with others unable to attend and pay their respects. For this lovely lady the church or chapel would have been full to overflowing but instead of attending we lit a candle, raised a glass and sat with our thoughts and prayers.
Sadness is a strange thing, and can be quite overwhelming at times. We are so fortunate here in having a large house with a garden that has a beautiful deck, comfortable furniture and the perfect suntrap. In any other circumstances it would be a joy to sit and enjoy the sunshine with a good book, a cuppa or a cocktail, and the sound of the waterfall.
Of course all of that is still possible but underneath the enjoyment there is the nagging fear of this deadly invisible virus. The doorbell may go with a parcel/delivery and rather than being filled with jo it is so easy to worry about unpacking it and disposing of the cardboard safely before washing our hands for the zillionth time. The  radio is on as background entertainment throughout the day but every hour the reality that is the news update breaks back into whatever we are doing and unfortunately no news seems to be good news at the moment.
Yesterday should have been our younger daughter's Hen Do. I won't say what we were going to do as that may yet happen and we don't want to be spoiling any surprises.
Rachel herself had reminded our family WhatsApp group that it was supposed to have been her Family Hen, and also announced that she would therefore be doing "Girlie Stuff" with her fiancé Rory. We had dived in with our suggestions such as a manicure, drinking cocktails and of course watching Dirty Dancing. But what actually happened? The next post will reveal all!

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Past the Peak?

As I write this the daily news conference is being aired on the BBC and social media channels. I have avoided watching them recently, the news seemingly unchanged and the number of deaths so disturbing.

Social distancing does seem to have been taking effect and some of the signs appear to be encouraging. But the big question has to be what next? When the lockdown is lifted will new cases occur? Can we really feel "safe" before a vaccine has been discovered and rolled out?

Aside from this "news" social media continues to be full of another type, perhaps even more worrying. This is the proliferation of "fake news" and the conspiracy theories being circulated.

To be honest I initially found some of this so disturbing that I had to turn away, but found that almost impossible at times. Going onto Twitter to see the latest news from a favourite baker or sports personality it became all too easy to click onto something seemingly of interest, and from there to be sucked down a rabbit hole of questions and answers and links to other sites and David Icke and 5g and there isn't a virus at all and Boris Johnson's illness was faked and all the staff at the Nightingale Hospital had to sign NDAs....

I'm not saying any of these are true, and some of the details there are no doubt fuzzy from late night reading, coloured further by the crazy dreams that so many of us seem to be having just now. What is clear however (to me at any rate!) is that there are people using the current situation to further their own beliefs. I can only think that these people actually believe what they are saying and writing, or why say and write it?

These issues have been causing me a great deal of anxiety so I have done my best to look at good scientific research to refute these theories. I am certain the roll out of the 5G phone network is not responsible for what is happening. I don't believe Bill Gates is behind it all, or that mass compulsory vaccination is a way for "them" to take control of and track us all. (And who are "them" anyway, and why would they even be interested in tracking us?)

There are days, and times in the day, when the anxiety resurfaces. However I consider myself hugely fortunate in that we have here a lovely garden. Even when the overall temperature is not particularly high, or with a chilly breeze blowing, there's a glorious sun trap which you can see in the photo above. In a few months time there will be natural shade here too as the grapevine snakes its way over the frame and bunches of fruit form ready to enjoy come September.

It has crossed my mind that this year it would be wonderful to make some of these grapes into winr and create a lockdown vintage! I have no idea how to do this or if it is possible, or what it may taste like but the idea amuses me as I see the buds breaking out of the branches in the warm spring sunshine.

No Quiz this evening - other than "Quiz" which is keeping the nation entertained at this time. The story of the couple who "cheated" the TV programme "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" - or did they? TV continues to be a huge draw at this time, with many new channels appearing on our basic Freeview box. We are also trying to get to grips with YouTube as on there we can view many West End shows and this Friday the Phantom of the Opera.

So life trundles on. Bread is baked, cupboards are decluttered, books are read and gin is consumed. This will pass. But when?

Monday, 13 April 2020

Slow Down

Writing a blog has in the past been a time for reflection. To sit back and thoughtfully consider what has been happening, and enjoy the process of putting the words together in a way that is the equivalent of aesthetically pleasing. Or perhaps it is in fact aesthetically pleasing? I'll have to give that some more thought.

The last few posts on here however have felt like a rush to make sure nothing about these days is forgotten. I almost instinctively went to type difficult days but now more than ever it feels impossible to find the right adjective to describe what these days really are. To some of us they are lazy lockdown days, sitting in the sunshine with a good book and even enjoying gin at 5pm. Apparently this, along with making a sourdough starter and baking banana bread, are typically middle class reactions to a period of pandemic quarantine.

Yesterday's sermon-eque entry concluded with a few rather random thoughts taken from the "notes" app on my iphone. This is where I deposit the random thoughts that may or may not make it into a post here. At the moment the list reads Life as it was, Pandemic life, How did they catch it, Enjoying life? Try Zoon, Hard to get up and Every sniffle - which makes me wonder if gin at 5pm is such a good idea after all?

