Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Finding a Way Forward

There have been fewer posts on here lately. Which isn't that surprising really. In the early days of lockdown, as we adjusted to the endless days with the fear and uncertainty, many people began, like me, to write.

Others created photo diaries and stories, using social media to document all that is going on around us and how they are feeling about it.

It felt important in those early days to have a record of what we actually did all day when there was little to do. And also to write down how we were feeling - especially if we were banned from meeting with those we'd usually share our thoughts and fears with over a nice glass or three of wine.

As the days stretched into weeks and now months many of them have naturally had a certain similarity. Zoom was a revelation - a Godsend! And now the thought of logging onto another quiz or call has lost it's excitement maybe.
Cooking from scratch was a great opportunity to try out new recipes - assuming you could get to the shops or get a delivery or just get the ingredients you needed. After the shortages of toilet roll and pasta came the great self raising flour scandal - where is it all?!

The weather here in our little corner of the UK has been a blessing, as has our garden. I feel for those in high rise flats, cooped up with children or teenagers, no garden and no respite. Not for me to judge those who have escaped to parks and public places, though I so wish from the bottom of my heart they did not do so too soon. And used common sense and stayed well apart, so that this virus stops spreading and infecting people so fast and so hard.

A friend said to me a few weeks back that this stage of the lockdown would be a challenge and I agree. The Stay at Home message was clear and unambiguous. The Stay Alert one less so, requiring as it does our common sense and compliance with the slightly eased measures. Some remain very fearful, believing the number of new infections is still too high to allow people to meet up in the park or for children to return to school. Others look at the economy - which is so much more than money and numbers and in fact refers to people's lives and livelihoods - and say we cannot stay locked down any longer.

I don't know the answer. We are going to tentatively re-open The Kitchen in the coming weeks but it will be a very different place that is certain. This blog was never about the business - that all happens over on our website. But when it comes to feelings about reopening it's perhaps worth noting that there is fear and anxiety at all there is to do, and how alone that feels. But also a sense that it is important to try and restore some sense of a new normality, and for the sake of the goodwill of our customers to do what we can.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

A Bleurgh sort of day

The weather changed overnight. From the warmth of the spring sunshine to grey skies and a stiff breeze. No sitting in the garden with a summer cocktail, and our walk this morning had a distinctly different feel to it too.

Clad in jumpers and jeans, with back up waterproofs, we walked briskly through the woods taking note of the changing landscape over the past few weeks. The bluebells have gone, the cow parsley is in abundance, here and there buttercups and forget me nots entice you to bend down and admire their fleeting  beauty - captured as everything else is for an Instagram post later in the day.

Today we took paths less travelled and found ourselves at a dead end on several occasions. It mattered not at all - the Ordnance Survey map on the iphone speedily directs us back to the public footpath or woodland walk. In Long Valley Wood we are rarely far from the sound of the Metropolitan railway line, or glimpses of the Grand Union Canal through the trees. Going down a dead end may of course feel like a waste of time to some as it doesn't get you anywhere. But is that in fact the purpose of this government approved exercise? Whilst racking up the steps we are there to enjoy the view and on several occasions it has been the rarely visited woodland at the end of a more difficult to pass track that has surprised us most of all with its beauty.

On arrival home, with it no longer possible to sit out in the garden, the day stretched ahead rather. Whilst working on a Sunday is a regular occurrence when The Kitchen is open, it doesn't feel like the right day to be responding to emails or writing revised Business Plans. The hourly news bulletins are full of speculation as to what the Prime Minister will announce at 7pm, with the easing of our lockdown on many people's minds. My nephew who lives and works in Madrid has smilingly commented that we haven't been under lockdown in the UK and certainly if you compare the restrictions on our daily life to those in many other countries that would appear to be the case.

Some said at the beginning of all this that the public would only tolerate a curtailment of their usual activities for a limited period of time. I think these people were behavioural scientists or some such. I wonder now if perhaps they were not far wrong! Looking at the way some people were out and on the streets on Friday, and the impatience from others to get back to normal, I begin to feel more than ever that not everyone shares my fears regarding the resurgence of COVID-19 and a second wave in the autumn/winter when it will be harder still to manage.

Yesterday evening, whilst cleaning my teeth for the fifth or sixth time of the day (there are no dentists working other than for the very worst kind of emergency) my mind was full of what to write about today. I wish yet again that I had dragged out the laptop and written this then. Or even that I had made notes on my phone or a piece of paper. But try as I might I cannot recall what it was that felt of such significance at 11pm last night. When I awoke at around 8am this morning those ideas had evaporated or perhaps they were absorbed into the disturbing and disruptive dreams which I know I am not alone in experiencing.

As the days go on it is surely harder and harder to take each one of them at a time. Many have jokingly compared the experience to Groundhog Day, and it is true that for many of us it's become almost impossible to remember what day of the week it is. The awful irony of this of course is that many of our key and frontline workers are working harder than ever. Twelve hour shifts in difficult and demanding job - whether in hospitals, supermarkets, or as delivery drivers, carers, postal workers and so many more vital roles. Whilst others amongst us are unable to work at all.

