18 January 2021

Drowning

In my last post, I alluded to the NHS drowning under the current pandemic. I wrote about the social media morons who believe that Covid is a hoax and that the whole world has been duped into believing the falsehood to keep the populace under the government's thumb and to pour money into pharmaceutical companies' coffers. Fortunately, these idiots represent a small percentage of the population and most of us have our heads tightly screwed on so that we would rather take advice from the scientific experts than Tracy on Facebook. To those who refuse to wear a mask or stay at home, I have a few words. Yes, it may not seem to do a great deal in preventing the spread of the virus, but then maybe, if we ALL wore the masks and ALL stayed at home, we might see a difference pretty quickly.  If I thought standing on one leg and singing the national anthem twenty times in Latin would work, I'd give it a go, rather than moan about losing my civil liberties. Jeez, how would these people survive in a war?

I get my information on the current state of the NHS from my daughter who works as a doctor in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in a large hospital. She is facing Covid down a barrel on a daily basis, so frankly I would rather believe what she tells me in exhausted phone calls after her shift. So here are some answers to questions some people may have.

The hospitals and ICUs in particular don't look busy, so why say they are?

Unlike other wards, the ICU units are not designed to take many patients as under normal circumstances they care only for the sickest patients in the hospital who need 1:1 monitoring. They have specialised equipment and doctors (often anaesthetist-trained ones) who in many cases take over the patient's breathing. Currently, they have TWICE the usual number of ICU patients with FOUR times the usual number of ventilated ones, so ICU units are full to the rafters with Covid patients and the overspill patients are placed in cordoned-off hot-Covid bays elsewhere in the hospital, often requiring the installation of a whole second ICU unit,  but with only the same amount of staff to run the whole lot. Lots of hospitals at the moment are not running their clinics and instead are doing appointments on-line or over the telephone to keep people away from the hospitals. A lot of operations have been postponed to give beds over to Covid patients and staff are off sick too. Additionally,  you don't want lots of visitors or sick patients wandering around corridors infecting one another, so it can look like the hospitals are quiet, but they are not.

The media shows lots of staff around a patient, how can you say they are short-staffed?

ICU has the sickest patients in the hospital and this is even more true with Covid cases who struggle to breathe and need intubation. As I said above, ICU has double the number of usual patients and four times those requiring ventilation, so they have had to open additional ICU units on other wards, with only the same amount of staff to spread thinly. The patients need turning (proning) onto their fronts to help improve their lung function. This is not as simple as it sounds. It can take up to half an hour for eight staff to turn one patient. They have to prepare them first to ensure for example that their skin doesn't get sores, then they encase them and roll them slowly in sheets, making sure at every stage that all the thousands of tubes and lines attached to them don't get kinks. Each member of staff has their particular job to do in the turning. If a patient is obese (as some of the patients are) this just adds more to the time taken. Multiply that by the number of patients to be proned (say 32) and you can see where the time goes. Meanwhile, a crisis can suddenly kick off in another bed and it's all hands to the pump. These really are sick patients where anything and everything can deteriorate in a second. 

Why are they not using the Nightingale Hospitals?

Although the Nightingale hospitals have plenty of beds and equipment, they do not have the staff to run them. If they transferred doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and radiographers to the Nightingales, then there would be even more pressure on the normal hospitals in terms of staff shortage. Appeals for retired medical staff to come back into the workplace to help out did not get much take-up ...... understandable, if one is retired, not to want to go into the lion's den!

It is no worse than flu

Oh yes, it is. Flu can kill, but it usually only happens to the extremely vulnerable and we have vaccines to make this such a rare thing these days. Covid is worse to start with.  Oddly, some people have mild or no symptoms, but when you do get symptoms, it is more deadly. It is not just old or vulnerable people who are dying. Kay has seen otherwise healthy people in their 20s, 30s and 40s dying.  She has seen young colleagues die. Covid is on a level never hitherto seen with "just flu". This is why getting the Covid vaccine has never been so important to stop the infection rate.

The NHS has been struggling for years in winter, so why is this any different?

The NHS has always had more of an uphill battle in winter as more people become sick then (think of waiting times in A&E alone), but this time it is different because they have Covid patients to add to their normal pressures.  Covid hit us out of the blue and we still don't know a lot about how it behaves, mutates etc, so it has been a learning curve whilst trying to get on top of it at the same time. The different strategies used by our government to deal with it (tiers, lockdowns, closing down the economy) may seem haphazard and inefficient but it is because it is so unprecedented. Trying to implement a solution when the unfathomable thing you are dealing with is new, mutating and running amok is not easy. Countries all over the world have had the same problems. Nowhere can truly say they have solved the problem yet. 

What is a day in the life of an ICU doctor like?

I can only go on what Kay tells me but it seems to tie in with what you see on the news. She works 12-hour shifts (often as much as 13 and sometimes even 14 hours if they are short-staffed or an emergency arises that she just cannot turn her back on.) Let's say she starts at 8am.  After three hours of ward round and dealing with urgent problems,  the PPE she wears makes her feel faint. The best thing to do would be to sit down and have a drink, but that would result in more visits to the loo, something that is not a good idea, as taking all the PPE off and on again is such a pfaff, so best to keep going. Only another 9 or 10 hours to go to the end of shift and maybe a 15-minute lunch break if she is lucky. 

Proning patients and dealing with countless crises take up the bulk of the time, as well as phoning relatives with bad news. It is hard to break bad news over the phone. Not being able to see the recipient's reaction and to give a sufficient pause for them to take that news in can be a tricky thing and is emotionally taxing. The patients are not all in the ICU ward so crises can develop all over the hospital, often involving running from one place to another. The less sick ones are shipped out to hospitals further afield, some as far as 300 miles away. As fast as the patients are being shipped out,  ambulances are bringing more in - on occasions as many as six all requiring instant intubation. During all this, case notes must be kept up to date to document all changes in medications or procedures. The hands of the dying are held out of respect, as relatives cannot always be present. Death is very much the norm as opposed to a rarity. The individual stories can play on the mind, long after the shift is over.