To take the first one first - Life as it was. Today I read something about FOGO. As opposed to FOMO or Fear of Missing Out, FOGO is what we can expect to experience later this year when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. Fear of Going Out, when we will wonder and worry if it is safe to go out, see and speak to people outside of our cosy household bubbles. This has been very much on my own mind recently and to be honest I don't think there is much to say as none of us know how that is going to feel. We pray for those developing a vaccine as surely this - and effective treatments - is going to be the answer.

Life as it was feels so long ago now. Many have said that seeing images of concerts, sports events, cafes and restaurants filled with people is already giving them a strange feeling and concern. Social distancing has become the norm, though many are now calling it physical distancing which is perhaps a much nicer turn of phrase. To think how readily we took for granted popping on the tube and spending an evening in town - at the theatre or eating out. The streets of London are now deserted and it is almost impossible to imagine them otherwise.

So Pandemic Life is something else altogether and as I'm sure I have alluded to elsewhere on more than one occasion it really does feel like the luck of a pretty unfair draw as to what it's like for you. Within the UK there are those such as ourselves living in a nice house with a garden. Not that far away there are families in flats with no outdoor space. In the developing world there are people living in refugee camps, in squalor, with little or no sanitation and food. We have heard little on the news about these places, the focus being very much on the hospitalisation and recovery of our Prime Minister.

But for now Pandemic Life continues with an Easter Monday Family Quiz!

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Christ is Risen

Easter Sunday.
After the darkness of Good Friday and the in-between waiting of Easter Saturday we find ourselves celebrating Easter Sunday. And celebrate we do, even if Easter Egg hunts are on hold or there's a distinct lack of "non essential" chocolate eggs to enjoy.
Church services are also cancelled, though BBC today did broadcast a service that was recorded prior to lockdown. I caught the last five minutes of what looked to have been a church in Somerset with a  Gospel choir, followed by the Pope's address from a deserted Vatican, then the aforementioned pre-recording. The afternoon's viewing included a fabulous production of Jesus Christ Superstar, part of the "The Shows Must Go On" series. So many theatres, producers, bands, films online and available to view for free just now. We only have the most basic TV package but suddenly we have several Sky channels, along with links to decoded movies and a wealth of content on YouTube. All designed to make us #StayHome #ProtectTheNHS #SaveLives
The message of Easter, whether you are a Christian, follow another faith, or are not a believer, is one of hope. A thirty three year old man went about preaching peace, love and kindness. He performed a series of miracles - though to be fair some may say they were not so much supernatural as ways of encouraging humankind to be kinder. He was betrayed by a friend, disliked by the authorities and executed in a hideous fashion. You'd have thought the rest of his friends would have run a mile but look what happened - Christianity became a worldwide religion with a following of billions. Even the way we record the date changed such was the significance of this man's life.
So at this time of year I always figure that miracles can happen, where there is life there is hope and - ultimately - Love Wins.
That may sound something like a sermon, which wasn't the intention. In actual fact I have here a whole list of things that I intended to write about today. Some of them are quite brief and can be covered here, others may need to wait.
TV watching has become very significant. All over social media people are discussing and debating what to watch. As mentioned above there are many extra channels on offer. We've chosen to watch The Split which has been a fascinating insight into the lives and loves at a family law firm.
We also watched the film Yesterday. Imagine a world where The Beatles never existed. Then imagine being the only person in the world who knew all their songs. Sound implausible? Well of course it is but Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle have created a very amusing and almost credible movie out or this idea - well worth a watch.
Can you ever imagine being able to give someone a hug again? As in, not someone who lives in your household, but someone you meet casually - a friend of a friend say. Or shaking hands - could you/would you?
That may be enough for now. More in the morning as it's another Bank Holiday. Did someone say Groundhog Day?

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Baking and Birthdays

Today there is - finally- more time to write.

It is 13.37 and the men are nowhere to be seen. Mr A is in his art studio - a man cave at the bottom of the garden for which we give thanks on a daily basis. To have that space in which to be creative whilst listening to your vinyl collection is surely a gift from God!

The other Mr A (Jnr) is in bed. Which is also a wonderful thing. I truly feel for young people at this time, whose social lives were taken from them at a moment's notice. Gigs cancelled, football season curtailed, pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants closed. Even cafes and coffee shops, leaving almost literally no where to escape to! This has to be tough, especially when many of them are living in lockdown with their parents. Some are continuing their university studies online, hardly the student experience they signed up to and were enjoying. Many are working from home. But others, from keyworkers from those in health and social care to supermarket workers and refuse collectors, are bravely working then returning home to hot showers, clothes placed straight in the washing machine and that lurking concern that any cough or sniffle may be the sign of the virus.

All of which is basically the lead up to saying that a late night playing games and drinking a few cans of beer with mates is an excellent idea. And since it is the Bank Holiday weekend why not then have a lie in the next day?

With so much time to write this feels like a good opportunity to explore what went on yesterday. In some ways it felt like a waste of a day to spend so much time cooking. However there was a definite satisfaction in making what was possibly the best lasagne I have ever eaten.