Some of course are furloughed from their regular employment - but how long will that last before companies reluctantly have to make more workers redundant? Others such as the self employed and small business owners are worried sick as to where they will find the money to pay the bills, even with the grants and loans offered by the government. These are of course a lifeline but how long is this going to go on for? If businesses such as The Kitchen are only able to reopen for takeaways, collections, or with just three or four tables there is no way they can be profitable. They will inevitably die a slow death, the danger being our unwillingness to accept this and to keep borrowing or pumping in personal cash until we end up with nothing.

Of course this worry is nothing in comparison to that of those who are unwell, who have friends and family infected with or at huge risk from catching the virus. And at the start of Christian Aid Week my thoughts go out to those in developing countries for whom the threat is greater still with overcrowded living facilities and a lack of good - or even basic - sanitation.

Last night we watched The Darkest Hour, and were taken back to the difficult decisions Churchill had to make at the beginning of the Second World War. Along with entering into his angst I became so very aware of the years the people of the UK spent enduring the fear and suffering of wartime. Who's to say we won't be living in similar uncertainty for several years? We hope and pray that treatments will be found, that a safe and effective vaccine will be developed, that many people will be found to have acquired immunity, or that the virus will in some other way be defeated. But until that time we need to see our loved ones, educate our children, and earn a living. Yes we may be able to forgo the cinema and sporting fixtures, international flights and holidays. How we care for those whose livelihoods depend on these industries is another matter of course. But we cannot remain locked in our homes forever, and perhaps at some point we do need to venture out and live with the new norml.

For this to happen however we need to have confidence that the virus is at the very least under control and that all possible precautions are in place to prevent it from further spreading and peaking again and again.

Well that is all for today. Where has the time gone? A few cake boxes ordered, and cupcake cases for a charitable order this week. Two children's stories read and recorded for some of our younger customers to enjoy. Social media updated, emails and messages replied to. And now of course this blog post written and ready to be shared.

The week ahead feels a little uncertain but as someone said to me yesterday that's how change feels - a little scary at times which is why it's not always popular or something we welcome. At the beginning of the pandemic I had planned to use this blog as more of a daily diary. Documenting what we did every day, with little in the way of analysis. To an extent that is how it begun with daily updates on the sourdough starter for example!

More recently however I feel it may have become a little more reflective. Less regular maybe but perhaps that isn't a bad thing. It's no longer a necessity to record everything we do, as the days are so often very similar. Much of what is happening at The Kitchen is on our social media pages, with the website blog also updated every week or so and email newsletters sent to our mailing list. We are recording podcasts too, so there is no shortage of information as to how this business and indeed this family are spending time during this pandemic.

Saturday, 9 May 2020

A Bloggy sort of day

Yesterday we commemorated 75 years since VE Day. Parades, parties and other celebrations had all been cancelled due to the pandemic. But posters began to circulate on social media and I found myself tagged in some of them. People were being encouraged to decorate their houses with red white and blue bunting, and to sit in their driveway at 4pm to enjoy tea and scones, or coffee and cake. A two minute silence would be observed at 11am and at 9pm everyone would sing "We'll meet again" in the street.

Other things were added to this timetable such as the nation's toast but I didn't quite catch the correct timing for that. Some posters were suggesting a socially distanced street party from 4pm - 6pm with music, drinks and dancing. I wasn't quite sure what to think and asked for the thoughts of the lovely folk in my neighbours WhatsApp group. One member of the group is an ICU matron and her words resonated very strongly with me - that it would be difficult to observe a two metre distance after a drink or two, and her ICU is still well over capacity. She felt very uneasy and this reinforced my own feeling that it was too early to be doing something like this. There was also in my mind a paradox about the celebratory aspect of it all in the midst of a pandemic when we were after all commemorating lives lost 75 years ago too.

One of the lovely things about our neighbours group is the respect shown, as people listen to each other and the collective decision was made that we would save our celebrations for when this is all over. We agreed - during our 8pm clap on Thursday - that we would raise a glass at 4pm. Which we did, and it was lovely. But it was also clear to see how easily social distancing could be breached as folk moved around to say hello to others, and walkers and cyclists breezed down our street with seemingly not a care in the world.

I was very uneasy and came in early. A glass of Pimms had seemed like a nice idea - and it was - but it definitely felt to me at odds with the situation we find ourselves in. A nice cup of tea would have felt more appropriate. As a massive and compulsive overthinker I have begun to blame myelf for even drawing my neighbours' attention to the fact these posters were circulating, wondering if perhaps I had said nothing we could all have stayed indoors safe from harm.

Others however were more than happy to enjoy the sunshine, and would obviously have liked music and dancing. All over social media last night there were photos of parties up and down the country with folk sat two metres apart. But that was initially and as our neighbour had said - would it remain that way after a few drinks or if you wanted to chat to someone? Or if you were approached by someone wanting to chat? I fear that there will be a spike in infections in a week or so's time and feel very relieved that we did not have a proper party. Rather than beat myself up about having even mentioned what folk were doing I'm keeping hold of how I feel about all this and using it to influence my thinking with regard to re-opening The Kitchen. For yes there are things that we can do but the question in my mind is should we do them? A much more challenging one to answer perhaps.

The title for this blog comes from the fact that I just blogged over on the website www.thekitchencroxley.co.uk After a week or so of not writing I feel myself with the urge to do so. Call it withdrawal symptoms maybe! It helps me no end to dump whatever I am thinking and feeling onto a piece of paper or a virtual page here and leave it so that I can move on. This post however is precariously close to being long enough so time now to move on and create a new post about what's been happening this week?