Handover to the next shift might come at 8pm, but case updates often take time to explain or an emergency will inevitably happen which you cannot turn your back on, unlike in any other job. So with a bit of luck you get away by 9pm or even 10pm. Once home there is a meal to cook or washing to do and then fall into bed ready to start the shift all over again next morning with a forced smile. Colleagues are in tears and you feel physically spent before you've even got going. Your face is scarred with eczema and pressure sores caused by wearing masks all day. (If masks can fog up those who wear glasses, it fogs up your face too). Night shifts are pretty much the same, but the only difference is, it is dark outside and your body is screaming for sleep.

Silly things will make you cry. A nice word, a nasty word. Anything. Emotionally and physically it is relentless. No 29-year-old should have to have seen the number of deaths she has witnessed since last March. Kay has had ten days' leave since last March. A week in August to go to Yorkshire and a week with me in my "bubble" at Christmas. She was lucky to even get that Christmas week. But a few weeks back at work and she is exhausted again. I can hear the wobble in her voice over the phone.

I am sorry to have gone on so long, but it makes me seethe when I hear of those who deny Covid or say they can't possibly wear a mask in a shop for ten minutes. My reaction is to say a mask is far better than a ventilation tube. If a mask is not possible for medical reasons, then you should not be out and about anyway. I know that Covid is real and so tough for the frontline staff who put their whole lives at risk for everyone who comes through their doors. It is so demoralising for them to hear that people doubt it even exists or selfishly can't be bothered to do the right thing. 

Spread the word and make other people see sense. Wear a mask, stay at home and literally save lives. Only by doing that can we get on top of this dreadful pandemic and give my daughter (and her ICU colleagues) back the life she yearns for and deserves right now. 

11 January 2021

Yours disgusted

I am unashamedly a follower of Facebook, having first signed up when Kate was at university to "stalk" her and see what she was up to. I don't have many "friends" on Facebook as seems to be the case with the younger generation, but I have joined up in the last year or so to two local community groups. They can be useful for all sorts of information.  People post beautiful photos or proffer history about the local area or will ask questions on a range of subjects from where to find someone to repair a washing machine or a leaking roof to whether a certain shop is still open during lockdown or not. There might even be warnings of car thieves about or road blockages.  Like I say, the information can be useful and I often save the answers for when I might need the same advice in the future.

However, lately, the tone of the "conversations" has become very aggressive and personal. I get that people are frightened and stressed by current events. Lockdown is not easy for some and mental health issues, that some didn't even know they had, have come flooding to the fore. A lot of people are stuck at home, furloughed, or working from home with a young family to homeschool or even out of a job altogether. They're bored or stressed or terrified as each week the news ramps up the grim figures of Covid deaths and restricts our movements even further. Another tier. Another lockdown. More closures of this and that. More rules. It is tough, but at least we are all in this together, as we combat this faceless foe. Or are we?

Some of the posts people have put on these facebook groups have questioned why people are galavanting around the parks, towns and countryside other than to do essential shopping, when they should be staying at home or exercising close to home.  I get that. As one who has been shielding since March, I barely leave the house except for once a week or so to post a letter and walk round the block carefully avoiding people, but I have put up with long stretches of isolation and inactivity, partly for my own health, but also for the common good to try to get to grips with the pandemic, so we can all get back to normal soon.  Personally, I don't consider driving long distances to exercise a reasonable excuse, as exercise can be had in your garden or in close proximity to your apartment. I also think that in a middle of a pandemic, exercise should not really be classed as essential.  A walk to the shops is a good enough workout especially if carrying heavy shopping, although I don't even do that, as I get online supermarket deliveries. The emergency services are already stretched enough without having to deal with car accidents or people injuring themselves doing daft things far from home. I think "stay at home" should mean just that. Lord knows the NHS is drowning as it is (a further post on that to follow any day soon). We should put them first and not insist on our individual rights to do what the hell we want in the name of freedom. There has to be some community spirit and putting others first, surely.  

I have watched the arguments develop on these facebook threads. There are definitely two camps. The first camp contains those who selfishly refuse to wear masks, think Covid is a hoax or a joke and will go out when they want and where they want for as long as they want.  "Stuff you, I'm not doing you any harm" kind of attitude. Then there are those who abide by the government's Covid advice for the benefit of the wider community. They think of others, stay home, wear masks and are appalled by the behaviour of the others. When the two sides clash on these facebook threads, the language and personal attacks get really nasty. The anarchists and nutters among the first camp obviously get off on irritating others and being aggressive which of course exacerbates the situation. On one thread this weekend alone there were over 700 comments going back and forth between them over 24 hours, which in the end showed human life form at its worst.

I feel disgusted by that first camp. I know how hard Kay is working at the moment in Intensive Care (14-hour shifts and only ten days' leave since last March). She is physically and emotionally exhausted and she would give anything to have some free time to relax, but these idiots who selfishly give no regard to wearing masks in the community or staying at home have made her job harder, and she is selfLESSly mopping up after them. It saddens and disgusts me in equal measure that in a time of real crisis, such as we are in, we are not pulling together and doing the right thing to end this pandemic once and for all.

04 January 2021

100

My best friend's mother is 100 today. What an amazing achievement to reach that grand old age. Sadly she has dementia and is not aware of reality. Although she may realise it is her birthday from the abundance of cards (including one from Her Majesty the Queen), flowers and presents, she will probably not realise the significance of her age. She will probably spend it, like most days, dozing with small glimpses of wakefulness. She still lives at home with a live-in carer, visiting carers and a cat. Her wider family will send whatsapp videos via my friend to sing Happy Birthday to her. An amazing lady. An amazing age.

