The Covid Diaries 6.

THE PAUSE

Mother Earth has settled,

No longer rocked by our busyness

She embraces the new quiet,

Inhaling forgotten fume free air.

______

Her animals are curious now

Goats venture into a somnolent town,

Urban foxes relax

And explore our iconic buildings & bridges

_____

Ghost buses worm their way on deserted roads,

A lonely driver, sporadic passengers.

No chat, no muffled music,

Silent as a church.

_____

Cyclists claim the streets,

Walkers the paths.

Birds sing their joy,

In the new peace.

_____

Week after week of languid Sundays,

Tumbling slowly one after another.

Days without punctuation,

Devoid of deadlines.

_____

Life in suspended animation.

No planning, no looking forward,

Living in the moment,

In abundant time.

_____

We are all here

Calmly, waiting.

Not thinking yet of how this finally ends,

Or of how we rebuild our work.

_____

Because that’s too hard,

It will unsettle us deeply.

We need to stay still,

To stay compliant.

_____

So we focus instead on staying safe,

On staying sane.

On being quiet,

And sometimes it feels like we are healing.

_____

The Covid Diaries 5

I Have Nothing To Wear

Featured on Sunday Miscellany on 5th April. A link will be available shortly.

I have, over the years, spent many hours of my life standing in front of my wardrobe, in my dressing gown, moaning, most usually to my husband, that I have nothing to wear.  This usually occurs when we are going out.  Not to somewhere fancy mind you, because then I definitely wouldn’t have something to wear and that fact would be of no surprise to anyone. And so, I’d have planned accordingly and bought something.

But no, this moaning is reserved for when we’re just going out maybe to the pub or for a meal with friends. In desperation I stare into the abyss that is my wardrobe and loudly lament.  My husband always looks from me to the wardrobe full of clothes with a huge thought bubble emanating from his head which clearly reads, “are you mad, woman?”. 

But having been married to me forever, he rarely articulates this thought, even though I’m sure he knows that I can see it.  And so, he will mutter something fairly innocuous that he thinks won’t make me explode.

Well, a few weeks into this new pandemic world, I can categorically say that I now truly HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR.  And this time, I’m not going anywhere.  But I don’t have a wardrobe for this new life.  How could I?  This new life came out of nowhere.

We weren’t given time to adequately prepare. All right, we knew the virus was coming, but nowhere did I see or hear a mention of the general public needing special clothes in order to cope with our enforced springtime hibernation.  No.  No warning. At all. None.

And yes, I know a wardrobe malfunction is emphatically not a real problem in the greater scheme of things. But giving our attention to the small practicalities of life is how many of us are getting through this strange time.  

And on that, let me be clear about two things.  Firstly, I am not what my dear mother would call ‘a fashion plate’.  No, I am a middle-aged woman – well, if I live to be 110, that makes me middle aged.  And like most middle-aged women, actually no, like most women I suspect, I like to be well turned out – but comfortable.  And just now I can’t find where that comfort is.

Ok, so I know I could stay in my PJs all day. But that’s not very hygienic is it, especially now?  Also, I am not a slob.  So, PJs are not the answer. We may not be going out much but we have to venture out for a walk every day, and even under the latest restrictions, occasionally to the shop or chemist too.   Leggings and a sweatshirt are appropriate for the walking.  But seriously, how many people over 25 do you know who look good in lycra, even when coupled with a huge sweatshirt?  I don’t feel at my best in public with all my bumps and lumps on show when I am not obviously engaged in an activity aimed at reducing those lumpy bits.  Jeans are my usual casual attire but you can’t lounge on the sofa in jeans.  And yes….. of course my jeans are stretchy but they still aren’t that comfortable when one is reclined horizontally. 

What we need, and need urgently, is a range of good quality but very cheap lounge wear that, to use fashion parlance, “could take us from sofa, to home office to the supermarket and back, allowing us to feel comfortable and at our best in a relaxed, informal way.”  And just at this realisation set in, what happened?  The non essential shops had to close, including the very places where we might actually have had some hope of finding such garments, at a price we could afford.  So, it looks like for the coming weeks, or even months I am reduced to changing my clothes twice or even three times a day, as I attempt not to completely let myself go.

But I worry that I am already on that slippery slope.  My poor nails are wearing shellac that is a month old and starting to crack and chip. I’m no fashionista, but I have always been allergic to the sight of chipped nail varnish. 

And don’t get me started on my hair.  Without the miraculous ministrations of my local hair salon, the grey is appearing at an alarming rate.  Hairdressers have instructed us not to even consider doing a desperation ‘box colour’ ourselves, as the damage we inflict on our barnets may take years to sort out.  Use one of those root sprays they advise.  Grand idea except they are now as rare as flour and liquid soap in the supermarkets.

So, I am well on my way to full on bag lady in my lycra leggings, chipped nails and greying hair.  If you see me on my daily regulation excursion close to my house, feel free to ignore me, although I am fairly confident that looking how I do at present, it’s highly unlikely you’ll recognise me.