It began with six eggs and 600g of strong flour - which I would usually be using for scones. I simply combined them into a dough, kneaded this until it was smooth then rolled it out as thinly as I could. If truth be told my arms did ache and my shoulders are paying for it today! I cut it into sheets to use for a lasagne, with some left overs made into noodles which dried out over the rim of a large water jug. One thing I learnt - you need a pasta roller if you are going to do this regularly. Second thing I learnt - don't attempt to knead the scraps together as you would with pastry or scones. It. Does. Not. Work.

The actual lasagne was a layer of tomato sauce, pasta sheets, roasted vegetables, cheese slices, freshly made béchamel sauce with grated mozzarella and then more of the same. In the oven for half an hour - delicious. Another one is sitting in the fridge with a filling of spinach and cream cheese - can't wait to enjoy that but it will have to wait as there's also a cheese and tomato quiche in the fridge. Oh - and a dozen tuna fishcakes!

The sourdough bread is another world of course, and I am realising how tricky that is to perfect. Patience is the key however and also forgiveness. So it wasn't the perfect loaf but it tasted good with butter and jam in the sunshine this morning!

A day spent in the kitchen was a day well spent, even if it felt as though I was missing out on the sunshine. Lots of good home cooked food to eat, and hopefully a little less waste all round. By the end of the day, pleasantly tired, it was good to relax with a gin and tonic before dinner. A couple of episodes of The Split - our latest watch - and a much better night's sleep!

Saturday - today - April 11th - is our eldest son's 35th birthday. How can that be when it feels like yesterday we brought him home from Watford General. His birth was what they used to call a Domino delivery. Nowadays that is more likely to mean a takeaway pizza but back in the day it meant staying at home until the last possible moment then going into the delivery suite with your community midwife. (What happened in my case incidentally is that on entering the hospital everything stopped and we waited pretty much all night, with Ian reading Agatha Christie to me, before the midwife intervened and he shot out along with the amniotic sac - sorry, I digress).

The day has been a little like my own birthday. The family WhatsApp group has been busy, virtual cards have been exchanged, some made it in the post. Presents ordered online. The scarf I knitted for the baby thankfully arrived in time and has been wrapped around the bump. Soon we will convene again for a video call and sing. There may be a special video from a celebrity again - who knows! For now however it is time to sit back out in the sun!

Friday, 10 April 2020

Two Days

I definitely should have written yesterday so why didn't I do so?
Frankly because it was such a horrible day that I didn't trust myself to write anything even remotely positive or objective. It was instead likely to have been the sort of piece more suited to the private journal that I have often spoken of as the one that feels as though someone is reading it over your shoulder when you don't want anyone to know what you have written.
I went to bed early resolving to write about it this morning but yet again the say has passed and the irony of it all is 24 hours later it is impossible to recollect the exact feelings that made me so wary of writing them down.
But that's how life in lockdown can feel at times. From one day, or even one hour to the next feelings can change dramatically. When you are living in such a state of heightened tension it can be just the very tiniest thing that triggers either a meltdown - which in these difficult days is often affectionately referred to as "a wobble"- or conversely a burst of happiness which can enable you to momentarily forget how things are just now.
Yesterday will have begun badly due to a rubbish night's sleep. I am sure I am not alone in finding the ability to sleep well a challenge. Everyone - well it feels like everyone - is indulging in a spot of daytime drinking and I guess the trick is to enjoy a glass of wine to help you sleep but not another one that means you wake up thirsty or with a sore head.
Recently however my particular issue has been dreams, and they have been far from sweet. I guess the situation we are living in means that death and dying are all around us. It would be nice to be spared their presence in the wee small hours. Once awake it can be incredibly difficult to get back to sleep, resulting in a miserable start to what is inevitably a long day.
One of the other issues yesterday was going to The Kitchen to pick up some more bits and pieces. And feeling overwhelmed with sadness at how our lovely vibrant tearoom is looking (and smelling) at the moment. I am acutely aware of not wanting to waste food and making sure it is used/distributed is something of a challenge. Neighbours were happy to take cakes last week but persuading them to make use of some of the sixty or so eggs I have is more difficult.
There is also this nagging fear of contamination which seems to be all around us. We've been told to take care with packaging and informed of the number of  hours the virus can stay alive on various materials. It is all so complicated and stressful. A parcel arrives and instead of feeling joyful at the thought of a gift there is the worry of how to clean it. Undo the box, wash your hands. Take the item out, wash your hands. Dispose of the packaging, wash your hands. Is it any wonder our hands are sore and our brains crying out for some relief?
Likewise trying to giveaway food such as flour, sugar and yes those eggs. People are grateful but ensuring everything is in clean packaging, touched only with clean hands, and believing the recipient will remove the packaging and wash their own hands before using or eating is exhausting.
We completed the Virtual Pub Quiz on YouTube again last night. Questions on TV, family on the laptop. I felt small and shrank into the corner of the sofa to make myself smaller, not wanting to contribute or talk. We won but for the first time ever I wanted it to be over and to go to bed so that the day would be over and another could begin.

Today by contrast was an okay one. Out of sync as ever I will write about it tomorrow as someone wants to carry on with the drama we are watching and my presence is required....