31 December 2020

Good riddance

As I write, 2020 is drawing to a close, and "good riddance", I say. What a ghastly year this has been for the world. Little did we know 365 days ago what was in store for us. I think, had we known, we would have stayed in bed until it was all over. As it was we stumbled along, trying to make sense of what was happening and to continue our daily routines as best we could, which was often not at all.

My poor daughter, a doctor in an Intensive Care Unit of a large hospital, has faced Covid down the barrel on a minute-by-minute basis, watching helplessly as patients fought this awful disease and giving bad news to relatives, when all else failed. She is exhausted, having taken only one week's leave all year, way back in August, as staff shortages (staff on self-isolation) meant all hands to the pump. As I would have been on my own for Christmas, she took another week's much-needed leave to spend Christmas with me, as I am part of her support bubble. It was wonderful for both of us. I was able to have some company for the first time in months and have someone to fuss over. She was able to empty out and relax. We ate lots, drank lots, chatted lots, walked in local parks and watched lots of TV. She was just emptying out completely when she got a text from her bosses to say they were deluged with Covid cases and needed extra help. Her stress levels immediately went up several notches. She returned to work after Christmas and within days she is, as she puts it, drowning, as Covid case after case is brought into the hospital with not enough beds or doctors to cope with it. She has not even had the vaccine, much-promised for front-line staff. I am disgusted and worried in equal measure.

For the first time in ages, I shall be spending New Year's Eve alone. I shall stay up until midnight, not to see in the new year, but to make sure the old one goes. I hope the vaccines will play their part and make 2021 a better year. It surely can't get any worse, can it? Happy New Year!

24 December 2020

Happy Christmas


Happy Christmas and here's to a better 2021 for us all. 


30 November 2020

70th Birthday

Yesterday (29 November) was a milestone birthday in my life - one with an 0 on the end. I don't know why they become such important birthdays, as in theory, you are only one year older than the year before, but we feel the compulsion to celebrate them more than the others. However, apart from feeling joyous, it can make you depressed as you are then pushed from the last decade into the next decade of numbers. In my case, I turned 70, which meant I was starting to descend into what most people consider old age. From now on, I would be seventy-something. You see the headlines "Granny of 71 mugged on way to collect her pension. "Granny of 73  abused in care home". You know the kind of thing. I felt I was on a slippery slope. One Foot in the Grave as characterised by that lovely sitcom with Victor Meldrew. I was therefore approaching this birthday with a certain sense of trepidation. 

Back at the start of this year, when Covid was not even a word in the dictionary, Kay and I had been musing on what format my 70th would take. We had grand ideas of a party at a grand venue to invite everyone I had ever known, or as near damn it. But by March, with news of Covid and cancellation of big events, it had become clear that was ambitious if not foolhardy. Not only might the event be cancelled, but the venue might go bust, or getting many invitees in their 70s and even 80s together under one roof would be dangerous in the backdrop of the virus. As the months went by, the event morphed into maybe a small gathering of six people inside or outside and then, with the latest lockdown, not at all. Kay was adamant she would come no matter what, as she is in my "bubble" and did not want me to be on my own for this special day, but to be honest I wondered how realistic this would be as she works in Intensive Care and is facing Covid on a daily basis. I am shielding because of an autoimmune problem called sarcoidosis. The two are not necessarily compatible. I joked that maybe I would just stay 69 for another five years until Covid would allow me to celebrate in, say, 2025. Or start to move back towards the age of 21 like many an actress or film star did in the past. There had to be some advantages to Covid. 

Kay's boyfriend, a dentist, has a box of Covid testing kits, as he has to test twice a week for his job. The results are ready in 30 minutes (a bit like a pregnancy testing kit) and are about 75% reliable. So he and Kay tested themselves on Friday and with negative results turned up here in the evening after work. Kay and he busied themselves on Saturday with my access to the kitchen strictly banned. I could hear bashings and bangings, cooking smells wafted around the house, questions were asked "where do you keep the.....?"   I was intrigued.

My birthday dawned and I came downstairs at the agreed breakfast time to party poppers, balloons and Bucks Fizz. Kay had set up a zoom meeting in the morning with family. We went for a long walk to our local park at lunchtime. More zoom meetings to friends in the afternoon. Then mid-afternoon Kay laid on the most amazing spread - all hand-made.  In our earlier musings we had considered a cream tea of Ritz or Savoy proportions, so Kay emulated this and far excelled what I would have had in those prestigious hotels. The sandwiches and handmade white and dark chocolate tartlets were amazing but the birthday cake alone was a masterpiece and her grandad would have been so proud of her as he was a Chef Patissier at a famous hotel. If ever she should fail as a doctor, patisserie is her way forward.

Although I was somewhat dreading the day, it turned out to be wonderful, mainly because of the hard work and love my gorgeous daughter put into it. So now  I am 70 but hopefully not yet one foot in the grave.










22 November 2020

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music

Today is the third anniversary of my mother's death. How that time has flown in many ways. I am so grateful she is no longer around to witness Covid-19, nor to be parted from me, as so many are now from loved ones in care homes. I was her only carer in her twilight years, so dread to think how we would have managed now.

When Mum died, I felt temporarily bereft. I had immersed myself in her care partly to distract myself from Greg's alcoholism and death, but also to occupy the hole left by Kay when she was at university.  Shortly after Mum died, Kay went on her world travels, so again I needed distraction and started to build up hobbies and pastimes. One such venture was to join a choir. I had never sung much before. I do recall being in my grammar school choir and the choir being wheeled out at prizegivings or assemblies to sing to the school, mainly classical stuff, but otherwise my singing was restricted in adulthood to the odd warble to music on the radio.  So joining a choir was slightly uncharacteristic of me and pushed my boundaries.  I found I liked it. I'd hum the tunes we learned all through the week - a strange earworm would niggle way as I went to sleep or was there again when I woke. I made some lovely new friends - a small group of us became so close that we'd even meet once a month to have lunch somewhere and will again when fear of catching Covid is a distant memory. 