The Covid Diaries 4

THE ZEN ART OF GROCERY SHOPPING…

Published in the Irish Independent 23rd March 2020 under the title, ‘How The Drugery Of The Weekly Shopping Became A Silver Lining.’

One day, fadó, fadó, my husband told me to enjoy myself, as I headed out the door to do the weekly ‘big grocery shop’.  It was back when our kids were small and we were doing the ‘he Tarzan, earning the money and me Jane, doing everything else’ routine which in fact we found worked quite well for us.  So, the big shop was part of my job specification, although in fairness to him, he did help if he was around.  The problem was that he generally wasn’t.  However, the day he told me to enjoy myself grocery shopping, I almost started divorce proceedings.

At this more mellow (well until recently, it was reasonably mellow) stage of our lives we generally do the big shop together and he now understands that it’s not exactly enjoyable.  We usually reward ourselves with a coffee afterwards which we enjoy at table for three; me, him and the loaded trolley.

Grocery shopping is mainly just hard work.  Steering a trolley around crowded, noisy aisles while trying not to run anyone over, especially those who stop to have a chat right in front of the very shelves you are attempting to access, can be headache inducing.  These days it is further complicated by our now adult kids texting us their requests as we go, so that as well as pushing the trolley, I am constantly putting my glasses on and off, like some demented juggler, as I attempt to read the barrage of incoming messages.  I know I should refuse to accept late orders but I am a pushover. 

When you finally arrive at the checkout there is the unseemly race to get everything out of the trolley and onto the conveyor belt before it starts piling up at the other end, thus making packing your bags almost impossible.  And all the while you are conscious of the line of shoppers behind you, bearing down on you, as you attempt to execute this feat of speed, dexterity and balance. 

Then there is the utter shame of realising that you have forgotten something vital and have to run to fetch it, muttering ‘really sorry, really sorry’ to all and sundry.  By the time you have your shopping bagged and paid for and are walking out again you are exhausted, both mentally and physically. And you still have the unloading it all and putting it away when you get home to look forward to.  Enjoyable?  No.  Not really.

But how the world has changed.  Corona virus means that going to the supermarket for the ‘big shop’ is now probably the only excursion you are doing in a week.  Suddenly you find that you are actually looking forward to getting out for something other than a walk.  You are doing something with a purpose. 

In this new world, everything has slowed down, including supermarket shopping. Yesterday we were welcomed by staff at the door and invited to sanitise our hands and the trolley handle and then invited to wear disposable gloves.  And I know this sounds mental but I felt cared for and valued as customer. 

We were then funnelled into a Disney type queuing system and our entry into the supermarket was controlled, so that the usual kind of mayhem had given way to a far more zen experience.  People were generally conscious of social distancing and so there was plenty of space.  No one was stopping for chats, other than a very brief exchange of pleasantries.  And there seemed to be a lot of smiling.  But best of all (and I hope I didn’t imagine this), the piped music seemed more laid back than usual and was interspersed with very reassuring messages about how they would keep the shelves stocked and the bread fresh so we would all have everything we need to get us through.  The fact that they didn’t have any root spray for middle aged ‘aul wans’ whose hair is rapidly returning to its natural state, is neither here nor there. Staff were plentiful, helpful and appreciated by most shoppers.

But the experience at the checkout was almost meditative.  No one could approach until you had finished packing, paid and moved away.  There was space and time to sort out your bags in an orderly fashion which, believe me, makes the unpacking and putting away at home much easier.

As we floated back out to the car park, albeit without our usual coffee,  I reminded himself of the time he told me to enjoy myself doing the big grocery shop and remarked that who would have thought it would be in the midst of this national crisis that I would finally find enjoyment in what I have dreaded doing every week,  for decades.  Silver linings and all that.

The Covid Diaries 3

Dublin Daffodils

Featured on Sunday Miscellany on 15th March 2020. (It wsas also already published on this blog. You can listen back here https://www.rte.ie/radio/utils/share/radio1/21734384

March is the month of the Dublin daffodils.  All over the suburbs of our capital city, in gardens, on grass verges, on roundabouts and central medians of our dual carriageways, there are great swathes of brave daffodils who seem to smile at us, regardless of the battering they may be getting from the wind and the rain.  They do their level best to remain standing, nodding their heads and bringing a splash of sunny yellow to our increasingly grey urban environment.

My father and my brother both died in March – different Marchs and many years ago.  My brother died very suddenly and in the immediate aftermath of his death, my world went very dark.  I found myself marooned behind a black wall of grief and shock.  Everything had seemingly changed and I felt as if nothing would ever be the same again.  Then one morning, about a week after he died on St Patrick’s Day 1996, I looked out my window and for the first time I noticed a large clump of daffodils, standing together in their bright yellow clothes that seemed almost irreverent to me, in my deep mourning.  What right had they to be so cheerful?  

But as I stared at them, willing them to show me some respect, something inside me changed.  Because it was those daffodils, on a piece of parkland outside my house, that made me realise how important it was for me to hold onto hope; the hope that although all may ultimately be changed, all will be well, in time. 