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Before I go to sleep

I have a feeling I may well have used this title before. So often this happens - at the very end of a day I am again overwhelmed with the sense that if I don't write something it will be impossible to sleep. There is so much waiting to be said, demanding to be downloaded from my brain onto this virtual page.

Today was a day  I have to place on record. Ironically perhaps it was also the day on which I chose to reread the last few posts. Conscious that many of them were written in haste and in the garden, with sunlight blinding me from what was on the screen. Yes there were a few typos, some edits are needed, and there are pictures and videos to upload and add. But reading the overall narrative I was, am I allowed to say this, pretty impressed with myself.

I'm no William Shakespeare, that's for sure. And having just devoured Educated I have also to say I am no Tara Westover. However I don't think I would be speaking out of turn to say that I am not making too bad a job of documenting something of what is happening here and now. I don't pretend to be analysing things or making sense of what is surely a  currently incredible never mind analysable situation. All I am trying to do just now is somehow capture what it feels like to be here, alive in 2020 and at the heart of a global pandemic.

This morning started okay. A clear head having only imbibed a single Rhubarb gin and ginger ale last night. One of the unspoken truths of these days is perhaps how many of us are making it through and self medicating with alcohol. The WHO may have suggested alcohol consumption be restricted to help our immune systems. And to be fair who currently has spare cash to splash on wine, beer and gin?

But until it does run out it is oh so easy to enjoy a spot of daytime drinking, or at the very least to enjoy gin o clock from 5pm - you only have to look at "middle class bingo" on social media to see how true this may be.

Moving on however, we gathered as usual for a round of Popmaster at 10.30am. I did feel a sense of something slipping as today I participated in my dressing gown, previously having made it a priority to be dressed prior to this family gathering.

There was plenty to be done today - one major task is writing up all our recipes. Somehow however without the sense of urgency, and with the thought lurking in the background that perhaps we will never need them, this job slips to the bottom of that list to do...

A task that was in fact urgent was to send something to our son for his birthday. This is a challenge as we are avoiding even the shops that are open, and trying to avoid any unnecessary deliveries. I have knitted a Watford FC scarf for the baby he and his partner are expecting and decided to send that, along with some chocolate Freddos and a card made by our daughter.

We take it so much for granted that we can pick up wrapping paper and pop to the post office. On this occasion however I used some tissue paper from one of my own 60th birthday presents. With no gift box I found a box that had contained Christmas cards last year, and the whole gift was posted in a cut down paper carrier bag. Not wishing to go to the post office I looked up the price online and paid and downloaded a postage label.

Walking to the post office and popping this in the post box should have been an easy enough task. However approaching the post box it was obvious the parcel was a little too large and I would have to enter the post office itself. Wrapping the sleeve of my cardigan around my hand I pushed the door open, and this is where the wobble began. The shopkeeper was wearing a mask and gloves, the customer in front of the counter also a mask. A customer stood waiting to use the post office counter and I had little idea where to stand. I bobbed behind an aisle of biscuits and suchlike, with the handwritten sign "keep one metre apart, cards only" (or something similar) clearly visible. Suddenly I simply could not stand this and felt completely overwhelmed with what was surely the start of an anxiety attack.

I almost threw my parcel onto the counter and made to leave. The shopkeeper called after me, perhaps fearing I was a shoplifter. I managed to explain in a shouty/gaspy fashion that I had left a parcel on the counter, with stamps on.

Walking home I felt "dirty" and also that I had been rude to the lady waiting to use the counter. Suddenly it just felt like there were too many people around and I needed to be home. On my doorstep there was a delivery from M and S. On any other occasion this would be so exciting but in these days the first thought is how to protect ourselves from any potential infection. Open the box, wash our hands, remove the gift, wash our hands. Quarantine the cardboard box. Hope we will have capacity in our recycling bin to take it next week...

Amidst all of this there is a conversation to be had around a video call catch up with friends. There is some confusion as to "who" the hamper is from. WhatsApp messages, phone calls, meal planning, thank you texts and of course tears...

How can such simple things cause such stress and grief? I'd say it is simple. Everyone is existing and operating in a state of heightened tension and anxiety and we all express this in different ways. I actually contacted the lady in the post office queue to apologise and her response was just lovely, an acceptance and understanding that we all have tough days and tomorrow is a new one.

A quick chat with mum to sort out who the hamper was from, and a bath with Gary Barlow on YouTube. All much better and then a glass of wine and catch up with good friends. Dinner and a drama series but all punctuated with social media and other messages, Some of course are just lovely - grandchild is busy and kicking hard this evening. Others require some attention - how to create an online birthday card. And then there is news of the wonderful #playerstogether initiative which has dropped into every social media channel at the same time this evening from so very many premier league players.

As a fan of Watford FC it is wonderful to see Troy Deeney as one of the club captains heading up this initiative. Adrian Mariappa, Ben Foster and Tom Cleverley and others are also involved and this type of coming together to help others is truly heartwarming.

The statistics today are hard to hear. Hundreds of people losing their lives to this awful virus. Alongside this there are those claiming it has all been caused by 5g - I won't waste my breath trying to explain their theories. It's been a decidedly wobbly day and at the end of it you have to ask is it okay to have consumed a few glasses of red wine.