The choir required no auditions, so you could be classical church choir standard or Mrs Mop the Cleaner humming as she cleaned the urinals, so we were all welcome. The more, the merrier.The songs we sang varied from pop, soul, rock, Abba, Beatles, songs from musicals, carols. Such a mix but it was a pleasant variety. There were at least eighty of us, sometimes more, with a ratio of 70 women:10 men, split into Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses. We did at least one concert a term and the proceeds usually went to charity. You'll notice here I'm using the past tense.

At our Christmas social last year, the choir leader dropped a bombshell. She said she was finding it hard after ten years,  to juggle all the many balls she had in the air - her demanding job, her children and our choir - so she was considering closing the choir down. You could have heard a pin drop.  We were all crestfallen. The following week she agreed to give it another go, if we could help with various things like photocopying the lyrics,  putting out chairs before the start of a session, contacting concert venues etc. We all rushed eagerly to offer our help and she said she would limp along until Easter to see how that worked.

Then Coronavirus hit the world and our choir sessions came to an abrupt halt, well before the Easter deadline and we heard nothing more all through the summer. That and many other of my distractions were non-existent, so living alone through the various lockdowns and restrictions was hard. Then in September came the devastating news that she had finally decided to disband the choir for good. One dismissive email and no replies to ours. We felt well and truly abandoned. 

Not to be beaten, I looked around at other choirs in the area for my friends and me, although most are not operating at the moment as meetings in halls are not allowed at present, because of Covid restrictions,  but at least I thought I'd find something for the time when we could all meet again. Some are very highbrow and require sightreading - something I could do once upon a time, but am out of practice nowadays. Others were far too small to take on 80 of us. In the end, I concentrated on just me and discovered quite a big choir (almost like a franchise but comprising four different venues, the nearest to me being about eight miles away). They currently meet on Zoom, so I decided to give it a try. At present, this particular choir meets different voice parts on different days, so I joined the Monday Soprano group. The idea is that we practice separately in our own parts and then come together for a big zoom sing at the end of the month

It is very strange indeed, logging into the Zoom meeting online, seeing about 30 other sopranos but not hearing anyone else as their microphones are all muted. So I am singing effectively all by myself along with the choir leader as she plays the keyboard on the main screen. It takes a bit of getting used to, particularly when my computer freezes and I get a time lag, but I have to say it has cheered me up no end again and I find myself singing the rehearsed songs all day (and in my sleep!)

For as long as I am living in solitary confinement, it plugs a gap and gives me an outlet until we can get back to some kind of normality again. I'm just off to climb every mountain, river deep and mountain high. Falalalala.



08 November 2020

Bad loser

It is quintessentially part of the British way of life, particularly in sport and politics, to be a good loser and to accept defeat graciously. That has obviously not commuted well across the Atlantic. It has been embarrassing in the extreme to watch the departing President Trump in all his glory, fists flailing and throwing his toys out of the pram, declaring the vote for Republicans has been stolen. I wonder if that was the case when he was elected?

Biden looks to be a breath of fresh air but he is no spring chicken. What is it about America that they can't pick two decent YOUNG candidates out of a population of 331 million?  Biden is 77 and will be 81 when his office comes up for re-election. At that age he should be taking life in the slow lane, drinking cocoa by the fireside and pursuing hobbies, not responsible for the nuclear button and 331 million Americans (not to mention the rest of the world).

31 October 2020

Bad and Good

This week has shown me the best of people and the worst. Locally there has been news of thieves stealing catalytic converters like it is going out of fashion, break-ins, ransackings, bitchy comments to people's harmless posts on Facebook, and stabbings.  Also, a friend of ours in the Midlands had a visit from her carpenter son who was on his way from Newcastle to a very prestigious job in London and called in to see her for an hour or so en route. In the time it took him to ring her doorbell and go inside for a while, someone broke into his van and stole all his tools and clothes, which of course meant the prestigious job was scuppered. It's enough to make you ashamed of the human race.

On the flip side, I have personally experienced various kind acts this week, which has restored my faith in human nature. The first was that I had amongst other things ordered online a candle in a glass jar. It was so poorly wrapped and loose inside a box that the jar was in a hundred pieces when it arrived. The candle was worth less than the postage, so I did not necessarily want to order another on its own, but I emailed the company - more to pass on the information to their packing department for future reference. They have since sent me a replacement candle free of charge.

The second thing was that my hairdryer decided last week to throw a hissy fit. Instead of blowing out hot air, it blew freezing cold air on any setting at any speed. Kay had bought me the hairdryer (at some expense) just under two years ago for Christmas. For some reason and quite unnatural for me, I had not kept the guarantee or instructions or the box, so had no idea if it had a guarantee or not. All I knew was that I had had it less than two years and used it modestly about once a week, so it should have had a longer life than that. I emailed the company for their advice. After sending pictures of proof of payment, the dryer itself and its model number plate, they advised me that it had a three-year guarantee but as they sadly could not repair that model anymore, they were sending me a completely new replacement.  It came yesterday. 

Finally, I had ventured out six weeks ago to have my eyes tested and had been wearing the new glasses ever since, but they did not seem right. I kept trying to justify that my eyes (and brain) were just not used to them, but in the end I admitted defeat this week and went back to the optician for a retest. Instead of maintaining they were right, they conceded that one eye was different on the retest to what they had thought it was weeks ago. Also the pupils were not in the right position they should be on the lens, so to cut a long story short they are remaking them for me.

That's three things inside a week that has cheered me up no end. There are some good people out there after all.