March is often the month when winter feels at its longest.  We are regularly becalmed in the cold, the rain, the storms and sometimes even the snow when we are longing to move forward into the sunnier, warmer, gentler longer days of spring and summer.  Sometimes we can almost smell those days which we know should waiting somewhere in the wings but which tantalisingly remain beyond our grasp.  But the daffodils know better.  They are fearless about breaking through the hard, frosty ground in order to deliver their message, year after year after year.

Last Thursday as I drove along the N11, listening to the radio and trying to come to terms with the new reality in which we all find ourselves right now, the bouncing daffodils once again caught my eye and made me think.   

They made me think that this too will pass.  These days of uncertainty, when many of us are fearful of what the immediate future might hold, will pass.  The Dublin daffodils, stand together in groups to give each other mutual support.  They dare to wear their bright finery while we are still in the grip of cold winds.  Their whisper remains as it ever was.  They say that even when everything goes dark, when nothing looks as it was, when we are unsure as to how to carry on, we must hold onto hope. We must stand together and encourage each other.  And we must never lose the belief that better days are ahead.

So, when it seems like we are all paralysed by the current crisis, when it seems that our world has stopped and our lives have been forced into some kind of weird holding pattern, we need to see and to listen to the daffodils. They tell us that all is not as we might think.  Beyond our awareness, this planet we call home is still turning, so that day still follows night and in time it will also deliver our summer.  And so, while we support each other through these uncharted waters and do what we need to do to stay safe and well, we need to remember that this time will pass.  And all will be well.  The daffodils tell us so.   

The Covid Diaries 1

A WORLD GONE MAD…

Published in the Irish Independent 7th March 2020 under the title “Virus Madness Enough To Make Us All Run Away And Hide.”

Back in the late 1970s, long before social media, there was a story that did the rounds about a family in England who were becoming increasingly and seriously worried about the threat of nuclear war. So, they began to consider moving away from their native city to somewhere more remote and therefore safer from attack.  They weren’t keen to leave all that was familiar in Old Blighty, so were considering relocating to rural Wales or Scotland.  Then they learned of the Falkland Islands, deep in the South Atlantic, far from the cold war corridor between the US and USSR but still part of the UK.  A perfect location where they could bring up their children away from the talk and worry about fallout, nuclear winters and radiation damage that was increasingly seeping through our consciousness in the late 70s.

Of course, a year or so after they moved to their safe haven it all went pear shaped as Britain went to war with Argentina over the very islands they decided were a haven of safety.

But although it’s a funny story, I fully understand the desire that drove them to find a refuge away from the fear and the increasing unease.  At the best of times, our news media is fairly dark.  Stories of murders, rapes, robberies and accidents along with political skulduggery dominate our newspapers and our broadcast media.  But there are times when it seems that the world is somehow tipping off its axis with what is happening globally: a feeling that things are shifting in a fairly fundamental way that can cause all of us to want to run away and hide. 

The election of Donald Trump caused such a moment because it was something that most of us thought just couldn’t happen.  And then it did.  Brexit, ditto. The Brits wouldn’t actually vote to leave, but then they did.  We are still navigating our way through the consequences of these events while dealing with our own homegrown disasters such as homelessness, a health system that fails to deliver for so many of our citizens and now we have the slightly unnerving period in which our country is functioning under a caretaker government while our newly elected TDs seem to be playing some kind of game, the rules of which are somewhat unclear.

And all of this is against the backdrop of a Swedish girl who keeps shouting that the world is on fire and who tells us that while it burns, the adults are acting like children and doing nothing. In our hearts we know she is right and we wonder how we have come to this place where children seem to have a wisdom and ability to see what’s important, while adults seem to be only concerned with economics.

Then along comes this bloody Corona Virus which has us all gone slightly mad in the head.  I like the kind of mad we go when we have snow and we think that bread will save us.  Our current madness revolves around soap which would be funny except we all know that although for most of us, this virus isn’t going to be a huge issue, there are plenty of people with already compromised immunity that are seriously worried and with good reason. 

Every time I turn on talk radio it bleeds all of this negativity. I think I have reached saturation point.  And I say that as someone who is a current affairs addict.  I can take quite a lot of negativity.  The last time I had this feeling of ‘enough’ and of ‘stop all the bad news’ was almost ten years ago in October 2010 when we seemed to be sinking further and further into recession. I remember phoning my husband who was running ragged trying to keep his business going and telling him not to listen to talk radio because he didn’t need to hear how dire a situation the country was in.  We were in enough trouble as it was.

This time at least, I don’t have the anger I felt ten years ago but I have a similar sense of exhaustion with the piling on of all this bad news.  In my head somewhere there is a woman who has her hands (washed for twenty seconds, including thumbs with soap and warm water) over her ears and is singing ‘la la la la’ to herself as she rocks back and forwards.  She stops every so often as she thinks of another life, a quiet life, a safe life, a secure life.  Then she remembers the Brits who sought refuge in the Falklands just before it became a war zone and she gets a grip and carries on.  But she moves the dial to Lyric FM because sanity is vital to this carrying on.