I missed the supermoon last night, but in the midst of all this angst this evening received a text from my mum urging me to look at the moon. So I did. Strangely emotional to look over our little corner of Croxley and see this beautiful sight. Praying for us all to stay safe...

More tomorrow no doubt, until then take care x

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Birthday Bingo Part Two

When you don't take the time to re-read and edit your posts, when you allow your writing to become something of a stream of consciousness, and when the pages like the days are merging into one, it can be disconcerting to get to the bottom of a post and realise what you have written bears little or no resemblance to the title you started out with.

The earlier post was supposed to be about my 61st birthday. Which happened to be yesterday. I have heard it said on good authority that this year's birthdays don't count, so I am in fact sixty for another year. Which is actually quite nice when you consider "over 60" apparently puts you at greater risk of complications from the Coronavirus. The very fact of the pandemic cancelling out my birthday has made it statistically less likely I will be badly affected if I contract it. Dream on...

Waking up on a lockdown birthday was a little weird if I am honest. The messages on social media started shortly after midnight from friends on the other side of the world. And they are still coming from some who may have been alerted by a friend's post perhaps. So I have heard from literally hundreds of people. Unlike last year (my actual 60th birthday) I don't have lots of actually cards. Instead I have many many messages some of which are from people I haven't seen or heard from for ages.

Coming downstairs yesterday it was especially special to see the room bedecked with banners and bunting wishing me a happy birthday, which seemed somehow a contradiction. How could a day set apart from family and friends be a happy one?

However that was to change as the day went on. A parcel arrived - the fluffiest new dressing gown! A bottle of Salted Caramel Baileys! Baileys Chocolates! A few cards did arrive and the sentiments were so lovely. Home crafted cards from people with tine on their hands, lovely long messages from folk no longer in a rush. And to top it all the most incredible five piece card designed and created by my children. I need to take a very good photo of that and post it on here!

The doorbell rang as I was making another pasta bake (lockdown dinner if ever there was one) and wondering if I could somehow make a cake. I've been limiting trips to The Kitchen as much as possible, only for essential supplies and to check on the property. Looking through the kitchen cupboards here was like walking into a crime scene from five years ago where things were five years out of date. That baking powder was definitely NOT going to make plain flour rise and the only sugar was granulated, not the fine caster sugar that makes the finest sponges!

As if on cue the front door bell rang and on the step was a bag of surprises. I will take and edit in photos but for now suffice to say a luscious fruit cake, the cards described above, a beautiful isolation pamper kit and a LOT of love!

Rachel of course was at the bottom of the drive, having used her daily exercise allowance to walk over from her flat with this wonderful bag of treats. She was looking thirsty so I hastily assembled a gin and ginger ale with a slice of frozen orange and left it on the doorstep for her to pick up as I retreated into the hallway...

We arranged a call with Kim and Anne at 5pm, prior to which we sang and cut the cake with Ian and Dave. Drinks and chat later it was time for  the pasta bake! I am so grateful that I can cook. And not just cook, but also create something tasty seemingly from nothing. It's a bit like Ready Steady Cook here, trying hard never to waste anything and working out how to use up whatever is in the fridge or freezer. We're so fortunate to have the supplies of food at The Kitchen and I have been bagging up flour, sugar, margarine and other ingredients for anyone who is desperate. We're also gradually emptying the freezers of cakes, as treats for neighbours, ICU staff and others which does of course beg the question why I didn't just grab one as a birthday cake but let's be honest Rachel's was just the best!)

Party time was at 7.30pm. As we assembled on Facebook Messenger I was instructed to open a brown envelope that had also been dropped off. Inside - bingo! With Rachel as the caller, in her sequinned top no less, we enjoyed a rousing game of regular and then birthday bingo. With Gin, Prosecco, Gary Barlow and other such treats being pulled out of the bag!

One more person joined the party as Rachel played us a video message from Adrian Mariappa. Any Watford FC fan will know him as an absolutely lovely player who's been with the club for ten years. In fact we were due to attend his testimonial dinner. He said really lovely things as his son sang Happy Birthday to me - icing on the cake!

A glass too many of the salted caramel Brownies rounded off a very lovely day. I wonder how many more people will be enjoying lockdown birthdays this year as I cannot see ahead to a time when gatherings will again be permitted. But for now we really are learning to take one day at a time.

Birthday Bingo

The issues with the days rolling into each other like this are well documented elsewhere. People have helpfully posted information as to what day of the week it is for example. This is in actual fact Holy Week, leading up to Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, would usually be marked with the distribution of Palm Crosses (later burnt to create ashes for next Ash Wednesday I believe?) and children parading around the church singing "Hosanna!"

This year we watched on YouTube but of course we didn't watch a service as such. We watched a lovely montage of stories, music and readings from clergy, members of the congregation and children, all in their own self isolated homes. For that is the strange mystery of these days - how every one of us is apart. Aside from those in our immediate household we all remain distanced from everyone. Some of course do not and the wrath of social media has come down heavily on those who continue to congregate in parks and suchlike. Neighbours have called the police to report people next door having visitors, and parks and open spaces have gradually closed. The beautiful towpath just five minutes from us is now closed as it is impossible to keep two metres away from those who live on the boats there.