20 October 2020

All in the name of science

Although a linguist, I have always been extremely interested in medicine, devour medical programmes on TV and like to think I am doing my bit for future medical advances, so for the last five months, I have been taking part in Covid research for Biobank, a biorepository that stores biological samples (usually human) for use in research. Once a month I am sent a kit which involves cleansing and pricking your finger to let blood into a small phial, which is then returned through the post. You are supposed to follow a strict regime of drinking two glasses of water half an hour beforehand to hydrate your system, be quite active to ensure the blood flows well round your body and then prick your finger(s) with the lancets in the kit. You are supposed to fill the phial with blood to the 0.5ml line. It doesn't sound a lot when you think a teaspoon is about 0.5ml, but I have had the devil's job of getting that much out of my finger. I have to press and squeeze, press and squeeze to get as far as 0.25ml.  At the end of the session, my finger is sore and bruised for several days afterwards. It seems in no time at all, the next month's kit is sent to me to repeat the whole process.

Today was this month's collection of my blood and I spent a good hour preparing (drinking three large glasses of water and exercising), before taking the sample. I have just come back from the post box and am now typing this with a throbbing finger. All in the name of science. My one consolation is that in four weeks' time, that will be the last sample of the six-month study.

05 October 2020

Covid rollercoaster

picture courtesy of bbc.com

So,  President Trump has caught Coronavirus. Obviously, the disinfectant didn't work. But then the whole world could have told him that. Still, he knows best. 

The next wave of Coronavirus (aka Covid-19) is raising its ugly head once more and means business. Kay tells me her hospital is getting more and more cases, Ministers on TV look serious again and warn we must adhere to the advice or face the consequences. I feel their (and my) tension rising. Batton down the hatches and prepare for another rocky ride.  This time we do not have the comfort of long barmy light evenings and warm sunshine to distract or buoy us, but endless dark winter evenings, rain and chilly days to push us further into the doldrums. It's going to be a long haul before Spring and the lure of warmth and a vaccine.

Meanwhile my 70th birthday is just within touching distance in November. I am not particularly looking forward to it as it makes me sound ancient. I still feel like 25 inside (and am told I look 50 on the outside), but psychologically, 70 makes me feel old. I've just had to apply for my over-70 driving licence, as if the world thinks I am too decrepit to drive without reapplying and three-yearly checks.  Still, at long last, I now have a credit-card-type driving licence with a photo I can use as ID. Up to now I still had the old paper version minus the photo, so always had to use my passport as photo ID.

Back in the New Year, Kay and I were considering having a grand party and inviting everyone I know to "celebrate" my 70th with me, but by March we had soon shelved that idea. Even if we had booked a venue, there was no guarantee that the venue would still be trading by the end of the year, so I may well have lost money on it, just as many have done over recent months with their cancelled weddings. Also inviting some of my older septuagenarian and octogenarian friends and family to a large party was not advisable as Covid was worse among that generation. Now, of course, the current guidelines prohibit meetings in England of more than six people anyway, so another reason it was prudent to shelve the idea.

It does of course mean that my big birthday will be spent sedately with just Kay and a handful of others. Maybe like the Queen I should have an alternative birthday  - maybe next year when the Covid dust has all settled. If the blimmin virus doesn't get me first.

01 October 2020

Facelift

My doorstep was looking a bit tired and weather-beaten lately (it faces west so gets the brunt of our common westerly-driven winds and rain), so last weekend I decided to smarten it up a bit. I began by sanding down the cracked and peeling paint of the bottom doorframe. Two fresh coats of white gloss paint were applied. On Monday I painted the doorstep tiles with some striking red tile paint. To finish, I polished up a very grubby brass step protector plate. It was black/brown with tarnish, but I googled how to clean it with things already in the household. I experimented with various methods, but what worked the best was equal quantities of flour, salt and white vinegar. It polished up a treat. The job kept me entertained for the last few days and now I have the smartest doorstep in my little culdesac, all ready to battle with the winter elements.  I tried to take a picture, but the photo doesn't do it justice, so you'll have to imagine it!

23 September 2020

Baffling


The one clear thing to come out of this covid pandemic is that it is baffling. To be sure I had chosen the right word, I looked up " to baffle". The answer was, as I thought.  

to totally bewilder or perplex.
Similar:
perplex
puzzle
bewilder
mystify
bemuse
confuse



The virus is indeed perplexing We still don't have a full handle on how it spreads, mutates, damages, stays away and for how long.

It is puzzling because it differs so much from one person to another. Some don't even get symptoms yet have antibodies. Some get a cough, some don't. Some just lose sense of smell. Some die. Some don't.

It is bewildering, because guidelines keep changing and sometimes from one week to the next, so you can never be 100% certain you are following the correct path. If you cross a border from England to Scotland or from Wales to Northern Ireland, the guidelines can change in a second. Why can't we all in the United Kingdom be doing the same thing to avoid confusion, another definition of baffle.

It is certainly bemusing, the way the guidelines change from day to day and week to week. Stay home to avoid people, but go out to exercise. Work from home, but go to work, then try to work from home. Wear a mask, but don't because masks don't really work. Don't meet in groups of more than six, but go to a pub and mix with many more. Frequent pubs but not after 10pm. One thing we have learned is that the virus must like a late night and does damage after 10pm. It lurks behind bushes waiting for a 7th person to join a group of six. It doesn't like soap. It hates the long jump of 2 metres. It doesn't like bubbles or alcohol (note to self - to buy some champagne as a safe deterrent).

In all seriousness, a second full lockdown could do so much damage economically, let alone cause more deaths from other causes and the rise of mental health issues. The cure could be worse than the disease. I know our government has been heavily criticised for the way they have handled things, but I doubt any other government would have got it right either.  Covid-19 is truly baffling and may baffle us for some time to come.

Boris' rousing speech to the nation last night made the same point over and over. It's a delicate balance between stopping the virus spreading out of hand and still allowing us some freedom before we all go bonkers. It's not ideal, it has its flaws, but it is a compromise.  We shouldn't need to go into full lockdown if everyone did their bit, stopped being selfish and not seeing beyond their own noses. The non-believing "there is no virus, it's all a conspiracy to boost the pharmaceutical industry" brigade should also stop knitting yogurt, moon-gazing and hugging trees and get real. So it's noses to the grindstone, shoulders to the wheel and a massive effort to roll that heavy weight of a virus back into touch. I'm in. Are you?