Writing this blog, and trying to do so on a daily basis, feels like an important thing to do. And I am torn between simply reporting what is happening and trying to make sense of it. Elsewhere I have read pieces where people talk about how the planet needs this time to breathe. How the empty skies are reducing carbon emissions. Pollution is falling. But elsewhere we see the tragedy unfolding in the developing world where overcrowding, only basic (if any) sanitation, restricted access to clean water and inadequate medical facilities mean the rates of sickness and death will be so much greater than here. There are others of course concerned about the longer term impact of the world stopping. For that is truly what it feels like. With the exception of the keyworkers, our respect for whom knows no bounds, every other industry has simply stopped. The heroes of our time are suddenly those living on minimum or low wages.

Shopworkers, refuse collectors, public transport drivers, and of course those working in health and social care are run ragged working long shifts, concerned for their own safety. There is a daily outcry over the lack of PPE, schools are printing 3D protective face masks and a cry has gone out for seamstresses able to make scrubs and uniform bags. It truly feels like a wartime effort.

And yet some of us can only wait. Sat at home I feel so helpless, having originally hoped to keep some semblance of a business running, perhaps to support these keyworkers, that became logistically too complicated. We have staff furloughed, and have applied for a government grant. To stay open for a very minimal income would not be cost effective. And of course it would increase the risks to our own health and that of any customers tempted to leave the house for what are not really essential purchases.

I can of course write, and have spent some time doing so here, on social media and on a business blog. I have been emailing customers and hopefully taking people's mind off the news for five minutes every now and then. Today the news is not to good as Boris Johnson is in intensive care and several members of the government are self isolating. Phrases such as this and social distancing would have meant nothing to us even a few weeks ago but life has changed so much. There's a game of middle class bingo out there in which I scored ridiculously highly. Making a sourdough starter, baking banana bread, drinking gin at 5pm and having virtual drinks with friends are all up there with a big fat tick against them.

And speaking of bingo - that's for another post!

Monday, 6 April 2020

Sixty One

The last two posts were written in such a rush, in an effort to write something - even if it wasn't edited or proof read. This compulsion to write can at times be quite overwhelming and if being able to express yourself by writing a journal or blog is a blessing in these difficult days perhaps the opposite is also true. I'm reminded again of those days in Venezuela when I had no laptop or even a notebook, and on being asked if I needed anything my first thought was "pen and paper!"

Today I have a little more time. That's partly because I have worked my way through the many emails that were left outstanding when The Kitchen closed. I think most of the refunds have now been processed, and we have also contacted most of the people that we pay money to on a regular basis to see if we can reduce costs in some way. The council sent us a form to complete and now that has been filled in we are hoping to receive a £10k grant from the government which should tide us over a  few months. It's so difficult to see how this is going to end, as it surely won't be possible to simply reopen all the cafes, bars, pubs, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, concert venues and other places where people gather overnight. If that were to happen then surely the number of coronavirus cases would simply rise again and that is something we cannot risk.

I imagine instead there will be a gradual reopening of places, perhaps with some social distancing measures still in place. It feels as though the world will be forever changed however - at this point it is impossible to imagine shaking hands with a stranger, or even sharing a sign of peace with someone at a church service.

The other reason for having some time on my hands is that today is my birthday. 61 years old, though I have been reliably informed by a good friend that I can stay sixty for another year as this particular lockdown birthday doesn't count - I like your thinking Karen!

It's been okay so far, the sun has made a bit of an appearance but even when it is behind the pesky clouds its okay to sit outside albeit in a cardigan. I woke up to Happy Birthday greetings and even a hug (from someone in my household - I think that is still allowed?). A super fluffy dressing gown is just the perfect present, along with a bottle of salted caramel baileys which is screaming for some hot chocolate to pour itself into! There was also a beautiful gift hamper yesterday, and I have here a handful of cards which I plan to open shortly. The living room was adorned with banners when I came down this morning and most of the day so far has been spent responding to the Facebook greetings which are making me smile. So many people taking time out of their days to send greetings - how lovely and how grateful I am.

This is a weird birthday, and it has made me reflect on some previous birthdays too. as my mind has gone back over some of them I've decided to write one or two up. For no real reason other than my own amusement, unless perhaps one day a grandchild, or even great grandchild of mine stumbles across this blog and is interested in what Great Great Nana did when she was Twenty One!

A busy afternoon lies ahead, with a virtual birthday party at 7.30pm - fizz and lippy compulsory I believe! Until then I may start a new book, or perhaps write about what happened at my 15th birthday party!

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Sunday Sunshine

Yesterday's post ended rather abruptly. It was one of those that I kept meaning to go back to but somehow never did.

Someone had actually posted on one of the several WhatsApp groups that I belong to that there almost seems to be less time in the day to get things done at the moment. Technology is a wonderful thing - even if to be honest it stresses me out big time - and it does seem to have promoted a plethora (ooh - loving that alliteration!) of get togethers and gatherings that previously may have remained " a good idea".