14 September 2020

Parking lot

Before Kay went on holiday recently to Yorkshire, she was very stressed. Apart from having worked over 18 weeks in a hospital Intensive Care ward during the first wave of the Covid pandemic; apart from having lived in a lonely hotel room all that time to protect me (as I mentioned in the last post); apart from the fact she was moving into a flat with her boyfriend (moving is stressful enough, so they say); apart from all that, she was being hounded over parking tickets.

The big chain hotel she was placed in by the NHS for over 3 months had a huge car park, as it is adjacent to an airport and, as a guest, she was entitled to park her car there. It was patrolled by a parking agency, whose wardens randomly tour around big car parks in the region, to make sure it was not being used by non-hotel guests. Back in March, nobody knew how long the pandemic was going to last, so the NHS paid for Kay's room a month at a time, initially for the whole of April. At the very end of April, the room was paid for by the NHS for another month until the end of May, but for some reason the hotel did not inform the parking agency of the renewal for May. Consequently, Kay was issued with two parking tickets for the 4th and 6th of May.  There was no telephone number on the parking fine notice to ring to speak to a human, only an automated number to make your payment. Any appeals had to be made by email.  She inquired at the hotel reception and was told this was always happening to their guests, not to worry, she should ignore the ticket and the hotel would sort it out. Frankly, she was relieved, as she was far too busy and stressed at work to have yet another worry. A couple of weeks went by and she got parking fine reminders. Again she went to the hotel reception and again was told the same thing.... to ignore the fine and the hotel would sort it. After a couple of weeks, a second batch of reminders arrived and, again, Kay was advised to ignore it, as this happened a lot to their hotel guests and the fines were never followed up. I must admit, by this stage, I felt it would have been a lot simpler for Kay to send the parking agency an email explaining that she was a resident at the hotel and that the hotel had failed to inform the agency of this. But Kay was busy at work, under a lot of stress and kept naively relying on the hotel's insistence that it would be sorted by them.

In the middle of July, another letter arrived, however, this time from bailiffs stating that, if she did not pay the two £170 fines within two weeks, she would be taken to court. Just the sort of thing you want when you are up to your eyes on a Covid ward with people dying left right and centre. The hotel insisted they had sent emails to the parking agency, but sent another, this time copied to Kay, and she meanwhile sent her own email appeal to the parking agency. She also rang the bailiffs, but they said their hands were tied and could only act on the parking agency's instructions. A very Kafkaesque situation indeed. It took a further three weeks, well into August, before the fines were eventually cancelled and a check with the bailiffs revealed the threat of court had been cancelled too. She could relax. 

Except, a week later, she received another fine for parking in the hotel car park, this time for 7 May. The saga continued. She emailed a rather strongly-worded reply to the parking agency. At first their response was that they needed proof of her NHS ID. (Do they ask everyone for proof of their profession?) This latest fine has now been cancelled too. However, we await more.........

07 September 2020

Out of the Cage


For the past five and a half months I have been living like a hermit.  At the onset of Covid, I was advised to shield by the NHS, because I have a lung condition called sarcoidosis. It was first diagnosed in me about 25 years ago - a persistent cough over a period of 6 weeks led me to a chest x-ray and a diagnosis. It can be quite serious, but my particular symptoms are quite minor and the most annoying one for me is an inability to control my thermostat, which in basic terms means I permanently overheat and wear T-shirts or throw off bed covers when it is snowing outside! The x-rays and CTs I have had over the years confirm my lungs are granulated, so in theory I am vulnerable to Covid. 

The NHS wrote to me to say I should shield myself, avoid all contact with other people and would be able to get priority home deliveries from the supermarkets for groceries. Because of this, my doctor daughter, Kay, who has been working in a hospital Intensive Care ward and therefore right on the front line, moved out into a hotel at the height of the pandemic to protect me.

A few weeks ago, the NHS wrote to me again and said I could now go out, although I had to be careful and still observe two metre distancing and limit the numbers of people I mix with. To start with, I must confess I was quite wary. Four and a bit months shut up indoors with only the occasional solo walk in deserted streets made me feel quite funny when I was allowed out and almost terrified if another person brushed too close, particularly a jogger puffing and wheezing past. I felt as if I was in an alien world, even though it was a world I had hitherto known very well. 

I had also been living entirely on my own, with no stimuli except for the occasional phone call and wall-to-wall TV. When a friend suggested, as lockdown eased, meeting up for a picnic in the park, my first reaction was to say no. She might as well have suggested we commit communal suicide. It felt very unnatural. 

As the weeks have passed, I have gradually abandoned my terror of being struck down by an alien and have ventured out a little more.  At first to a small supermarket at the end of the day when the footfall was quite low. Then a picnic in the park with friends. Last week I reintroduced my weekly walk with a partially-disabled dog-walking friend, whom I take in my car to the park. Now I have made appointments with a hairdresser and the optician. Slowly but surely I am getting back to some kind of normal, although it still seems a bit unnatural and my hesitation is still the first immediate reaction.  I am however conscious that the next wave of Covid is just around the corner and I shall probably be plunged back soon into total isolation again, possibly till Christmas and beyond into 2021. 

Until that happens, I am glad to be out of my cage, for however short a time that may be. 




 

27 August 2020

North-South divide

I was recently reminded that there's always been a bit of North-South divide in this country. That's probably an understatement. There's been a massive North-South divide. Probably more so in the past, but old habits die hard and get passed from generation to generation. Those in the North think we have it easy in the South and in London, in particular. They think we are privileged, are rolling in banknotes and Rolls Royces.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Southerners have a traditional  stereo-typed image of Northerners living in back to back housing, working down a mine, wearing cloth caps and keeping homing pigeons. My experience of holidays or business trips around the country are nothing like that. These prejudices are so last century.