So yesterday saw us watching The Virtual Grand National on TV whilst on another device the family gathered for the live draw of the family sweepstake. The winnings will be transferred electronically to the virtual victor! The TV channels are also pushing out huge amounts of content to keep us entertained in our own homes so we watched One Man Two Guvnors from the National Theatre along with the first ever Gavin and Stacey and an early episode of Outnumbered. This and Miranda have been classic comedy which is probably what we all need right now. The Platform on Netflix may be relevant to these dystopian times but I'd rather chuckle between Billericay and Barry Island at the moment.

Today the sun is shining and we are blessed with a garden so it's time to get out there. One of my neighbours is a matron in the ICU at Northwick Park Hospital and chatting to her this morning I am acutely aware of the nightmare unfolding in our hospitals. These are frightening times for us all but whilst so much of what is happening feels out of our control the one thing that we can do to try and stay safe is to stay at home. Of course it is boring for some, others are going stir crazy. If you are living in a small flat with no outside space, perhaps in a high rise apartment, it must be almost impossible. Especially with young children, or teenagers.

But at this time of national emergency there really is no other way. There are some folk out there flouting the rules, making out this is no big deal, spouting conspiracy theories and doing all they can to doubt and disprove the official advice. The news is full of people gathering for barbecues and parties, sunbathing in the parks and using the outside gyms and parks which are CLOSED. Sadly our beaches are now out of bounds as so many people abused the right to take some exercise by gathering together.

It's a really difficult time. Someone I know just "attended" his first Zoom funeral. Weddings are being postponed, we should have been at a 50th party last night. As a business we have lost hundreds of pounds, refunding deposits for celebrations and cakes that will not now take place, or if they do so will be on a much smaller scale.

We have no idea when - or even if - we will be able to reopen The Kitchen. It occurred to me very briefly this morning that perhaps it is time to rethink how we operate. Stop trying to make it work as a profitable business and instead run it as a social enterprise, as a community coffee shop staffed with a mix of paid and volunteer workers, all for the common good. It's just a thought.

For now though time to grab a good book and get out into that sunshine!

Stress and Days and Time and What do we do all day...?

How can it be two - or is it even three - days since I posted on here? The days are flying past in a whirlwind of (in)activity and I'm desperate to document them somehow so that in years to come when I look back I will also have something to read and reflect upon.
As the days go by so many subjects to write about flit in and out of my mind. Great titles for a blog post come and go before I can capture them and transfer them onto this virtual paper. I worry perhaps too much about finding the time to sit down and write the perfect post, when actually the aim of this is to say what we did in these dark days.

But of course not every day is literally dark, as I write this now the sun is shining and we have a beautiful garden where later  on we will sit with a good book and perhaps a long drink. In any other circumstances this extended and enforced period of relative inactivity might be considered a blessing. Indeed, some have said to me that I must enjoy the rest and use it to recharge my batteries. These sentiments are very well meant of course but it's practically impossible for me to do so when the news is so very sad and impacting those known to us personally.

Some of the practical things we have been doing have now become a regular part of a daily routine that we could never have imagined even two months ago. Back in those halcyon days the joke was very much about how alcohol killed the virus so a glass at the end of the day was the way to stay healthy. (The reality now of course is we're being warned against too much alcohol as it may lower our immune system's ability to fight back...)

When our grandchildren and great grandchildren read about these days they will perhaps wonder at the sense of family togetherness engendered by playing Popmaster together at 10.30am every weekday. Prior to this of course Richie Anderson gives the domestic traffic update, since the roads are empty and there are no real traffic reports to give.

Other opportunities for online interaction are coming thick and fast. The truly wonderful Electric Umbrella charity provide support and entertainment for those who need some extra support. Professional musicians include and encourage them in some amazing musical events and productions, and the weekly meetings are full of fun and laughter. The Kitchen is proud to make cakes for this wonderful group when they have birthdays to celebrate, and we have been so warmly welcomed into their family - thank you Tom, Mel and everyone at EU! During these times of isolation EUTV has been broadcasting regularly using Zoom software to include everyone and this week Dan Gillespie Sells, lead singer of The Feeling, was the special guest. To be in the same virtual room as Tom, dan and the members was an absolute joy.

There does seem to have been a certain "levelling" taking on at some "level" too. Premier League footballers have been calling fans for a chat and to see how they are getting on. Radio stations seem to be reading out more texts and messages than usual. As a family we have been texting Dan O'Connell every day and have loved the shout outs. Yesterday we noticed his shout out included how Paul is "still" painting the bedroom in Hemel!

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

What does a day look like

Totally unrelated photo.
Stolen from Twitter just for fun
Two posts in one day. And this is going to be a very different one to the previous entry. Why so? Because this time I am setting myself something of a time limit. Not a fixed time limit, just something of one. Why? Because the previous post took almost all day to write, I stopped and started so many times, lost my thread, edited and rewrote, and in the end wasn't particularly happy with the result.

But I am a big believer that imperfect activity trumps perfect inactivity - every time. Better get something done and out there than wait and try so hard to get it perfect that it doesn't happen. And yes, I also know that there are very valid exceptions to this general rule but when it comes to writing/blogging/newsletters I can spend so much time procrastinating about what to say and how to say it that the time has often passed. For newsletters and public posts that may mean a missed sales opportunity, for these more personal reflections it can mean that the thought has passed or been lost. And during these dark times it is these that I am so keen to capture.

I am encouraging everyone I know to write at the moment. It could be something like this - a daily blog post. It may be a journal, pen or pencil on paper. And for some it could be daily status updates on social media. For some it is easier to be honest if things are privately written and for your eyes only. For others it is the discipline of knowing others may look that enables us to frame things in a way that helps us to see them more objectively.

So today hasn't been a great one. The news at the press conference this evening was very sobering as the number of people affected by the Coronavirus continues to rise and the number of people who have sadly lost their life to it has increased again. Very sadly also two people known well to me, and loved for their warmth, kindness, generous nature and spirit have died.

Yesterday however, and I sadly failed to document this, I had a really lovely online chat with one of the comedians who stood out like the star that he was at a recent Yellow Comedy gig. He kindly asked how The Kitchen is doing at this time which led into a conversation about using this time to write. Having shared this link with him, and after a little lull in the conversation, he made some incredibly kind comments on my writing (where is the blush emoji on blogger anyone?!) and suggested I may like to write some drama, a book or screenplay. We went on to discuss how much I had enjoyed watching Cobra and I urged him to give it a go. Turns out he already has, as his sister only plays the Prime Minister's daughter in it! Have you seen it? She's absolutely fantastic - go watch and imagine what she will be playing in the future, definitely another star in the making there.

This evening we will watch Kate and Koji. Gentle good humoured comedy - so important these days as an antidote to the rolling news channels with updates and analysis which important as they are can be repetitive. Perhaps the place where an antidote is even more needed however is social media. So easy to pick up the phone because of a notification and find yourself drawn into a stream of messages and posts which can range from scaremongering to constant criticism of what is being done to cope with this crisis. This may be a naive point of view but at times like this I feel we somehow need to believe in our government. That they have our best interests at heart, want to protect the NHS, and are doing all they can to keep us safe. I am sure there will come a time when it is appropriate to look back and learn. To investigate whether things could have been done differently or perhaps better. For now however this government is the one we have to lead us out of this crisis and whatever our political colours there is a difference between healthy opposition and conspiracy theories.

Speaking of something to believe in (I think we were) that may well be a post for tomorrow. And how about this - cracked this post in half an hour! Gin o clock anyone?

Minestrone and Rollercoasters

The title of this blog post is possibly one of the most surreal to date, reminding me even as I wrote it of Dali paintings full of curves and melting objects, almost as if I imagine a pot of soup being upended onto the sweep of the theme park ride...

The photo I have chosen to illustrate this post is naturally the work of this most famous of surrealist painters. It was actually painted just before the start of the Spanish Civil War and depicts Dali's anxiety of the horror and violence to come. Which is not at all why I chose it, I was actually just looking for an example of Surrealism, but perhaps this particular work is strangely relevant in these difficult times.

Returning to the blog title, I've had a bit of an earworm today. This one however was somewhat confusing as the lyric was Life is a Rollercoaster to the tune of Life is a Minestrone. Which led me to wonder which of these is in fact true. Are they both perhaps? Or neither?

The past few days have definitely felt like a roller coaster when it comes to emotions. And alongside those there has been the accompanying adrenaline rush, not always comfortable by any means. Roller coasters often go round and round too, and you can seem to go over the same ground more than once. Again this week has felt like that and even writing these blogs I'm unsure they are actually going anywhere. Round and round over the same subject. The ups and downs, the bursts of productivity followed by hours of  inactivity. The minutes that pass unnoticed refreshing social media feeds and feeling the horror of the mounting death toll, the sadness, despair and sense of overwhelming doom.

But then the sunshine moments - family gathered on WhatsApp and competing on Popmaster. Group video calls where the shrieks of laughter draw others in the house to see what is happening. The posts about nesting birds, babies being born, children drawing rainbows to send to the Nightingale Hospital, and leaving banana flapjacks on our doorstep.

When it comes to life being a minestrone the analogy is much less clear to my mind. And I feel pretty certain the songwriters weren't expecting anyone to try and apply their lyrics to a global pandemic. Perhaps there is an element of truth however in that life is made up of a myriad of moments, ingredients if you like, some of which we adore and others which we we could quite happily live without. For some generations there will be events which are so horrific no one would ever want to live through them and this I fear is ours. When all these ingredients are brought together and seasoned with love and laughter, friendship and romance, then perhaps what emerges is in fact something beautiful (or perhaps tasty is a better choice of word - Minestrone is rarely beautiful is it?)

But in the midst of all this that feels a very long way off.

Some are already writing about how this pandemic will re-set humanity. How life can never go back to normal as it was what was normal that has caused this. There are posts online about the positives that will emerge from this, a new sense of community, reduced carbon emissions, a levelling of wealth and the end of globalisation as we knew it. But all of this comes at such a cost. And in the midst of these times, which are truly such a surreal soup of thoughts, feelings and emotions, is it okay to say that at the moment I am living from day to day in what feels like a dark tunnel and even though there may be a light at the end of it I don't have sight of that just yet.