If anything, I've long thought that the lucky ones are the ones who live far away from London. The further the better. If both Northerner and Southerner have similar professions, say civil servant or teacher, then the Northerner comes off far better. The salary difference nationally is barely noticeable (the addition of London Weighting is a joke as it by no means accounts for the difference in exorbitant housing or travel costs). Therefore a Southerner's wages will be eaten up by astronomical mortgages, high travel costs to work, leaving little for anything else. Food and heating will obviously consume what's left. So the Southerner will have to save or dig deep for "luxuries" like furnishing the home, holidays, the occasional celebration or a car. A one-bedroom flat can currently set you back a minimum of £350,000 in London, much more if in a swanky area. That money would buy you a lovely house with a garden in the North, probably several houses in some areas, even a small castle in Scotland. If you are rich, property in London is affordable, but for the majority of the population such as hardworking office or shopworkers it is out of reach.  I have observed many a time how relatives or friends living up north have a far better standard of living than down here in London. We scrimp and save to have far less. Kay's friends in the North are buying purpose-built houses with gardens. She can barely afford a one-bedroom flat in a run-down area - on a junior doctor's salary. 

So much is the North-South divide ingrained in some that it spills into hatred. Kay had a terrible time at uni, when she was bullied (and I use that word advisedly) by a flatshare girl from Liverpool who saw it as her life's mission to make Kay's life hell and not only that persuaded others by intimidating them to do the same. Why? Because Kay came from the South and was therefore fair game. There was no let-up in sympathy even when Kay's father died, in fact the bullying seemed to get worse. It nearly broke Kay, but I am pleased to say she eventually rose above it and became the better person, but it took years to get over it.  I've seen this North-South resentment time and time again and it sickens me that in this day and age people are so prejudiced. We are all human beings and can't help where we are born and tend to live. I wonder whether other countries have the same sort of prejudices towards their more affluent capitals or regions or is it just a British thing?



16 August 2020

A satisfying weekend

I've just had one of those weekends where at the end of it I feel I have achieved a lot. I've been attacking my garage and sorting through a lot of things. Now Kay has moved all the furniture we had stored in the garage for her recent house move, I may have lost a daughter but I have gained a garage again. And, in gaining a garage, I have found all sorts of things that I no longer need, including a load of camping equipment. Kay and her boyfriend are taking a well-earned week to go camping in Yorkshire, her old stomping ground. Foreign holidays seem off the list at the moment and she loves camping, so it made sense. Of course, she came to me for a few bits and pieces they still needed, although they had already treated themselves to a new tent. In looking out things for her, it occurred to me that I shall probably never go camping again, although we used to go every year when Greg was compus mentis, we had a dog in tow and Kay was still a teenager. We have three tents in all  - different sizes and different purposes -and they were all cluttering up my garage. I sorted through them, disentangled all the poles and put them into their three piles. This morning I advertised them on a local freecycle group and literally within seconds I had people fighting over them. One is an absolute bargain - it is the size of a small chalet and sleeps 6 or 7. All free. Two of the tents were collected today, the third tomorrow. Meanwhile, I  then dusted shelves and rearranged what was left, sorting through old paint tins and other rubbish, which I then took to the local dump. I finished up by hoovering the garage throughout including catching a hundredweight of sticky gooey cobwebs. By the end of it I looked like a coal miner at the end of his shift, so had a luxuriating shower and the evening is still young! I love satisfying days like that. It also helped to distract me, as today would have been my mother's 97th birthday. I hope she was proud of me.

One little anecdote I must share. Since Kay moved out two weeks ago, I have found myself chatting to the wall, the fridge, the table, any inanimate object that is forced to listen. In the recent tropical heatwave, I was often in the garden for a coffee break and made friends with a pigeon, so naturally found myself talking to him too. He seemed to visit twice a day and seemed very grateful for the bread I threw for him. My mate, Pidge. Last Thursday, Kay visited to collect the aforementioned bits of camping accessories. We sat chatting in the kitchen with the patio door wide open, as it was so unbearably hot and humid. Suddenly Kay exclaimed, "Oh my God, there's a pigeon in the kitchen". You've guessed it, Pidge had decided to join the conversation. However, our startled surprise unnerved him and he began flapping at the windowpane in a vain attempt to get out as fast as he could. He didn't have the brain to go out the way he had come in and any attempt by us to direct him made him flap at the glass even more, so we had to wait until he had calmed down and then gradually found the opening of the patio door. He didn't wait for his bread, but just left his calling card on the floor. I didn't see him for a few days after that. I think he was thoroughly traumatised but he was back again yesterday, on the outside, I hasten to add.

01 August 2020

Flap, flap, flap

Wood Duck Jump Taken Minnesota Under Stock Photo (Edit Now) 1056811352


Forgive me if my post is a little sad today, but today marks the end of an era. The picture above may give you a clue. My one and only chick, Kay,  has left the nest for good. 

It is true I have been used to living on my own for the last 10 years ever since Greg died. Kay was away in her first year of university then, but I always knew she'd be home in the vacations. Then when she qualified as a doctor she was away for two years gaining experience in hospitals far from home, but again, I always knew she'd pop home in her spare time.  For the last two years, I was truly blessed to have her living back home with me again, as she commuted to a hospital an hour's drive from here. It suited her too, as she was saving up money to buy a property of her own some day. Meanwhile I liked having her young company around and someone to fuss over and cook for.

Today she has moved out for good. I am excited for her as she moves in with her boyfriend of over four years. They are happy together and well-suited. I like him very much. She deserves so much happiness after the hand fate dealt her with her father. The last ten years have been an emotional struggle for her, having lost her father to alcoholism, but to her credit, she rode the peaks and troughs of the emotional rollercoaster and came out an exceedingly competent doctor. She could have so easily gone off the rails and I take my hat off to her for doing so well. How then could I deny her the chance to be happy with a dashing young man who adores her? I know I have been so lucky to have had her living on and off with me for 29 years. 

We have known this day would come. Back in March, she and I planned to have the last few months of her being at home to do all sorts of quality mother-and daughter things. We planned outings to special places;  I  would teach her to sew on the sewing machine;  we would clear out long-neglected cupboards together; she would teach me the basics of spotify and satnav. Covid saw fit to ruin that. She temporarily moved out of the house to protect me from catching Covid, as she was working on the front line in Intensive Care. Thirteen weeks later, as the pandemic seemed to subside, she moved back to me again considerably shell-shocked from the things she had witnessed, with only a few weeks left before she finally moved out. We both feel very sad that we shall never get that time back. I know other people have gone through far worse with cancelled weddings or the death of loved ones and we do try to put that into perspective. 

Today, however, is a milestone. End of an era. As she embarks on the next phase of her life, I embark on mine. Alone, in the knowledge she will only now be back as a visiting guest. Normally to get myself out of the doldrums,  I would have immersed myself in visits to friends or any of my hobbies, but with Covid all those outlets are denied me, as either I am on the vulnerable list or things such as choir practice are not open again yet. So life will be a lot quieter for me. I am sure I shall survive. I usually do, but forgive me a tiny bit of wistfulness today of all days.

07 July 2020

Shed a tear

My late husband, Greg, wasn't a carpenter, although I suppose he had it in his genes - his grandfather was a carpenter in Northumberland and, in the Depression of the 1920s and 1930s, headed south looking for work. Greg subsequently inherited all his grandfather's tools and used to like nothing better than to potter around in his spare time, making sideboards, cupboards and bookshelves. I suppose it helped relax him, as his job was very stressful and required a lot of mental input, whereas tinkering around with wood allowed him to empty out. One of his projects was this natty little garden shed-cum-bench for our patio garden. 



Our patio garden is too small for a conventional shed, so this fitted the bill. Small enough to look inconspicuous, large enough to house a few garden tools, some herbicides and sundry garden chemicals with a little bench to sit on as an added bonus. Greg made it a good 20 years ago, long before alcohol became a more attractive hobby for him.



However, over the intervening years,  it has fallen into disrepair, as a closer inspection of the above photo shows. I have tried to get it to limp along with the aid of filler and duct-tape,  every time bits of wood fell off. I have painted it several times to keep it looking dapper. But finally it has given up the ghost and, if it weren't for the fence behind it, it would have keeled over and crashed into a thousand pieces.

Ever keen to keep Greg's little shed with us, I recently hired a carpenter to completely replicate it. Observing lockdown rules, he would access the patio garden via a side alley without coming through my house.  I had taken great pains to watch the weather forecasts and we agreed on a date right in the middle of a very dry spell as we did not want the wood to get wet while it was being made or while it was being painted. Unfortunately, he let me down twice and made lame excuses each time the night before he was due.  It was irritating because he was not doing his normal self-employed work because of lockdown and was home all the time, so his excuses were a bit feeble, particularly as he let me down each time at midnight the night before he was due, on one occasion saying he had to take his son somewhere.  Considering I was giving him some much-needed money and he was going to work outdoors, so no risk of contagion, it was a bit much.  

He finally told me he was coming to do the job on the Sunday before last - the wettest week of the summer so far - and it took all of four hours to make it. For the money he charged I was expecting a whole day's labour or a shed the size of a bungalow!

Anyway, this was how the carpenter left it.


No description available.



No description available.

I had offered to paint it, as I enjoy painting, but because of the delay in getting the shed made, I was then faced with painting it in the worst of the weather. The days following consisted of wall-to wall rain or showers at unexpected times of the day and quite at variance with the forecasts. Trying to nip out between showers and prime it, undercoat it and topcoat it, allowing the required eight hours for each coat to dry, was a nightmare. I had to keep covering the shed with an old shower curtain and polythene to protect it, as I did not want to paint over wet wood or get rain on the paint. There were heavy winds too blowing all sorts of tree seeds and grit all over the wet paint. 

I shed a tear (see what I did there?) to see the old one go, but Greg's shed lives on, albeit a complete reincarnation. After what seemed an eternity in getting it built and painted, the new shed now finally looks like this....





08 June 2020

Relapse

Supermarket wine aisles to shrink, says Bibendum buyer - Decanter
picture from decanter.com

With Covid-19 still wreaking havoc where it can, our supermarkets are getting into the fine art of making customers social-distance. Well, most of them are - there are still reports that a few have not completely mastered it. As I am classed as "vulnerable", I am getting online supermarket deliveries to avoid any social contact, so I have no personal experience of the new systems,  but I read on a local social media site, that our local supermarket has a system where, when it comes to the checkout, customers are being made to form a single queue down one aisle and only proceed to the cashier(s) when they are at the head of that queue. That allows customers to keep to the advised distance from one another in the queue, not clog up all the aisles with queues and to approach the cashiers, when directed to do so, so there is only one customer alone with a cashier at any one time. That all makes good sense and, maybe, that is what is being adopted generally. However, it seems our local supermarket has picked the alcohol aisle for the queue to wait. 

The person who reported this on social media wrote of a woman in front of them getting very twitchy and on her mobile phone to someone. As the queue slowly moved forward, the woman got more and more panicky and was heard to say they could not cope with being in the alcohol aisle any longer, as the temptation was too much. In the end, they abandoned their trolley and rushed out of the supermarket. The supposition was that the person was a recovering alcoholic and being too close to that temptation in a very slow-moving queue was too much for them. I suppose any aisle chosen for the queue is going to be a problem either in terms of whether it has popular items which would attract a large volume of customers trying to get past those queueing, or where there are temptations for others (my personal nightmare would be queuing in the chocolate aisle), but it seems the alcohol aisle could be the undoing of many a hard recovering addict. Supermarket managers please note.